IT and Networks

The Air Force's approach to cyber protection teams

While each of the military services is charged with educating, training and equipping troops to operate in cyberspace and help staff up U.S. Cyber Command, their respective methods for carrying out that mission vary a bit by service. But even as each component pursues their own route toward a comprehensive Defense Department cyber force, those paths frequently cross on the way to joint operations.

While the Army is moving toward a centralized training and schoolhouse conglomerate based at Fort Gordon, Georgia, the Air Force's approach is a bit more spread out, focused on and located by specialization, at least in the earlier phases.

"There's really two strands to our cyber mission force [CMF]. We have our cyberspace operators; their initial training is conducted at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, and then for the CMF we take them to intermediate training at Hurlburt Air Force Base, Florida," said Maj Gen Ed Wilson, commander of the 24th Air Force. "And then depending on where they're going to track, which mission system — we have a weapons systems construct, we do all of that in-house training at Hurlburt, aligned to the weapons systems. So depending on what mission role they're going to have, they may graduate from that and go right on to, say, a cyber protection team."

Wilson spoke to reporters at the annual Air Force Association symposium in Oxon Hill, Maryland, on Set. 15.

Once sent to the cyber protection team, airmen begin mission qualification training onsite. Other airmen that are headed for combat mission teams are sent to Fort Meade, Maryland, for advanced training, as is the case in the other service components.

For airmen specializing in intelligence, there's a separate lane.

"If you're an intelligence specialist you likely come through another tracking mechanism," which involves going to Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas, and then to the Navy-led Joint Cyber Analysis Course (JCAC) in Pensacola, Florida, where airmen are sitting in with the other service components, Wilson said.

"So the initial sessions look a little different [from the other services'] in that we have Keesler Air Force Base for cyberspace operations, then Goodfellow for intel; they then track in a slightly different way," he said. "And we actually added additional capacity to the joint training model by having our schoolhouse at Hurlburt endorsed in an equivalency for the training that's done at JCAC. So we're spooling out about an additional 250 people right now in addition to the joint training model."

The Air Force's efforts are part of a broader push under CYBERCOM directives to develop a battle roster of some roughly 2,000 cyber-specialized airmen. The efforts are well under way and include the integration of active duty, National Guard and Reserve airmen — and involve some cultural changes in addition to organizational ones.

"We're the only service that has integrated in our core cyber mission force active [National] Guard and Reserve components," Wilson said. "I think in the Air Force in particular, and I think other service components are seeing too, we're bringing an operations culture and skill set to what's traditionally been an information technology mission set," Wilson said. "In that regard I think we're probably the most advanced."

MORE INFO: Learn more about securing defense and federal networks at C4ISR & Networks and Federal Times' CyberCon 2015, held Nov. 18 at the Ritz Carlton in Pentagon City, Virginia.

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