24th Air Force finds its place in cyberspace

Nearly two years after its launch, the 24th Air Force is defining its role in a rapidly expanding Defense Department cyber infrastructure.

It’s been nearly two years since the 24th Air Force at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, was certified for operation and began performing its mission as the Air Force component of the U.S. Cyber Command. Since receiving the green light from Air Force Space Command in January 2010, the 24th, headed by Maj. Gen. Suzanne “Zan” Vautrinot, has worked hard to carve its own niche in the government’s cybersecurity framework and to fulfill its mission of defending the Air Force portion of the Defense Department's IT network operations.


Related coverage

Air Force embraces new mindset for cyber warfare 


Col. David Hathaway, the 24th Air Force’s director of operations and plans, said his team is working to fulfill two roles: a combatant responsibility that involves representing the Air Force to U.S. Cyber Command as well as a service commitment to Space Command, which in turn equips the 24th with the technical, training and other resources that enables it to meet its cyber commitments to Cyber Command.

Mission focus

Despite its dual responsibilities, Hathaway said that as the Air Force’s cyber command, the 24th is always focused on its fundamental mission. “Our job is to operate, defend and extend cyberspace within the Air Force portion of the defense global information grid,” he said, adding that this responsibility includes the requirement to bring secure communications services to wherever they’re needed. “We don’t always sit at home,” he explained. “We have the ability to extend our combat comm wing, the enterprise and the network out to expeditionary locations.”

Meanwhile, the 24th isn’t only a communications services provider; it must also guarantee Air Force personnel, wherever they are located, the highest possible degree of support and security. “It’s more than just providing the wires and the connections and the computers and the phones,” Hathaway said. “We have the same defenses when we’re deployed as we have on critical command and control links at home — it’s truly taking all operating and defend capabilities all the way to the tactical edge.”

Hathaway noted that 400 headquarters personnel oversee three cyber wings with a combined force of more than 5,300 military and civilian members. The 67th Network Warfare Wing is the 24th’s operations arm, equipping forces to conduct network attack, defense and exploitation activities. The unit also handles network training, operations, tactics and management services for AFNetOps/CC and combatant CCs. The 688th Information Operations Wing gives the 24th its information, operations and engineering Infrastructure capabilities. The 689th Combat Communications Wing enables the 24th to extend critical network operations to the tactical edge.

The 24th’s full-time personnel force is complemented by an additional 10,000 reserve and guard troops. Yet Hathaway wishes he had more people available to work on a growing number of tasks created by increasing demands for cyber operations and services at home and globally. “It’s never enough,” he said.

In a time of expanding workloads and shrinking military budgets, Hathaway said he’s always on the lookout for ways of making his force more productive and efficient without lowering standards. “In this environment of declining budgets, we don’t expect to get additional resources,” he said.

Hathaway said increased automation in network operations and other areas will enable the 24th to “free people to do other things.” He also believes that automation also holds the key to creating improved network services and security. “We’re looking to automate a lot of our capabilities so that we can truly have situational awareness of what our networks look like, what’s going on on our networks, and how to defend them,” he said. Finding new ways to automate is a long-term effort that requires reaching out to experts, Hathaway said. “We partner with industry, academia...to capitalize on some of these new advantages,” he said.

Becoming a team player

The 24th is very much a team player with Cyber Command as well as its counterparts in other services, Hathaway said. “It’s driven by [U.S.] Cyber Command, but we certainly do interface routinely with the other components; with ARFORCYBER [Army Forces Cyber Command], MARFORCYBER [Marine Forces Cyberspace Command], and NAVCYBERFOR [Navy Cyber Forces],” he said.

Interservice cyber cooperation is being hindered by an often incompatible mix of disparate network technologies and topologies. It’s a situation that developed gradually over many years. “The networks started by everyone kind of building their own little piece of it,” Hathaway said. “All of that was built kind of hodgepodge...now we’re living with the aftermath, with all these pieces and parts that have been plugged together.” He notes that network standardization, if and when it ever comes about, is a process that will likely be managed by Cyber Command.

For now, Hathaway feels that a multi-level security-focused strategy-based network architecture will go a long way toward reducing network incompatibilities as well as enhancing reliability and security. Acquiring network components with an eye toward compatibility and secure availability will also make deployments faster and easier. “We should be procuring equipment so that it lends itself to being aware and discoverable,” he said.

As new online dangers emerge to threaten key national resources, the 24th increasingly finds itself supporting computer and network resources operated by non-military organizations inside and outside the government. “We....provide support through Cyber Command in support of [the] Homeland Security [Department] and the defense-industrial base,” Hathaway said. “We’ll lash up with them to make sure that we are protecting critical data that may reside outside of the traditional [Defense Department] space.”

Game plan

Hathaway agreed with the often-cited analogy that military cyber support, with its proactive and defensive aspects, is more like a soccer match than an American football game. “It’s not the offensive team or the defensive team playing; they’re both the field all the time,” he explained.

A former F16 pilot, Hathaway relishes the fact that he’s now finally managing a mission that isn’t entirely dependent on the laws of physics. “This [cyber] domain; we built it,” he said. “If we don’t like it, we can modify it.”

As the 24th continues building and refining its operational capabilities, Hathaway said he’s looking forward to discovering and trying out new technologies and ideas and being at least as imaginative and innovative as his craftiest cyber adversaries. “The potential to shape the space the way we want it is there,” he said.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.