Air Force plans to convert IT staff into cyber force

The Air Force hopes to solve the cyber worker shortage by redefining traditional IT jobs, starting at seven bases.

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The Air Force is moving forward with its cyber squadron initiative to beef up cyber forces to protect weapons systems from intrusions, starting with converting IT workers at seven bases to cyber operators by the end of 2018.

Lt. Gen. Bradford Shwedo, chief of information dominance and CIO for the Air Force, told FCW the service was pushing forward with its plan to convert IT professionals at every base into mission defense teams.

Right now, Shwedo said service members in the 44 mission defense teams that were established in previous fiscal years were pulling double duty, splitting their time between traditional IT work and cyber offensive and defensive work.

"They're all right now doing operations, but they're not fully manned because they're still doing their traditional IT [jobs]," he said, following his panel talk on disruptive technologies at the National Defense Industry Association's cyber symposium March 6 in McLean, Va.

This year, the Air Force will start to convert seven bases to have mission defense teams and continue to convert an unspecified number each year until all bases are switched over, Shwedo said. Ultimately each base will have a series of "beat cops" that search for vulnerabilities and network anomalies.

The cyber squadron initiative was announced in 2017, and Fifth Domain reported in February the Air Force was beginning to pick bases for conversion.

Shwedo said the initiative works as part of the Air Force's overall cloud migration plan to do enterprise as a service.

"The bottom line is I'm going to pay a price per seat for every one of IT, and we are converting our whole basically [IT team] into cyber folks, and we're going to start getting after the weapons systems," Shwedo said during his panel. "Whatever base they're at, they're going to hover over that weapons system, and their job is to get after the back doors of the weapons systems in that base, all the industrial control systems, etc."

Service members will undergo training at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Miss., Shwedo said, where the curriculum will shift from basic IT training to higher-end training, such as how to use the cyber protection toolkits used by mission defense teams to protect networks during daily operations.

Shwedo said the timeline for completion was unclear and dependent on Congress' budget decisions for fiscal 2019.

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