WASHINGTON: For years the Air Force has claimed to be the service most suited to understanding and operating in cyberspace and the service fought hard to be the Pentagon’s lead on cyber issues. But top officers recently admitted that the service has never answered key questions such as how it works with the other services or whether it has legal standing to run global cyber missions.
A lack of internal cohesion has stymied the Air Force on this issue, Gen. William Shelton, commander of Air Force Space Command said at AFCEA’s Air Force IT Day conference. Shelton noted that definitions of cyberspace as a place for military operations are vague and must be refined. Getting a sharper picture of what the domain means from an Air Force perspective will also help the service to better understand its place in it, he said.
Ongoing Congressional and White House attempts to hammer out cybersecurity legislation are also forcing the Defense Department to pin down its own missions and the roles that the individual services play. This is the major reason behind the Air Force’s need to get its house in order, Air Force chief information officer Lt. Gen. Michael Basla said. “We have talked about this for too many years,” he explained.
Top Air Force officials will meet in November to formally work out the service’s mission and role in cyberspace, Basla said. The service needs to answer a couple of key questions: what is the underlying military mission in cyberspace, what is the Air Force’s role in cyberspace, what distinguishes the Air Force from the other services in Cyberspace, and how should the Air Force train and equip itself to operate in this domain.
The Air Force hopes to create an officially defined set missions and requirements during the summit, Basla said. Several working groups are already laying out operational requirements, joint operations needs and identifying operational or capability gaps that need to be addressed before the rule making meeting kicks off.
How the Air Force defines itself also has important national security considerations because the service’s cyberspace operations will have to take into account into Title 10 and Title 50, laws that define military and intelligence roles and missions. “We have to figure out cyberspace now, or at least get on a common vector,” Shelton said.
No matter what rules the service works out for itself in the coming month, both generals agreed the Air Force will have to pay special attention to training, educating and retaining a core of highly skilled personnel well versed in defensive and offensive cyberspace operations.
The Air Force is developing a basic six-month cyber training course, to be backed up by additional professional development training, Basla said. For example, a cyber weapons instruction course is being set up at Nevada’s Nellis Air Force Base. The class is designed to produce officers and airmen capable of working with the other services and in the many areas that touch on cyberspace, such as space and intelligence gathering systems and platforms, he said.