Air Force grooming cyber wingmen

Friday - 11/12/2010, 6:46am EST

WFED's Max Cacas

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By Max Cacas
Reporter
Federal News Radio

The Air Force is making cybersecurity training at all levels of the service an increasingly important part of military preparedness.

In the information technology business, cybersecurity used to be called information assurance because the main goal was to protect both the data and the integrity of the computing environment. But that's not necessarily the case in the Air Force, according to Maj. Gen. Michael Basla, vice commander of the Air Force Space Command.

"Mission assurance is our focus here and our number one goal is current cyber operations," said Basla during a recent a Pentagon Bloggers Roundtable.

It's not information assurance, which is really where the community I came from focused on in the past -- mission assurance provide capabilities to work through attacks and to allow Air Force missions to continue. We're moving full throttle to build our cyberspace force and deal with the challenges that I've spoken of. The Air Force's cyber expertise now increases our abilities to protect and operate our networks.

Speaking from the home of the Air Force Space Command at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado, Basla gave a personnel snapshot of the 24th Air Force, the unit designation of the Air Force Space command, whose mission includes both space and cyberspace.

"Under the 24th Air Force, active [military] and civilian is about 5,900 [employees]," he said. "And our reserve component, from Air Force Reserve Command and the Air National Guard, is another 11,000. And in fact, you know that we have a ceiling -- active-duty ceiling. All the services do. And we've been working real hard to get under that ceiling. We had exceeded that by a small amount, and we're hard to get under that."

With cybersecurity becoming an increasingly important part of how the Air Force does its job, Basla said the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., plays a big role in training the future cyberspace workers.

"The Air Force Academy does have a cyberspace operations core curriculum there," he said. "And we have gone over there because I've got feedback from the -- from Gen. [Michael] Gould, the superintendent over there, who has asked me and others to come by to explain to the young cadets what it means to be a cyberspace officer in our United States Air Force."

Basla said they're hoping to capitalize on the interest in everything cyber by the new generation of cadets.

"There's a great deal of interest, I will tell you," Basla said. "And that's the encouraging thing. And it's really because the young people have grown up with computers. They're very comfortable with them. And so they want to understand what their responsibilities will be, and how they can get involved. And so I'm encouraged about that."

Basla said the original plan called for 100 percent of officer candidates for the Air Force cyberspace program to have advanced technical and scientific degrees. But recently, he said that has changed to reflect a more progressive outlook on cybersecurity.

"We have mandated that 80 percent of the force come in with technical degrees before they are admitted," he said. "We originally wanted 100 percent. to have technology, math, science, engineering degrees. But we were advised that there are some folks that could come from the social sciences that could contribute -- you know, something about looking at the problem a little differently -- that could contribute to our capability. So we've allowed for some exceptions. And how big that exception will be, I'm not quite sure."

Basla said cybersecurity training also is becoming a priority in the enlisted ranks.

"Everybody can't step into the cockpit of an aircraft and be a pilot, everybody can get on the net in the Air Force," he said. "And so we've got to develop a cyber wingman construct across the entire force. So now at basic military training at Lackland Air Force base, we actually have two blocks that introduce what it means to be a good cyber wingman, what it means to take care of the network, good practices, etcetera."

Basla added there's advanced senior level cybersecurity training for cadets modeled after what he calls the "space 300 and 300" classes. And there's also post-graduate cyber training for Air Force non-commissioned officers.

Basla said the Air Force also is focusing on older officers who are interested in advancing their careers through cybersecurity.

"I have been working with Lt. Gen. [Allen] Peck from Air University to ensure we have a flag-officer-level course and a colonel level course that includes cyberspace operations information," he said. "We're still in the development on that. They have an information operations course, and we're trying to leverage that but we're still developing the cyber component to that."

Basla also said cybersecurity will factor into training at the Air Force Weapons school at Nellis Air Force base, Nevada, where cyberspace training will take its place alongside air and space training.

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