The new cyberspace officer badge. ()
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About 3,000 communications officers are now cyberspace officers.
In all, 30,000 airmen have been shifted to the front lines of cyber warfare. The officers made the switch in April; the changeover for 27,000 enlisted airmen happened in November.
The Air Force Specialty Code for officers is now 17D. It had been 33S. For enlisted, the 2E, 3A and 3C AFSCs — communications and electronic maintenance jobs — have been merged into the 3DX category
With the standing up of 17D, the officers face stiffer educational requirements and the expectation to see their job as operational and not strictly mission support.
"It's not just spray paint, it's a new mindset," said Brig. Gen. David Cotton, director of cyberspace transformation and strategy at the Air Staff.
Communications officers often saw themselves as others saw them: airmen who made sure the base computer network worked, said Cotton, who began his career a computer programmer.
Cyberspace officers will continue to provide support but they also will be the go-to experts on how a computer or communication network can improve war-fighting capabilities.
The transformation is part of the service's larger emphasis on cyberspace operations and merging most computer system operations and network warfare functions under Space Command's 24th Air Force, based at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas.
While wing-level communications squadrons continue to be under the wing's chain of command, overall policy for operating the systems is set by 24th Air Force.
Specialized communications units, such as combat communications groups, also answer to 24th leaders.
Right now, the officers have the 17D AFSC designator. Some eventually will be classified with the 17A designator for focusing on cyberspace defense, Cotton said.
Newly commissioned cyberspace officers will attend a course at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., that lasts 115 training days. The old communications officer course ran 26 days.
"It will raise the bar on technical competency," the general said.
The new course is a permanent change of station. The old one was a temporary duty assignment.
Classroom time will include the use of simulators so airmen can learn how to set up secure networks in the field and how to integrate systems into operations.
About 400 students, including civilians and foreign officers, are expected to attend the class annually, said Lt. Col. C.J. Sovada, cyberspace officer career field manager.
After graduates arrive at their operational units, they will continue to get on-the-job training, becoming mission qualified just as new pilots do.
Officers who graduated from the old communications course must take an online 40-hour course. They have until Oct 1, 2011, to complete the Cyberspace Operations Transition Course.
Additional training for officers comes as they gain experience and seniority.
Captains with six to nine years of service will attend a three-week graduate level program called the "200 course," and majors with 12 to 15 years in uniform will go the "300 course" lasting two weeks. The Air Force Institute of Technology helped develop the curriculums.
Before the creation of the 200 and 300 courses, there was no advanced course for the officers.
In the long term, Cotton said, there is the possibility that cyberspace officers will have a Weapons School course, similar to those for rated officers, but a decision on that is years off.