Cyber Defense

AF Cyber Command bulks up, slims down

The Air Force Cyber Command is bulking up and slimming down at the same time, planning to add a couple thousand airmen to its workforce by 2016 while simplifying its architecture as part of the military’s move to the Joint Information Environment (JIE).

Expanding the workforce during tough budgetary times, which is being mirrored at the cyber commands of the other services, attests to the growing importance of cyber operations, said Maj. Gen. James “Kevin” McLaughlin, commander of the 24th Air Force Base and the Air Forces Cyber at Joint Base San Antonio. McLaughlin spoke Wednesday to a ballroom full of industry representatives during AFCEA NOVA’s Air Force IT Day in Vienna, Va.

The makeup of the cyber workforce will be made up of mostly uniformed personnel, as opposed to the more mixed civilian, industry and military workforces in other areas, he said, while emphasizing during his talk that “cyber is a domain,” not just a mission or functional area.

It also has become something every commander and base needs to concern themselves with, regardless of their primary missions. Whether you’re talking about a weapons systems or a base chapel’s website, he said, everything is connected and therefore a potential target. “Cyber is a team sport,” he said, and collaboration is critical to defending networks, systems and data.

McLaughlin outlined the structure of AF Cyber and discussed its evolving role and some of the challenges facing the command. Among the goals is a pared-down architecture with JIE, the Pentagon’s plan for a secure, defensewide information-sharing environment. “JIE is a simplified architecture,” he said, one that the Air Force expects will help streamline operations and, significantly, be less expensive.

The command, whose “Lines of Effort” include operating the Air Force Information Network, defending AFIN and engaging cyber adversaries, also is looking to develop an automated defensive capability, which would allow AF Cyber to put its personnel on other jobs, and be sure to build resilient networks that can survive the inevitable attack.

He also addressed a difficult challenge — defending against insider threats, something clearly evident in the wake of the Edward Snowden leaks. The Air Force, like agencies across government, has some protections in place, but none are fool-proof. He said the command would welcome ideas on how to best combat the threat. “Right now,” he said, “we’re all ears.”

About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.

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