Cyber Defense

Air Force bolsters its cyber ranks by 40 percent

With the projected completion of the Defense Department’s Cyber Mission Force slated for 2018, the individual services are staffing up to fill their requirements to the overall force, expected to number more than 6,000.

As cyber operations become more important, so too will the cyber force. “Our cyber and our space capabilities, they enable everything we do nowadays,” Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said during a town hall at Fort Meade in December, responding to a question regarding the role the Air Force will play in the fight against ISIS. 

But James is hoping to reverse recent trends in personnel. She noted that everywhere she has gone, she has noticed a downsizing of the force, but said the force actually must modestly, “upsize.” One of the areas she identified a primary focus for upsizng is the service’s cyber capacity.

Officials at the Air Force’s main offices declined to add context to James’s statement beyond the general effort to fill its cyber ranks as part of the projected 6,200-strong DOD force. However, a spokesperson with the 24th Air Force, the service’s cyber wing, did say that the force has grown its cyber mission force in the last year by roughly 40 percent. Col. Robert Cole, director of Air Forces Cyber Forward, said in early December that the Air Force’s cyber mission force (CMF) will provide 39 teams to the U.S. Cyber Command’s overall 133, and that the Air Force’s teams will consist of 1,700 personnel drawn both from the 24th and 25th Air Force.

“Once the CMF is fully operational capable it will provide national-level decision makers and geographic combatant commander's proficient agile and sustainable teams to defend DOD networks and the nation,” the 24th Air Force spokesperson wrote to Defense Systems in an email.

The Air Force’s CMF is has three types of teams: Cyber Protection Teams, Combat Mission Teams and National Mission Teams, along with additional cyber teams that support them. Cole said that intelligence forces, predominantly from the 25th Air Force, will make up the majority of teams focused on defending the nation and supporting combatant commanders “in order to get into the space and understand what the force needs to do to put the adversary at risk.” Additionally, more cyber focused teams will make up the majority of cyber defensive teams.

As for filling out its ranks, the 24th Air Force spokesperson said, “The AF is leveraging personnel within its force to fill out CMF teams, which will continue to grow over the next 12-14 months. There are programs in place to cross-flow Airmen into the Cyber Operator career field. The program has successfully contributed more personnel to surge the CMF build out over the last year—furthermore, with forecasted positions available for civilians, the CMF continues to seek qualified cyber professionals.”

James also noted that the “upsize” will be total force, active duty, reserve and guard. The reserve and guard components have been lauded as valuable assets in the cyber domain both in the Defense Department’s cyber strategy and by the Defense secretary himself.

“AFCYBER is dedicated to Total Force Integration and is heavily dependent upon the Air Reserve Component for current operations and the future growth of Air Force cyber capabilities. We are working with the National Guard Bureau and Air Force Reserve Command to identify opportunities to transition guard and reserve units to cyber mission areas,” the 24th Air Force spokesperson wrote.  “The 24th Air Force also welcomes partnering opportunities with academia, industry and other government agencies in an effort to stay current with rapid advances in cyber technology.”

Additionally, the Joint Force Headquarters-Cyber, originally stood up in mid-October 2013, is planned for an operational capability in 2016. The JFHQ-C is separate from the Defense Information Systems Agency’s Joint Force Headquarters-Department of Defense Information Networks, which has been described by its director Lt. Gen. Alan Lynn as the operational arm of U.S. Cyber Command and is defined under DOD’s cyber strategy  as “coordinate[ing] network defense and mitigate[ing] cyber risks to DOD operations and missions across the defense enterprise.” The JFHQ-c will plan, prepare and execute cyberspace operates in support of combatant commander objectives. In fact, its initial operational capability in 2013 is what produced the development of the cyber mission force. 

In terms of the entirety of the 133 teams spread across DOD, the breakdown consists of 68 Cyber Protection Teams that will focus on DOD’s No. 1 mission of defending the network; 13 National Mission Teams that will help defend the nation’s critical infrastructure; 27 Combat Mission Teams that will be aligned with the combatant commanders and assist in their planning and operations; and 25 Support Teams that will be available to support the National Mission and Combat Mission teams. 

About the Author

Mark Pomerleau is a former editorial fellow with GCN and Defense Systems.

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