The Cyber Backstop to Nuclear Deterrence

  • Published
  • By Captain Dominic Azar
  • 341 Communications Squadron

Lights flash, alarms blare, keys are turned. The world's most destructive weapon is unleashed... The simulation ends, all mission parameters were met. 

The Airmen at Malmstrom Air Force Base rely on a variety of communication systems to provide the President and Secretary of Defense with highly reliable, virtually instantaneous direct contact with each Launch Control Center providing positive control for the nation’s nuclear arsenal.

The 341st Communications Squadron delivers information dominance for Malmstrom and it missile complex.

“Strategic deterrence is foundational for American national security,” said Lt. Col. David Janowiak, the unit’s commander. “That foundation has to sit on stable bedrock. Reliable and resilient communications are the bedrock for Malmstrom’s critical mission.”

The weight of that mission often rests on our newest Technicians, such as Airman First Class Trey Walker, 341 CS technician. They are the face of the organization, as they handle most of the day-to-day computer problems.  

“It’s not something I take lightly. Everyone here contributes something to the deterrence mission. I think about it a lot. When you’ve been to the sites and meet the missile maintainers, you realize how close we are to those devastating weapons. It’s powerful,” said A1C Walker, who has held the wing-level spotlight for his contribution to successful operations.

“The professionalism and commitment of these cyber patriots is second-to-none,” said Janowiak. “They often have the fastest return-to-service rates across the command. This small team sets the standard for IT support.”

In recent months, the team secured and strengthened Malmstrom’s network by remediating a quarter million network vulnerabilities and deploying nearly 3,000 new systems.

Meanwhile, experienced IT professionals work behind the scenes to update and monitor Malmstrom’s communication systems, fighting to keep them functional and secure.

“We’ve got the best people putting in the work to keep Malmstrom’s systems in a state-of-the-art condition.” said Greg Davis, 341st CS operations flight chief. “The team is continuously updating software and modernizing hardware to keep Malmstrom on the information technology ‘high ground.’”

The Montana landscape is a special challenge for wide-area connectivity. Many locations lack cellular phone coverage. The 341st CS team keeps members connected throughout the 13.8K square-mile complex through a robust Land Mobile Radio network. Radio repeaters are often in austere locations, but that doesn’t stop Malmstrom’s radio shop. Over the past year, the 341st CS has partnered with the 40th Helicopter Squadron and the 819th Rapid Engineer Deployable, Heavy Operational Repair Squadron, Engineer Squadron to gain and improve access to even the most challenging sites. With over a century of cumulative experience and excellent mission partners, Malmstrom’s radio team delivers a reliable capability to security forces, missile maintainers and the missileers themselves.

The unit’s work extends far beyond network maintenance. The 341st CS took the initiative to further secure Malmstrom’s missile complex by building Air Force Global Strike Command’s first mobile wireless threat hunter. The squadron’s “Cyber Mission Assurance Cell” studies and reports on other mission risks. Their innovative approach to security provides an added layer of defense for the base’s critical systems against a wide spectrum of threats. 

Rain or shine, in subzero temperatures or scorching heat, wielding keyboards or wrenches, the men and women of the 341st CS remain ready for anything that comes their way. They recognize the gravity of their mission: to be the bedrock for the fateful day when Malmstrom’s mission is put to the test.