JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas — The men and women of 24th Air Force are sharpening their skill sets in cyber warfare through exercises aimed at achieving training objectives for different combatant commands.
The exercises are nearly year round as determined by U.S. Cyber Command, taking place throughout the United States and around the world.
“Everybody wants cyber in all their exercises, but there’s only so much support you can provide,” said Col. Michael Lakos, Chief of Training, Exercises, Weapons and Tactics Division at the 24th AF. “We’re trying to overcome that.”
The 24th AF finished supporting two exercises at the end of October: Global Thunder and Vigilant Shield. The numbered air force played the role of a response cell and reached into its individual units for expertise in conjunction with the exercise.
Global Thunder involved several units from the 24th AF, including the 67th Cyberspace Wing, 624th Operations Center, and the 177th Information Aggressor Squadron from the Kansas Air National Guard.
In addition, the 608th Air and Space Operations Center at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., participated in Global Thunder in conjunction with U.S. Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command, with the 601st Air and Space Operations Center at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., playing a role in Vigilant Shield with U.S. Strategic Command.
Airmen involved in the exercise included members conducting offensive cyber operations, intelligence planning and Department of Defense Information Network operations.
Just as aircraft fly in a range, during exercises, cyber Airmen work in a “cyber range” – a closed, virtual environment which allows exercise participants to see the effects of cyber operations, said Lakos.
The players in these exercises are not solely U.S. service members. Canadian units also contributed to the cyber exercises, and a North Atlantic Treaty Organization Cyber Coalition exercise is scheduled for the end of November.
The 24th has various levels of support, ranging from full participation and planning to observing for analytic purposes, which it can contribute to these exercises in accordance with available manning, budgetary constraints and exercise objectives.
However, exercises are not solely cyber-based, and often involve participation from a variety of career fields.
“It’s definitely a full-team sport,” said Lakos, who noted a heavy space component to Global Thunder.
One of U.S. Cyber Command’s largest exercises, Cyber Flag 14-1, began Nov. 4 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev.
Cyber Flag 14 is a U.S. Cyber Command cyber training exercise designed to provide realistic training opportunities for a number of Department of Defense organizations to deter and, if necessary, defeat a cyber attack against the department.
This exercise is tactical training for cyber teams across the services as well as coalition partners in support of national and theater objectives. Objectives include identifying and defending the Department of Defense network, detecting and mitigating cyber threats, and planning and executing a cyber campaign.
The 24th AF sent approximately 50 of the 517 Airmen, including coalition partners, who participated in the exercise as members of the red team, blue team, white cell and exercise support.
The role of the red team is to attempt to get into the blue team’s network, while it is the blue team’s job to defend the network. The white cell’s role, then, is to simulate the inputs and outcomes which result.
The synergy gained and lessons learned from previous Cyber Flags, conducted at Nellis AFB, are invaluable and provide an incomparable opportunity to exercise U.S. Cyber Command’s cyber capabilities, said Douglas Erlenbusch, Chief of Combat Operations Division at the 505th Test and Training Squadron. The 505th was charged with integrating operational and tactical air assets into U.S. Cyber Command’s exercise.
The teams are already gearing up for Cyber Flag 15-1, currently scheduled for the fall of 2014.