The Air Force’s decision to downgrade the proposed cyberspace command to a numbered unit is less about the service’s commitment to protecting and developing capabilities and more about its nuclear arsenal.
Air Force officials announced Oct. 7 that the proposed command would be a numbered unit inside the Space Command. And instead, the service decided to create a major command focused on supporting its nuclear and deterrence missions.
The decision to establish a nuclear major command is part of the fall out from the problems the service had with controlling and tracking its nuclear arsenal.
“Our new secretary and chief of staff understand that we are committed to and get the importance of cyber space,” says Maj. Gen. William Lord, provisional commander of the cyber command at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana. “They have to figure out how cyber fits with the rest of the enterprise.”
Lord, who spoke at a recent conference sponsored by AFCEA in Washington, says most functions and expectations of the cyber unit remain the same, but what will change is when the unit will be established and how it will control the cyberspace budget in the short term.
The Air Force had hoped to establish the command in October.
An Air Force spokesman says senior officials will provide more details about the new numbered Air Force unit by Oct. 17.
The spokesman says traditionally a numbered command deals with operational issues, while a major command focuses on organization and education functions.
The spokesman also says the new unit likely will have less than 500 people assigned to it.
John Gilligan, a former Air Force chief information officer, says it is more appropriate to align cyber activities and stay with the same construct originally envisioned.
There were a number of space related assets and capabilities that potentially needed to be better linked to cyber activities for the cyber command,” says Gilligan, who now runs his own consulting firm, the Gilligan Group. “This alignment with the Space Command allows some of maturing to evolve. The other expectation I would have with the Air Force leadership standing up of cyber is to have much closer coordination with activities at the DoD level.”
Gilligan says when the Air Force announced it would establish a cyber command the perception within DoD was the service was trying to take the lead over all cyber activities.
While that perception was incorrect, Gilligan says it likely did give the new Air Force leadership some pause.
“The Air Force was perceived and in some actual instances as not supporting joint activities in a robust manner,” he says.
Gilligan says as a numbered Air Force unit, it will be easier to work with other DoD activities including Strategic Command and the National Security Agency.
Lord says the cyber unit will continue to oversee several functions including network warfare, network operations and global command and control integration.
The other area it will focus on is training cyber warriors.
“We are a poor force provider,” Lord says. “If a commander needs help, we give him an airman who needs to go to school for 18 months and then work somewhere for three or four years before they are in a position to help.”
Lord adds that the goal is to raise the level of cyber operations across the service, if not DoD.