U.S. Air Force tests new method for assigning cyber combat missions
A task force seeks to “operate” the 67th Cyberspace Operations Wing, giving the commander more authority and responsibility to assign forces to perform missions. (Staff Sgt. Steven Tucker/US Air National Guard) (103rd Airlift Wing, Public Affairs)
WASHINGTON: The U.S. Air Force’s 67th Cyberspace Wing is experimenting with a new method for assigning tasks to defensive cyberspace operators.
Previously, squadron and group commanders were excluded from the operational chain of command, primarily in organizing, training, and equipping roles. While these commanders may have a deep background in cyberspace operations, this is the case, not to mention their capabilities—in their organizational, training, and equipping roles—that they are able to gain a deeper understanding of which teams are appropriate for a particular mission.
But Wing Commander Col. Jeffrey Phillips is working to “operationalize” the force — a priority he outlined in his strategic vision in February.
He has since created Task Force Mustang, which serves the dual role of commanding the 567th Cyberspace Operations Group and the task force itself. This essentially means that the commander is responsible for manning, training, and equipping, as well as an operational leadership team that is administratively aligned with the group (primarily a defensive cyber protection force retained by the Air Force, not affiliated with USCYBERCOM).
The commander now has a greater area of responsibility, as he or she is leading operational planning efforts and assigning forces to missions. “This structure allows us to more effectively engage the cyber protection team to perform tasks to protect critical systems that are important to both the Air Force and the joint force commander,” Phillips said in an interview with C4ISRNET.
He added that, in some cases, defense-focused cyber protection forces have not been on a mission for 18 months to two years because there is no organization in place to prioritize work and allocate mission space.
Now, the colonel commander in charge of both can use his or her deep knowledge to determine the required line of work and the campaign plan that needs to be addressed, then assign units and units while working through the 616th Operations Center, Phillips said give an order.
“Now these O-6 commanders, because they know what priorities need to be dealt with, what work needs to be done, they are driving these operations, not the pilots who are sitting there waiting for the mission, and if that might not happen, it’s not other people’s priorities,” he said. “It enables the 567th CG/Bronco Task Force commander to drive the process and be proactive rather than reactive.”
He said the task force has performed multiple missions under the new program and found it valuable.
Based on lessons learned from Task Force Mustangs, team members may begin experimenting with offensive teams under his 67th Cyber Operations Group, Phillips said.
Additionally, through Task Force Mustang, the Air Force has discovered a partnership between the Cyber Protection Force and the Mission Defense Force; the latter are specialized forces that protect critical Air Force missions and facilities, such as those associated with aircraft and remote control systems or computer.
Cyber protection forces that may not have been on a mission for a while will travel to various bases and liaise with mission defense forces, sharing tactics and secrets because they essentially use the same equipment.
“We found a natural symbiotic relationship between the CPT on the mission and the MDT using the same weapon system, so we went to some bases where the MDT had not been trained,” Phillips said. “They have their weapons systems out there, so the CPTs are actually able to load their weapon systems on whatever cyber terrain the wing commander thinks they want to protect, and they’ve been able to do some hands-on training that hasn’t had formal training. MDT staff.”
A task force seeks to “operate” the 67th Cyberspace Operations Wing, giving the commander more authority and responsibility to assign forces to perform missions. (Staff Sgt. Steven Tucker/US Air National Guard) (103rd Airlift Wing, Public Affairs) WASHINGTON: The U.S. Air Force’s 67th Cyberspace Wing is experimenting with a new method for assigning tasks to defensive…