18 August 2000
Air Force Establishes 'Reduced' Cyber-War Command
By David Axe

A year ago, the Air Force suspended its plans to set up a new “cyber command” for network defense and online warfare. The suspension came at a tumultuous time for the air service. Its two top officials had just been canned, botched airplane buys were under close scrutiny and Air Force nuke handlers were reeling from several potentially catastrophic gaffes. “It makes sense for new leadership to want to pause and evaluate,” cyber-security specialist Richard Bejtlich said.

Things are calmer now. The Air Force has new leaders, new and more modest acquisition plans and tighter nuke controls. Amid the calm, and without much fanfare, the Air Force on Tuesday established a new, “greatly reduced” cyber-warfare organization, to borrow Gannett’s description. The 24th Air Force, at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, “will provide combat-ready forces trained and equipped to conduct sustained cyber operations, fully integrated with air and space operations.”

What does that mean? Setting up and protecting new, instant networks in war zones, for one. Plus defending existing Air Force networks from intrusion. If there’s an offensive component to the 24th, the Air Force isn’t saying.

The 24th will subsume two existing wings, and add one new one, so it mostly amounts to re-packaging old forces. “The largest advantage is focus,” Gen. Robert Kehler, the top officer at Air Force Space Command, told Danger Room. Having a new umbrella organization for cyber-defense helps the Air Force “think differently about requirements and acquisition.”

Plus, the 24th will oversee revamped network training for incoming recruits and officer candidates. That will range from proper use of thumb drives to complex cyber-defense exercises, such as the one held annually at West Point (pictured), according to Maj. Gen. Richard Webber, the new 24th commander. “We’re starting to see evolution,” Webber said.

[PHOTO: U.S. Army]

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