Air Force cyber command takes shape

Details on new outfit are expected as the service celebrates its 60th birthday

Nearly a year after the Air Force announced its plans to create a cyberspace command, officials say they are close to completing the details of how the command will work.

A program action directive will spell out many of the specifics, and it will be the blueprint for the organization. Air Force staff members at the three-star officer level are reviewing the document, said Air Force Maj. Gen. William Lord, director of cyberspace transformation and strategy at the Office of the Air Force Chief Information Officer, speaking at an event last week in McLean, Va., sponsored by AFCEA International.

Lt. Gen. Michael Peterson, Lord’s boss and the Air Force’s chief information officer, said he approved the document in late July.

Lord added that Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne and Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley likely will use the service’s 60th birthday festivities to announce the next steps in the evolution of the command.

“We may hear something from the chief and the secretary about new commands,” Lord said.

Wynne announced plans to establish the command in November 2006. In late 2005, service leaders declared fighting in cyberspace to be one of its core responsibilities.

Planning for the command has been under way since last year, but Air Force officials are still waiting for a formal proclamation of the new outfit as a major command.

A number of fundamental questions remain regarding the Air Force’s plans in cyberspace.

For example, Lord said, officials have yet to define the rules of engagement for fighting in that arena. In addition, service officials are contemplating what new programs — if any — they will need to support the command, he said.

The Cyberspace Command would play a central role in preparing the service for future conflicts in which traditional weapons would take a back seat to nonkinetic forms of attack that bear little resemblance to warfare today, Lord said.

His assessment contrasts with widespread thinking in the Army that future conflicts will require large amounts of ground troops to pacify unstable regions worldwide.

Linton Wells, who recently left his job as principal deputy assistant secretary of Defense for networks and information integration, said the Air Force’s announcement for a new command last year caught some in the Defense Department by surprise.

“It was positioned as a bold move by the Air Force,” Wells said in an interview last month, adding that Wynne and Moseley moved quickly to realize the project.

Wells, who now holds positions as a distinguished research fellow and force transformation chair at the National Defense University, said he is concerned the service-specific command could perpetuate stovepipes among the services in tackling an inherently joint mission area.

The Army and Navy have commands in charge of network-centric warfare and related mission areas. The Army Network Enterprise Technology Command and the Naval Network Warfare Command are led by a one-star and a three-star officer, respectively.

Unlike the Air Force, neither of those services has the task of fighting in cyberspace explicitly written into its mission statement.

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