With the addition of 24th Air Force/Air Forces Cyber to Air Combat Command, new cyber outcomes are available to America’s warfighting commanders.
“We’re moving more and more toward multi-domain, hybrid warfare—using more than one domain to achieve warfighting objectives,” said Robert Cole, AFCYBER executive director. “There are a number of different non-kinetic outcomes we can bring to the battlefield. This move to ACC allows cyber to pair outcomes and give us a distinct advantage over our adversaries.”
These domains include ACC’s fighter; rescue; command and control; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and now cyber mission sets.
Using the true-story movie “Black Hawk Down” as inspiration, Cole gave a hypothetical example of how cyber could support multi-domain warfare.
“Remember in the movie when the three friendly helicopters first take off? Then the enemy sentries alert the other fighters who are standing by to take down the helicopters with rocket-propelled grenade launchers. Some are shot down and several service members are killed,” Cole said.
“What if cyber would’ve been involved in that? And before the helicopters took off, before the enemy sentry took his cell phone and alerted the other enemies, it rang, and someone on the other end told him to put it down or be targeted, or it was made to not work altogether. In that scenario, how could it have changed the overall outcome? This is what cyber could potentially bring to the fight.”
AFCYBER’S full-spectrum operations fall into one of three categories: Offensive (OCO), defensive (DCO) and Department of Defense Information Network (DODIN) operations.
OCO can provide a variety of combatant commander’s desired outcomes against adversary targets. DCO secures and defends critical mission elements of the Air Force Information Network to ensure friendly freedom-of action in cyberspace. DODIN operations maintain the integrity of the enterprise network.
The numbered air force’s 624th Operations Center and 67th and 688th Cyberspace Wings fulfill their respective mission responsibilites to collectively enable AFCYBER operations in support of the the Air Force, joint force and nation: what cyber could bring to the fight.
According to Cole, aligning cyber and intelligence within ACC pays the greatest dividends to mission success.
“Because of the dynamic, ever-changing nature of the cyber domain, intelligence is always going to be a huge part of our operations,” said Cole. “If you look at our Cyber Mission Force teams, they’re split into about 60 percent cyber professionals and 40 percent intelligence professionals overall.
“On some teams, the ratio is flipped with 60 percent intelligence professionals and 40 percent cyber professionals. That’s reflective of the fact we’re dependent on our intelligence professionals.”
He continued, “If you’re working on a computer that’s operating system is in a foreign language, it helps to have (someone) sitting next to you so they can read what’s on the screen. (Cyber) operators aren’t trained in foreign languages; so they need that (person) with them.”
The NAF currently employs 39 CMF teams that direct, synchronize and coordinate cyberspace operations in defense of the nation’s interests, where intelligence team members fulfill specific roles.
The realignment also simplifies personnel actions to realign talent.
According to Cole, pre-realignment, if 24th AF or 25th AF wanted to reassign talent between the two NAFs, the NAF would have had to accomplish permanent change of station actions—just like if an Airman were moving to an installation from a different state. Now, Airmen must only perform permanent change of assignment actions to be reassigned to a unit within the Joint Base San Antonio area.
Whether it’s halting an enemy, reassigning Airmen, or any number of the countless additional benefits of realigning 24th AF under ACC, the NAF remains steadfast in its role to conduct full-spectrum, global cyberspace operations.
“The transfer aligns our cyber capabilities within ACC to provide more options for warfighting success,” said Maj. Gen. Robert Skinner, 24th AF commander. “Our Airmen’s ability to secure and defend critical cyber terrain from hostile actors is unsurpassed, and essential in achieving service, component and joint force commander objectives.”