Air Force Space Command expects to be directed to add 1,000 new people, mainly civilians, to its base of about 6,000 cyber professionals for fiscal 2014, the command’s chief said Jan. 17.
Speaking with reporters at a meeting of the Defense Writers Group, Gen. William L. Shelton said direction for the hires would come from the Office of the Secretary of Defense, fueled by the U.S. Cyber Command.
“Cyber Command is in the midst of determining how they are going to operate across all the geographic combatant commands as well as internal to the United States,” Shelton said. “It looks like we will be tapped for well over 1,000 additional people into the cyber business, so you can see (cyber) is starting to take root.”
If budget restrictions allow the increase in personnel, they will be hired over two years beginning in fiscal 2014, and 70 to 80 percent will be civilians “if it turns out like we think it’s going to turn out,” the general said.
This will represent about a 15 percent increase over 6,000 cyber professionals working today for the 24th Air Force, he added, noting that the 24th Air Force is the numbered Air Force that works under Air Force Space Command.
A numbered Air Force is a tactical Air Force organization that is subordinate to a major command and has assigned to it operational units like wings, squadrons and groups.
Within the 24th Air Force, subordinate units for cyber operations include the 67th Network Warfare Wing and the 688th Information Operations Wing at Joint Base San Antonio – Lackland, Texas, and the 689th Combat Communications Wing at Robins Air Force Base in Georgia.
“I have the responsibility of major command headquarters but in terms of where the work really gets done to operate and defend Air Force networks, to provide exploitation capabilities and develop attack capabilities, that’s the 24th Air Force,” Shelton said. “They are also the Air Force component to U.S. Cyber Command, so when U.S. Cyber Command wants Air Force capability or wants capabilities the Air Force has developed, that’s where they go.”
Those who work in the Space Command’s cyber arm tend to operate, defend, exploit and attack rather than address cyber policy, Shelton said, “but the 24th Air force certainly gets into the policy area as well just because of the newness of this business.”
The general observed that the policy and legal regimes are not as mature as they need to be because it’s so difficult to segment them.
“The cyber domain – I call it the Wild West because you can be anywhere and do anything and be effective,” Shelton said. “All you need is an Internet connection, the right skills and a laptop and you’re in the game.”
In cyber there are many parallels to the space domain, Shelton said, “because it’s global in nature and yet the effects you want are in somebody else’s backyard in terms of geographic combatant commanders’ ownership. So getting a model that works efficiently and effectively and also respects the geographic combatant commanders’ authorities – that’s the challenge.”
Shelton said one of his biggest problems in planning for the future, including the future of Air Force cyber and space operations, is the uncertainty of the DOD budget process.
“We don’t have an appropriations bill for (fiscal 2013) so we’re not sure what the 2013 picture is, and here we are over a quarter (of the way) into 2013,” the general said. “That affects planning for the president’s budget for (fiscal) 2014 and that, in turn, impacts … the 2015-and-out budget, which we’re in the throes of right now.”
The budget situation, he added, “is the worst I’ve seen in thirty-six-and-a-half years in this business (in terms of) the pressures on all of us now to try to make decisions without good information. And it is the national security of the nation we’re talking about here.”
Shelton said he’d looked at 2012 as a year to make “a pretty good move into cyber … to show progression, to show grasping the reins of the cyber capabilities of the Air Force. Whether or not we’re going to be able to do that is the question, whether or not we’re going to have sufficient funding.”
But as the budget process plays out, the general said he plans to be a strong advocate for priorities like space and cyber.
“There will be strong advocates coming from other functional areas within the United States military as well,” he added, “so it’s going to be literally the strategy that we adopt based on the budget authority that will be available, and then you let the chips fall from there.”