Q&A: AF chief information officer on Cyber Summit

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  • Air Force Public Affairs Agency
Air Force leaders held a Cyber Summit in November at Joint Base Andrews, Md., to discuss the Air Force's role in cyberspace and to ensure the mission needs of the Air Force and joint warfighter are being met going forward.

More than 30 senior leaders, including the secretary and chief of staff of the Air Force and major command commanders, attended the summit. It was organized to get service leaders together to focus on cyber issues, requirements, capabilities and gaps and to set a way forward for addressing those gaps in the future, according to Lt. Gen. Michael J. Basla, the chief, Information Dominance and chief information officer, Office of the Secretary of the Air Force.

"The Air Force senior leaders are very interested in this, highly engaged, and committed to ensuring the Air Force is always postured to meet our combatant commanders' and our nation's needs," said Basla.

In preparation for the summit, Cyber Command and the National Security Agency co-hosted a Cyber Immersion Day at Fort Meade, Md., to provide an understanding of threats and capabilities to senior Air Force leaders.

The summit ensured senior Air Force leaders had the same baseline understanding of cyber operations, the Air Force role within the cyber domain, and of the Air Force cyber capabilities that support combatant commander requirements. The baseline understanding enabled discussion on mission, manpower and capabilities.

According to General Basla, to further capitalize on the enhanced understanding and gained momentum, senior leaders are now working to address the major task areas captured during the summit.

Recently, the general responded to questions regarding the summit's main topics, the summit's major task areas and the overall cyber mission:

Q: What was accomplished at the Summit specifically?

The current posture for organizing, training and equipping Air Force cyber forces and evaluating our cyber capabilities were reviewed. Leadership focused on understanding the evolving combatant commander and Air Force cyber requirements and implications to support the joint warfighter. The summit concluded with initial guidance setting a way forward to quickly review Air Force fiscal 2014 program objectives memorandum opportunities and develop positions for the fiscal 2015 POM to address emerging U.S. Cyber Command requirements. We also reviewed the Air Force's cross-domain capabilities and interdependencies.

Q: How well are Airmen performing the cyber mission?

Our Airmen are doing an outstanding job of establishing, operating in, and defending the cyber domain.

Over the past few years, the Air Force has ramped up its cyber education to prepare forces to meet challenges and leverage opportunities in cyberspace. We have developed and refined courses at every level of training and education to hone the skills of cyberspace professionals from multiple career fields across the Air Force, to include: undergraduate cyber training, intermediate network warfare training and Cyber 200/300/400.

We establish and defend the network to ensure mission assurance for our friendly forces, and we operate in the network to deny the enemy the same capability. Our cyber Airmen employ understanding of the network and adversary tactics to develop defenses to protect our information on the networks. This new mission and domain requires special expertise, incredible vigilance, and selfless dedication.

Q: What are a couple of the biggest obstacles you're currently managing for operating and growing this mission area?

We have a couple of challenges that we are working through. In regards to force management, we are working with CYBERCOM and all the major commands to determine the right size of the workforce and the right expenditures.

Cyber is a growth area, and we need to better understand the demand signal from the warfighter for our officer, enlisted and civilian workforce. Since we do not expect our end strength to grow, we need to see where we can smartly repurpose our workforce to meet the demand. We must also be prepared to ramp up the training pipeline as necessary.

Another area we need to look at is how our cyber forces are organized. We are studying how to best organize cyber units in order to optimally present forces to the combatant commander. This work will include a total look, from the headquarters staff down to the squadron level.

Q: What is the purpose of the summit as it relates to Cyber Vision 2025?

Cyber Vision 2025 informed our discussion. Our awareness and understanding was enhanced by the report's observations, conclusions and recommendations. Additionally, Dr. Mark Maybury, the Air Force chief scientist, participated in our working groups as we worked hand-in-hand to ensure we remained in-synch.

Q: In July, the Air Force chief scientist said, at the Air Force Association's monthly breakfast, that Airmen are the key to this mission area and "without the right talent, we are not going to be able to do anything." What are your thoughts on that?

I absolutely agree with Dr. Maybury's assessment. Like the Air Force flying mission, the cyberspace mission is complex and having the right talent is the key to our success. It requires the collaboration of professionals across a spectrum of competencies to establish, defend and leverage the domain. The cyberspace community is a collaboration of forces that includes cyberspace defenders, cyberspace controllers, intelligence specialists, scientists, engineers and acquisition personnel working together.

We cannot be satisfied with recruiting the right talent. We must train the force. Ten years ago, much of what we now call cyber training was principally done as on-the-job training and relied, primarily, on finding individuals who already possessed the necessary skills because of personal interest. The recognition of the need to operationalize the workforce led to the gradual development of (Defense Department) and Air Force-level standards and training programs of increasing value and rigor.

Subsequently, compromises in network security, which resulted in mission impact, were discovered at a growing rate. This led to the development of new organizations designed to perform new cyberspace-focused missions, requiring personnel with new skill sets. The end result has been an Air Force Space Command-driven effort to build operational training pipelines for the cyberspace career force, composed of many different specialties, that parallels those for air and space crews. The shift in focus from career field training that prepared individuals to be technicians or managers, to career force training that develops teams to operate as cohesive mission crews, has required a dramatic shift in training programs for personnel working in this mission area.

Q: Does the Air Force track record of innovation give you hope for current and future work in cyber?

I think it does. Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley pointed this out at the summit when he said Airmen bring a different perspective, and we need to understand and cultivate the extra value the Air Force brings to this mission area.

However, the Air Force does not have the market cornered on innovation. All the services bring a unique perspective to the domain.

The Air Force has traditionally trained its Airmen to think from a global perspective and how effects can be delivered on the battlefield from this point of view. This type of thinking will be beneficial as our Air Force operates in the cyber domain and integrates cyber capabilities into the air and space domains.