Air Force leaders are touting the creation of a new information warfare organization earlier this month as a way to show the increasing importance of cyber and electronic warfare capabilities.
“More and more I become convinced as the commander of Air Combat Command that if I’m going to do my job, with controlling and exploiting the air, and if I’m going to help control and exploit space that I have to control and exploit the cyber and the electromagnetic spectrum environments,” Gen. James Holmes, the head of Air Combat Command, said April 11 during an Air Force Association event at Langley Air Force base.
The Air Force announced in April it is creating a new information warfare numbered Air Force, a move that combines 24th Air Force, or Air Forces Cyber, with 25th Air Force, which is responsible for global intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. Holmes said the new combined numbered Air Force will be established this summer. While the Air Force has selected a leader for the organization, Holmes declined to name the officer or to say if it is a two-star or three-star general. Currently, 24th and 25th Air Force are led by a two-star general.
24th and 25th Air Force will integrate, creating the service's first information warfare numbered Air Force.
With the new organization, the Air Force is following in the footsteps of other services and organizing these skillsets under the banner of information warfare.
“We’ve come to discover cyber is an element of the larger information warfare and [electromagnetic spectrum] fight that we’re in,” Ted Uchida, deputy director of operations at Air Combat Command, said during the same event. “To view cyber in its lane and in the functional stovepipe is really an incomplete analysis. We’ve come to discover it’s really information warfare.”
Uchida said the new organization will focus on cyber information operations, influence operations, electronic warfare, military deception, military information support operations and psychological operations.
“All those are centered on influencing an adversary’s thought process,” he said.
In addition, Uchida said leaders at Air Combat Command are resurrecting an electronic warfare division and a cyber division to bolster the organization’s information operations.
On the cyber front, Air Force leaders recently created teams that would defend local installations and critical Air Force missions. Neither the Air Force or any other service own any offensive cyber teams or capability. Those teams and authorities reside with U.S. Cyber Command. But Uchida said there are some missions the Air Force would want to conduct in the future and those would require service-specific teams. However, the Air Force currently doesn’t have the manpower to run such events.
Major commands will begin staffing new mission defense teams that focus on preventing cyberattacks.
In the meantime, Air Force leaders are spending more time talking about the convergence of cyber and electronic warfare.
“Part of our discussion is how do those two fit together. Which one is a subset of the other? If the electromagnetic spectrum, is that the sum of cyber and [radio frequency] to be able to operate in that environment? Is cyber to electromagnetic spectrum like the airplane is to the air,” Holmes said.
On the electronic warfare front, Holmes said a year-long report into electronic warfare found the service had struggled to coordinate electronic combat tools during 15 years of counterterrorism operations. Now, the service is looking to focus on dominating the electromagnetic spectrum again.
“Increasingly we’re reminded that against great powers we also have to control and exploit the electromagnetic spectrum if we’re going to be successful,” he said.
Such powerful electronic warfare tools would include active electronically scanned array radars, new distributed jammers that are being fielded and modifications of jamming packages from EC-130s to EC-37s.
Over the last several years the service has lost the ability to pull these capabilities together and integrate them against a peer adversary, he said.
Holmes said the service will also work to rebuild the experienced electronic warfare officers who knew how to “come up with new concepts and new presentations.”