Airmen must understand business of cyber, general says

  • Published
  • By Cheryl Pellerin
  • American Forces Press Service
As U.S. Cyber Command gains strength and steadily extends its range across the newest warfare domain, it has called on all the services over the next five years to contribute trained-up teams of cyber operators to ensure U.S. military freedom of action, defensively and offensively, in cyberspace.

For the Air Force, this means adding more than 1,000 cyber professionals between fiscal 2014 and 2016, the commander of Air Force Space Command, Gen. William L. Shelton, said during a news conference here in January. This is a 15 percent increase over the 6,000 or so cyber experts now working at 24th Air Force, the service's operational cyber organization.

Maj. Gen. Suzanne M. Vautrinot is in charge of the Air Force cyber enterprise. She commands the 24th Air Force and Air Forces Cyber, called AFCYBER, at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland in Texas.

"I wear two hats," the general told American Forces Press Service during a recent interview. "One is organizing, training and equipping the 24th Air Force under Air Force Space Command, making sure that we provide cyber resources for the Air Force and for U.S. Cyber Command."

Her 24th Air Force units are the 67th Network Warfare Wing and the 688th Information Operations Wing at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland and the 689th Combat Communications Wing at Robins Air Force Base, Ga. It's also a virtual command, Vautrinot said, with locations and people at about 40 different places around the globe and "groups and squadrons all over the place."

"On the other side is Air Forces Cyber, the component to U.S. Cyber Command," the general explained. "We need to provide those trained and ready and capable folks to conduct the missions that Cyber Command delegates to us or involves us in."

One indication of the growth of Air Force cyber was the official opening April 30 of a new 46,000-sqare-foot headquarters and operations center. The new space allows for the expansion of AFCYBER strategy, plans and operations capabilities and integration of counterparts from law enforcement, the Defense Information Systems Agency and industry.

Another sure sign of growth in Air Force cyber is the amplified pace of hiring and training, both of which the service is handling precisely. "The first part of hiring Air Force professionals is about finding the very best in the nation who want to serve," Vautrinot said.

Cyber candidates -- active duty, National Guard, Reserve and civilians -- must pass a battery of tests, the general said, focused on certain degree programs for certain career fields.

"What you want is talented people, and in part that talent has to do with science, technology, engineering and math skills -- not necessarily degrees, but a proclivity to operate in that kind of manner, to enjoy that kind of mindset," she said.

The next step involves a vision articulated early this year by Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh, of the organization as the greatest air force in the world, 'powered by Airmen, fueled by innovation,' Vautrinot added.

"If you're going to fuel the innovation of cyber and have that be the power of Airmen, that means every Airman has to understand the business of cyber," the general said, noting that Air Force cyber professionals can be found in any number of specialties.

"It's our cyber operators, our intelligence professionals, our engineers, space professionals, law enforcement" and many others, she added.

The 24th Air Force has also formalized and stepped-up cyber training for the Total Force -- a term the Air Force uses in referring to its officers, enlisted personnel and civilian employees, as well as Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve members.

Vautrinot said the Air Force has developed a pipeline for training Airmen at the Air Force and Joint levels, led by the 688th Information Operations Wing. Cyber education starts as part of basic military training and continues over an Air Force career through annual training, professional development education and targeted courses, she said.

When the 24th Air Force stood up in 2010, Vautrinot said, "we had to create processes, procedures and training ... so they were stabilized and scalable, so you could create a larger force to do all these different mission areas."

With help from industry and other partners, the Air Force created a "cradle-to-grave" training and education continuum that has basic, intermediate and advanced positional and mission training, the general explained.

"Cyber is not unique to the military; it's a partnership," Vautrinot said, "so in order to build the right stuff for the skilled workforce, there's a lot of external partnering."

Vautrinot quoted a congressman as citing James Gosler, the first director of the CIA's clandestine information technology office, who in October 2008 said, "The U.S. has no more than 1,000 people with the advanced security skills to compete in cyberspace at world-class levels -- we need 20,000 to 30,000."

"We took that to heart and partnered with industry to leverage best practices," she said, "both because it's a shared problem and industry is leading the way, and there's no reason to duplicate."

The nation doesn't need "silver bullets," the general said. It needs capability and capacity, she added, defining capability as "the number and kinds of things you can do" and capacity as "how many people you can do those things for simultaneously."

"What we're all trying to do as a nation is make sure that we can all scale," she added. "So we take the capacity that's in industry, the capacity that's in government, the capacity that's in the academic world, the capacity that's in our international partners and we partner, because this is a shared problem."

The 24th Air Force uses cooperative research and development agreements to collaborate with big and small companies and organizations in industry, academia, other government organizations and research institutions.

"What we do," Vautrinot explained, "is ... share information and understanding about the threat and the environment, or information on what kinds of technologies and innovations are in the realm of the possible or just now emerging so we can put those together."

The general also works closely with international partners, she said.

"There are all kinds of concerted efforts at the level of the Office of the Secretary of Defense and within Cyber Command and in each individual combatant command to expand international partnerships," Vautrinot added.

"We have a United Kingdom embed on our staff, and we'll have an Australian coming soon," she added. "When I work with my counterparts in other countries, the 5th Air Force is in Japan and they work with the Japanese in different mission areas, so they reach out to me to help with respect to understanding cyber implications for those particular missions."

The 24th Air Force also is a collaborative element in the whole-of-government approach, Vautrinot added, so she works through the Air Force's Office of Special Investigations, through law enforcement by way of the FBI and local law enforcement agencies, and with the departments of Treasury, Homeland Security and Commerce.

"We are partners with them, because we're all defending the same nation in different ways," the general said, "and we are all dependent on cyber and networks, so we share and collaborate."