CYBERCOMMAND: What is it and why does the Air Force need it?

  • Published
  • By Maj. Bill Belei
  • 341st Communications Squadron commander
When Billy Mitchell aggressively advocated for airpower, not only was the military establishment of the time not comfortable with what he was saying, his military career ultimately ended in court martial when he attempted to force the establishment to change. And, when Air Force Space Command stood up in 1982, you can bet that many of the generals, who saw funding reduced in their areas of responsibility, questioned the need for a new Air Force major command. These examples show that often times, the initial introduction of profoundly beneficial changes that challenge conventional military thinking are not only met with indifference, but sometimes they are outright fought against. 

It appears we may be in the midst of another such watershed event in our Air Force history. 

This event took place almost two years ago in December of 2005, yet many Air Force members probably never heard about it or don't remember it. It was during that time the Air Force Secretary Michael W. Wynne and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen T. Michael Moseley profoundly altered the Air Force's mission statement. The new statement pushed the Air Force to expand beyond flying and fighting in simply air and space and added an entirely new domain - a battle space that can't be touched or even seen by the human eye - cyberspace. 

The new AF mission statement now reads: "The mission of the United States Air Force is to deliver sovereign options for the defense of the United States of America and its global interests -- to fly and fight in Air, Space and Cyberspace." 

A few years have passed since that mission statement change and we are beginning to see some tangible results. Just about a month ago at the Pentagon Sept. 18 during the Air Force 60th anniversary celebration, Secretary Wynne announced the stand up of a provisional Cyberspace Command (AFCYBER (P)). Many of the specifics of this command are yet to be determined such as the size, location and even its first commander. Maj. Gen. Charles Ickes II, the Air National Guard special assistant to the deputy chief of staff for operations, plans and requirements said, "While a number of basing locations for a permanent command staff are being considered and evaluated, no final decisions have been made." He further explained the charge of the first AFCYBER commander will be to "prepare the way for the eventual standup of a full major command that will be responsible for organizing, training and equipping forces to conduct sustained global operations in and through cyberspace, fully integrated with air and space operations." 

In addition to the initial announcements, you must also appreciate the very high level of concern and commitment by our senior leaders to this endeavor. Consider all the challenges our senior leaders have on their plate today with the global war on terror, recapitalizing the fleet, budget restrictions and the various transformation efforts under way. You can bet they would not be taking the Air Force down the path of standing up a new major command now if they did not feel it was absolutely essential. Their sense of urgency comes from the fact that the cyber domain is unique; it is the only war fighting domain the U.S. military does not only dominate. Think for a moment of all the key war fighting domains the U.S. military operates within - land, sea, air, space and recently, cyberspace. Now go down that list and ask yourself if the U.S. is the dominate power in the world. If you are like me, your answers will be: 
- land - yes 
- sea - sure 
- air - absolutely 
- space - we do 
- cyberspace - ... I don't know ... I hope so. 

Our senior leaders probably came up with similar answers and decided the Air Force needed to do more than hope we were prevailing in cyberspace. 

Now having established this as a key time in our history and the fact our leaders are committed to this undertaking, you may want to take a step backwards and ask why cyberspace is so crucial. To understand this, all you have to do is look around at the way you do business today and compare it with the way we did business just a few years before. Everything we can automate or computerize has already been done or is headed in that direction. 

It wasn't that long ago (1994) when I was a lieutenant and the base I was at provided base computer users with their first connection to the Internet. Typewriters and hardcopy memos were the way to communicate and conversely e-mail was something that was new and hardly used. Now you would be hard-pressed to actually find a typewriter in your unit and even more hard pressed to get your job done without using e-mail. Remember, Malmstrom Air Force Base users alone generate or receive approximately 60,000 e-mails every day! And computers and networks are used in more critical applications whether in command and control, in the missile field, in the air, or space.

The Air Combat Command commander, Gen. Ronald E. Keys, echoed this at an Air Force Association Air Warfare Symposium in March. "Almost everything I do is either on the Internet, an Intranet, or some type of network -terrestrial, airborne or spaceborne," he said. "Yet, everyone out there knows that hackers can (potentially) get into my network and slow down or corrupt (it) or cause me to lose faith in the networks or shut them down completely." 

Among all the transformation efforts currently underway in our military, the development of CyberCommand is one you need to take note of as it will, no doubt, be crucial to the overall efficacy of our military. We must realize the Air Force has worked and fought hard over our 60 years to dominate in air and space and yet we are now embarking on a mission to rule an entirely new and vital domain. We should be heartened our leadership has the proper perspective and commitment to do this. "For 53 years, not one American soldier has died as a result of enemy aircraft fire. I aim to extend this hard-earned dominance for another 53 years and more, and use cyber and space power to do it," said Secretary Wynne.