NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. — Maintainers learn how to counter cyber threats on the flightline for the first time though innovation and adaptability here during Red Flag 14-1.
Maintainers are not only expected to keep their aircraft in the fight but are also being tested on scenarios they may face while in the combat zone.
“What we’ve done is created what we call a ‘contested, degraded or operationally limited’ environment, or CDO, for our maintainers, and it’s designed to prepare our Airmen for what they may face in a major combat environment,” said Maj. Christopher Vance, 414th Combat Training Squadron maintenance division chief, and who’s in charge of creating maintenance training scenarios. “This is a beta test for maintenance. CDO has never before been applied to maintenance during the exercise.”
Red Flag leadership wants to ensure Airmen on the flightline are able to problem-solve and respond to their environment if and when they are faced with a compromise in technology or cyber threat. Scenarios were devised to train maintainers in a similar format to Red Flag pilots.
“Our maintainers are very innovative and come up with solutions to problems on their own all the time, but this has raised their awareness to a new level,” said Lt. Col. Tony Lombardo, 366th Air Expeditionary Wing maintenance group commander at Red Flag 14-1, and who’s deployed from Mountain Home AFB, Idaho. “The good thing is our Airmen are aware of technology, and they’re adaptable. It’s amazing to see them embrace this challenge.”
Red Flag maintainers also receive academics on cyber vulnerabilities, information operations and other CDO-related threats.
“Our Airmen want the feedback,” Lombardo said. “At the end of the day, they want to know how they did against the scenario.”
Instructors from the U.S. Air Force Advanced Maintenance and Munitions Operations School, the weapons school of maintenance, are also on scene to serve as observers and to document how these Airmen respond to the challenges given to them. Their mission is to take that information and create tactics, techniques and procedures, and recommend official Air Force doctrine on how maintenance will counter cyber vulnerabilities on into the future.
“This training is necessary for our maintainers. This is a new Air Force, and we need to be prepared for all types of threats,” said Chief Master Sgt. Gerard Liburd, 366th AEW senior maintenance superintendent at Red Flag 14-1, who’s also deployed here from Mountain Home AFB.
When asked how the maintainers are responding to the new challenges while working on the flightline, he said, “They have higher situational awareness. If something looks out of place, they’re all over it. If the computer doesn’t work, they create a workaround. We’re hoping our Airmen can take what they’re learning here and incorporate it in to their training back home.”