Cyber domain increases WSINT readiness

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Maj. Andrew Hong, 32nd Weapons Squadron phase manager and instructor, Capt. Stephen Baker, 32nd WPS Cyber Warfare Operations Weapons Instructor Course student, and Maj. Michelle Bostic, 32nd WPS CWO WIC student, look at computer monitors at the 32nd WPS on Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., June 10, 2019. The CWO WIC for Weapons School Integration has three main phases throughout the course including Defensive Cyber Operations, Offensive Cyber Operations and integration phase. (Air Force photograph by Airman 1st Class Bryan Guthrie)

A vast new battlefield has been created over the last few decades with the expansion of technology; a digital fight that isn’t touchable and reaches across the world in an instant.

The 32nd Weapons Squadron at the U.S. Air Force Weapons School is where cyber operators come to excel and master their domain.

“We run the cyber Weapons Instructor Course at the USAFWS to create tactical experts in offensive and defensive cyber operations,” said Lt. Col. Douglas Medley, 32nd WPS commander.

The cyber WIC stood up in 2012 as part of the 328th WPS, giving students the opportunity to enhance their cyber skills while under the mentorship of space weapons officers. In 2018, the cyber WIC separated to become their own squadron.

“Weapons School Integration solidifies the capabilities that cyber can provide so if students find themselves in a situation where they have to plan a multi-domain operation, they have the knowledge to request those actions and increase survivability,” said Chief Master Sgt. Laurie Bach, USAFWS superintendent.

The course puts students to the test so they can be as proficient as possible in order to complete the mission.

“In most of the operations the students have worked in previously, there might have been a minute or two delay in some cases,” said Maj. Sean Williams, 32nd WPS director of operations. “When students are working with other domains on the range, a minute or two can be the difference between a mission being a success or a failure.”

To ensure that all the functions of cyber are trained, the course is divided into individual areas.

“The cyber portion of the course is split up into three main phases which are Plans and Threats, Defensive Cyberspace Operations and Offensive Cyberspace Operations,” said Medley.

Medley went on to elaborate on each phase and how each plays an important role.

Medley said the Plans and Threats phase gives students a baseline in planning and a working knowledge of threats to operations in cyberspace. The DCO phase creates tactical experts to defend the Air Force enterprise. The OCO phase creates a tactical expert who can achieve Joint Force Commander objectives by protecting power in cyberspace.

All the phases of cyber come together to play a bigger picture in WSINT.

“Cyber’s involvement in WSINT is vital to the Air Force because we will never win a war in just one domain,” said Bach.

For the mission to be a success, it takes organized communication between all domains.

“It’s very important to have that communication between every domain,” said Medley. “When we get involved in a real-world scenario we don’t want it to be the first time we’ve operated with those other domains.”

As technology grows, the cyber domain of WSINT will also need to adapt to stay ahead of today’s adversaries.

“The cyber professionals at the USAFWS have changed their syllabus to focus on the tactical portion of cyber because of how quickly technology is growing,” said Bach. “We have to be able to keep up with the growth of technology in order to win the fight.”

The USAFWS cyber WIC students are training for more than the fictional conflict presented in WSINT. They are preparing for a battle that continues 24/7, 365 days a year, requiring the Air Force’s cyber warfighters to defend and deter our adversaries across the world.