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  • The Air Combat Command, which is taking the lead for cyber operations from the Air Force Space Command, is building a new division that integrates cyber, intelligence, electronic warfare and information warfare capabilities. Artist’s depiction of a digitized F-22 based on a U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Michael Holzworth.
     The Air Combat Command, which is taking the lead for cyber operations from the Air Force Space Command, is building a new division that integrates cyber, intelligence, electronic warfare and information warfare capabilities. Artist’s depiction of a digitized F-22 based on a U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Michael Holzworth.

Information Domination Through Mission Integration

The Cyber Edge
March 1, 2019
By George I. Seffers
E-mail About the Author

The Air Combat Command creates a new division as part of its cyber mission.

The newly created Cyber and Non-Kinetic Operations Division within the Air Combat Command is expected to reach full strength this summer. The new organization integrates multiple missions, including cyber, electronic warfare, intelligence and information warfare.

Located at Joint Base San Antonio, the division is being constructed at the same time the Air Force is expected to combine the 24th Air Force, the service’s lead organization for both offensive and defensive cyber operations, with the 25th Air Force, which has the lead on the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance mission. Additionally, the service is considering a major reorganization of its headquarters staff within the Pentagon that will combine the deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance with the deputy chief of staff for information dominance.

The Air Combat Command (ACC) operates fighter, reconnaissance, battle-management and electronic combat aircraft. It also provides command, control, communications and intelligence systems and conducts global information operations. In addition, the command develops strategy, doctrine, concepts, tactics and procedures for air, space and cyber while providing information warfare forces to all combatant commands.

The creation of the new division is in conjunction with the service’s transfer of the cyber mission from the Air Force Space Command to the ACC. That mission transfer, announced last year, was directed by Gen. David Goldfein, USAF, the service’s chief of staff. “Under the guidance of the National Defense Strategy and the emergence of great power competition, we must be prepared for a future high-end fight,” Gen. Goldfein says in an Air Force statement announcing the mission transfer. “We must organize, train and equip ourselves to compete, deter and win. This move integrates key capabilities and helps ensure that we are fully prepared to win today and in the future.”

The emergence of competition includes sophisticated and well-integrated information and cyber operations from Russia and others in recent years. “We see information confrontation at least being acknowledged in doctrine from Russia and some of the others, so there is some study within the department about how we go about being effective in this space as well,” says Col. Brian Tyler, USAF, chief of the Cyber and Non-Kinetic Operations Division, or A3/A2/6K. “There is an increasing acknowledgment across the department that we are in a competition between [nation-] states.”

Gen. Mike Holmes, USAF, ACC commander, initiated the organization last summer. The division will primarily support the ACC, but because of the realignment of the cyber mission, it could benefit the entire service. “We’re most focused on Air Combat Command and what the Air Combat Command commander is responsible for. That said, that command is the lead command for multiple areas—air superiority being one, and now cyberspace operations being another,” Col. Tyler points out. “We’re working through this transition plan that is supposed to culminate by September 2019.”

The division likely will reach a full staff of about 50 personnel, including active duty, civilians and contractors, this summer. “What he wanted to do was to create an organization that would bring together multiple functional communities to really focus in on information warfare in all of its aspects,” Col. Tyler reports. “That includes a heavy cyber operations presence. It also includes electronic warfare. It also includes information operations and influence operations-type work.”

The division will ultimately include six branches. “We have a branch for offensive cyber, a branch for defensive cyber, a branch for information warfare, a branch for intelligence, and a branch for integration. In 2019, we will most probably stand up a branch for electronic warfare as well,” Col Tyler reveals.

The division’s mission includes training and equipping Air Force personnel at the ACC as well as airmen assigned to other organizations. “We’re responsible, on behalf of the commander of Air Combat Command, to organize, train and equip combat-ready airmen who are employing nonkinetic war-fighting capabilities. We do that for our Air Force and also for the joint force and for the nation,” the colonel explains.

He also describes the mission as counter-command and control (C2) and says the Air Force must prepare the individual service components and those who command them for counter-C2 warfare. “In a high-intensity conflict, we have had this interest in counter-command and control-type of warfare. Counter-C2 warfare is in our DNA.”

Asked whether the division will engage in offensive activities outside of actual wartime operations, he suggests he is not the right person to define which operations would be considered offensive. “I don’t know that I would necessarily characterize it as offensive; however, I’m not a lawyer, so let me defer to the legal opinions or legal minds here,” he says.

However, he indicates the division will have a role whether at war or not. “I do think there is an interest in making sure we’re postured to disarm, or at least illuminate, disinformation campaigns in a nonconflict way, as well as—on the cybersecurity side of the house—to make sure we have the systems in place to be able to catch any malfeasance going on by a nation state actor and maybe mitigate some of those vulnerabilities.”

Col. Tyler emphasizes the division’s integration of multiple functions. “This division is really focusing on integrating those different lines of effort and bringing them together so that we have an information warfare capability for our commanders,” he states. “We take a special interest in the integration function, so electronic warfare officers and planners don’t spend a lot of time working offensive or defensive cyberspace operations, and cyber operators don’t spend a lot of time necessarily thinking about how we go about doing influence operations.”

At the same time Air Force leaders consider the array of organizational changes, they are working out future strategies for cyber and information operations. “There’s a lot of really good work being done at the tactical level, and the opportunity we have is to really put some thinking down on paper and write the concepts that are necessary to articulate how we intend to wage information warfare as we go forward,” Col Tyler offers. “There are some big ideas that are out there, but I think one of the challenges we have—and it’s really an opportunity—is to put those concepts onto paper and to really take a close look at them and how we plan do things as we go forward.”

Asked what recommendations he would offer for a future strategy, he stresses the need to eliminate stovepipes. “We have to worry about our command and control of information warfare and make sure it is not stovepiped, that’s it’s not information warfare over on the side but as part of a larger, multidomain operations effort.”

He also emphasizes the need for force structure changes. “We have to be willing to invest in the force structure necessary to wage offensive cyber operations and defensive cyber operations, and if we’re serious about these undertakings, there will be force structure adjustments there.”

Training multidomain operations in contested environments also is important when electromagnetic spectrum and computer networks may be unavailable or ineffective. “We have to be capable of training, planning and fighting through that, because not all of those will be available to us in a high-intensity conflict in the future years,” Col. Tyler says. He adds that his recommendations on the strategy documents reflect his thoughts alone.

As the division leader, Col. Tyler reports to three directors at Air Combat Command: Brig. Gen. Kevin Huyck, USAF, director of operations (A3); Brig. Gen. Aaron Prupas, USAF, director of intelligence (A2); and Col. Chad Raduege, USAF, communications director (A6), who also has been selected for promotion to brigadier general. That organization structure is reflected in the division’s A3/A2/6K designation. The “K” indicates a division rather than a directorate that reports directly to the ACC commander. “I have three essentially general officers who are interested in what we’re doing, so that gives you a lot of attention and a lot of energy for the things we’re working,” Col. Tyler notes.

The division leader points out that the organization is not solely responsible for the integrated information dominance mission. “We most certainly coordinate with Headquarters Air Force’s A2, A3 and A6. As Headquarters Air Force reorganizes, if that indeed is what the chief decides to do, then we will work with the new organizations that may stand up or shuffle. We are most certainly working closely with 24th Air Force and 25th Air Force,” he adds. “The work we do is not independent of what other commands, such as Air Force Space Command or Air Force Global Strike Command are doing. We absolutely are in coordination with those major commands as well.”

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