Cyberspace Command Logs In

August 2007
By Henry S. Kenyon

The U.S. Air Force relies on a variety of sophisticated sensor platforms such as this RC-135V/W Rivet Joint to collect intelligence data and feed it through military information systems. The mission of the new Air Force Cyberspace Command (AFCYBER) is to use the electromagnetic spectrum and computer networks to defend U.S. military information nodes,
collect intelligence and conduct nonkinetic offensive operations.
New entity supports missions across the entire electromagnetic spectrum. 

The U.S. Air Force seeks to dominate networked warfare through a new command specializing in cyberspace operations. The organization will enable U.S. strategic efforts by providing a variety of services and capabilities from information assurance and network security to intelligence gathering and defensive and offensive cyber activities.

Headquartered at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, the Air Force Cyberspace Command (AFCYBER) is a part of the U.S. 8th Air Force under the command of Lt. Gen. Robert J. Elder Jr., USAF. Scheduled to be fully operational by the end of this year, the command will leverage and integrate the Air Force’s unique cyber capabilities and functions for command and control, electronic warfare, network warfare, surveillance and reconnaissance, and intelligence across the spectrum of events from peace to crisis to war. These capabilities include mission assurance, network operations and security, and information assurance. On request, the command also will support civilian authorities.

Cyberspace is more than networks, Gen. Elder emphasizes. It includes the entire electromagnetic spectrum. “The U.S. Defense Department defines cyberspace as a domain characterized by the use of electronics and the electromagnetic spectrum to store, modify and exchange data via networked systems and associated infrastructures. The Air Force intends to conduct operations across the full spectrum of this definition,” he says.

Gen. Elder explains that AFCYBER’s mission is to integrate the Air Force’s global kinetic and nonkinetic strike capability to support combatant commanders and to provide combat-ready forces for sustained offensive and defensive operations throughout the electromagnetic spectrum. He adds that the Air Force command staff directed the 8th Air Force to develop AFCYBER as an “on ramp” for a future major command and to serve as the service’s global effects component to the U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM). AFCYBER will support STRATCOM by providing forces and resources for global operations and for theater combatant commanders. The general notes that AFCYBER is organized around an air operations center (AOC) that is interoperable with the service’s other AOCs.

AFCYBER originated from an Air Force mission statement released in December 2005 explaining that to defend the United States fully, the Air Force had to “fly and fight” not only in the air and in space but also in cyberspace. Gen. Elder observes that cyberspace was designated as a warfighting domain in 2006. “Cyberspace exists alongside the other warfighting domains and should be protected and exploited in a similar fashion. This reflects the need to gain and maintain operational freedom in cyberspace—cyberspace superiority—as a predicate to achieving land, air, sea and space dominance,” he explains.

The need for cyberspace operations was outlined in 2006 by the Air Force Cyberspace Task Force (SIGNAL Magazine, October 2006). Consisting of commissioned and noncommissioned Air Force personnel and civilians from a variety of backgrounds, the group was tasked with defining cyberspace as an operational space (SIGNAL Magazine, June 2007). The task force concluded that cyberspace was a warfighting domain bound by the electromagnetic spectrum. It also provided the Air Force executive staff with recommendations on how the service could manage future cyberspace operations.

At a November press briefing, Air Force Secretary Michael W. Wynne noted that personnel and equipment from across all of the service’s commands will be tapped to join the new unit. Wynne also added that the Air Combat Command, Air Force Space Command and Air Force Materiel Command are helping in the formation of AFCYBER, while Air Force personnel specialists are developing educational plans and career paths for the airmen in the new command.

AFCYBER became a component of the 8th Air Force in November 2006. Gen. Elder states that the 8th Air Force is working to establish the command by creating operational links throughout the service. The new organization will provide forces to STRATCOM and have operational relationships with the Joint Functional Component Command for Global Strike and Integration (JFCC-GSI); Integrated Missile Defense; Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance; Space; and Network Warfare as well as the Joint Information Operations Warfare Center and the Joint Task Force for Global Network Operations (JTF-GNO). As part of its responsibilities, AFCYBER also will globally link AOCs to provide seamless command and control while directly supporting theater and force commanders.

As a numbered air unit, the 8th Air Force/AFCYBER still is responsible for eight air combat command wings, and it serves as the Air Force’s component to STRATCOM’s JFCC-GSI and the JTF-GNO. The 8th Air Force and AFCYBER share a staff, but Gen. Elder notes that AFCYBER will receive additional personnel and resources to conduct its cyberspace mission. The core of the new command consists of the 67th Network Warfare Wing and other elements of the 8th Air Force.

As the command is being stood up, Gen. Elder notes that its initial priorities are developing survivable warfighting network operations; providing self-forming, high-capacity, expeditionary Internet protocol networks; supplying global air, space and cyberspace situational awareness; and creating resilient and secure administrative networks. AFCYBER also is establishing network-centric service and data archives and developing operational capabilities against open and closed networks.

Although AFCYBER will not be fully operational until the latter half of this year, the general admits that it already is conducting operations across the full spectrum of mandated cyberspace functions. These mission capabilities will grow rapidly as additional equipment and personnel join the command, he says.

Gen. Elder explains that the intent of AFCYBER is to extend the Air Force’s global reach into the cyberspace domain. “In the past, we have treated cyberspace as an enabler for military operations, intelligence and business management. We now treat cyberspace as a warfighting domain to be integrated on an equal basis with air and space,” he says.

The general adds that the U.S. military is unequalled in the traditional combat domains of air, land, sea and space. However, it faces potent peer competitors in cyberspace. “To ensure freedom of action and to deny that freedom to our enemies, we must achieve cyber dominance with the same unrelenting tenacity with which we achieved and have maintained dominance of air and space,” he states.

In light of recent global cyber incidents such as the attacks on Estonian government Internet sites and services this May, the general observes that the command’s activation is timely. “Most people look to cyberspace as a readily available convenience. Unfortunately, our potential adversaries, as well as criminals and other unsavory elements, see cyberspace as a way to disrupt the American way of life. Our potential adversaries also see it as a means to counter our asymmetric warfighting advantage in other domains. We need to change the culture of the American people to recognize it as a warfighting domain,” he maintains.

That the U.S. Air Force is attaching a high priority to cyberspace comes as no surprise, says Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow with the Brookings Institution, Washington, D.C. O’Hanlon explains that it makes sense for the Air Force to have a command within its own structure that is subordinate to STRATCOM. He believes that it would have been a mistake if AFCYBER had been elevated to the level of the Air Combat Command, however. “We don’t need it at that level of rigor or resources or stature,” he says.

But O’Hanlon believes that the appointment of a three-star general to head the command represents a key commitment on the part of the Air Force. He adds that the ongoing emphasis on cyberspace is a logical extension of U.S. Defense Department planning because cybersecurity is becoming an increasingly important aspect of information technology and warfighting. “I think the Air Force has made the right call,” he says.

Web Resources
U.S. 8th Air Force:
Brookings Institution:


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