Air Force Cyber-Operations Wing to Go on Hiring Binge (UPDATED)

By Stew Magnuson
In a time of hiring freezes and great budget uncertainty, the Air Force plans to hire more than 1,000 personnel at its wing devoted to cyber-operations.
The 24th Air Force, located at Lackland Air Force Base, in San Antonio, Texas, will “hopefully” add “well over” 1,000 mostly civilian new hires over the span of two years beginning in 2014, Gen. William Shelton, Air Force Space Command commander told reporters in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 17.
The mostly civilian new hires will be added to the approximately 6,000 already serving there, Shelton said. The “hopefully” part of the equation has to do with current civilian hiring freezes that the military services are currently imposing because of the possibility of sequestration and the continuing budget resolution for fiscal year 2013. Shelton, however, is optimistic that these will all be in the past by next fiscal year.
He expects the office of the secretary of defense to order Space Command to add the new hires in its 2014 directions, Shelton said. The request to boost the number of personnel assigned there, however, originates at U.S. Cyber Command. The 24th Air Force is the service’s component that answers to the Cyber Command located at Fort Meade, Md.
“If it turns out the way we think it’s going to turn out, we think it will be on the order of 70 to 80 percent civilian,” hires, he said. They will be involved in all aspects of the 24th Air Force’s cybermission: defend, operate, exploit and attack, he said.
Cyberspace is a double-edge sword, he said. The U.S. military endures millions of probes against its networks every day. Most — close to 100 percent, he asserted — are not successful. But the Air Force is also using the Internet to do its own intelligence gathering.
“It is not a whole substitute — but certainly darn near a substitute  — for human intelligence activity. There are things you can get to from a computer network … that in the past would have been very hard to collect,” he said. This is done through the authorities of the National Security Agency, but with the services participating, he said.
“Attack is [a capability] that we have developed, and certainly at the direction of the national command authority, we have the capabilities there and ready,” he said. As for the type of cyberweapons used, he only said, “Let your mind wander.”
On the space side, the command is struggling to determine how to maintain its critical functions in a time of “tremendous” uncertainties, Shelton said. The main uncertainty is the budget. The continuing resolution means there are no new program starts this calendar year, and it makes planning for 2014 all the more difficult. It is also unclear how many troops the command will need to serve in Afghanistan beyond next year.
“This is the worst I have seen in it in 36 and half years,” he said of the budget battles. “It is irritating.”
The capabilities Space Command provides are critical, he said. They underpin the forces and enable them to fight the way they fight today, he said. Communications, GPS and remote sensing satellite fleets need to be protected from the budget ax, or they can’t carry out their missions effectively, he said. The command can’t just cut one spacecraft out of the budget and expect to have global coverage.
“The challenge is to protect that level of service, if you will, with a budget that is coming down,” he said.
The Joint Space Operations Center at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., which provides command and control for all the space missions, is “way overdue” for modernization, he said. There is a space surveillance mainframe computer there that hasn’t had a software upgrade since 1994, he added.
Space Command is conducting a series of studies to determine how it can achieve its mission under the new budget paradigms. There are plans to put some of its payloads aboard commercial or civilian spacecraft. Known as hosted payloads, the command plans to release a contract that will help make this procedure easier by the end of the calendar year.
Satellites may also be smaller. GPS satellites, for example, now currently carry nuclear detonation sensor payloads. The command wants to launch a stripped down, navigation-only spacecraft that will boost the system’s capabilities, particularly in so-called urban canyons where signals aren’t as robust.
How Space Command achieves its missions will be  “fundamentally different,” in the future, he said.
Note: In response to follow-up questions submitted by reporters Jan. 17 on the number of new hires for the 24th Air Force, Space Command spokesman Andy Roake said Jan. 28 in an email that: “U.S. Cyber Command and the services are currently developing an implementation plan to include sourcing and training this new cyber workforce.”
The Washington Post and the New York Times reported Jan. 28 that the Defense Department will be expanding the number of personnel working on the cyberspace across all four services. The approximate numbers for 24th Air Force are 3,600 active duty military; 750 civilians; 900 contractors; 10,000 Reserve/Guard personnel, Roake said.
“It is unlikely these cyber employees will be new to the Air Force due to the grade requirements determined by U.S. Cyber Command; therefore, many of these employees may need to be pulled from existing mission areas. That said, some new civilian cyber employees may be new hires depending on skill sets required,” Roake said.
Photo Credit: Defense Dept.

Topics: C4ISR, Cybersecurity, Space

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