Senior Airman Brendan Lee, 90th Information Operations Squadron advanced cyber operations programmer, and Dave Stone, 90th IOS cyber operations deputy flight director, reverse engineer malware at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland. The Air Force wants to add 1,000 more cyber warrior jobs. (Boyd Belcher / Air Force)
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The Air Force plans to hire more than a thousand new personnel, defying budget cuts to add more cyber warriors to face the growing threat online.
The Air Force and Defense Department as a whole are looking to identify the mission online and understand what threats the U.S. is facing in the cyber realm, and will hire more than a thousand new workers in this area, along with more training for top officers and codified rules of engagement.
Gen. William Shelton, commander of Air Force Space Command, said Jan. 17 that the service will look to add the new workers to 24th Air Force in fiscal 2014. About 80 percent of the workers will be military, with 20 percent civilian, Shelton said. The Joint Chiefs of Staff decided on this mix as the best way forward.
The new positions will be added between fiscal 2014 and fiscal 2016, with the services yet to decide how the new workers will be recruited and what qualifications will be needed. However, many employees may need to be pulled from existing mission areas, according to Space Command.
The push for more funding and people competes with budget cutbacks across the services, starting with a new civilian hiring freeze announced Jan. 14 and a directive to all major commands to prepare for deep spending cuts.
"This is the worst I have ever seen, [with] the pressures that are on all of us to try and make decisions without good information," Shelton told reporters. "This is the national security of the nation we're talking about here."
The Defense Department faces millions of attacks every day in the online domain, Shelton said, and DoD officials are working on rules of engagement in the cyber world. In October, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta outlined an agenda to prevent cyber attacks, including deterrence as a main mission for the department.
"Our mission is to defend the nation," he said in a speech. "We defend. We deter. And if called upon, we take decisive action to defend our citizens."
About 6,000 people work under 24th Air Force, the service's newest numbered command, and the new hiring means that number will jump by 15 percent. Specific direction on the hiring process has not been given yet, Shelton said, and it will be a part of the service's fiscal 2014 budget proposal.
Shelton could not provide specifics on the positions but said they "will be involved in all aspects of the 24th Air Force's cyber mission," including defense, operations, exploitation and attacks. Much of the work on cyber networks is now focusing on intelligence, almost becoming a substitute for human intelligence activities, Shelton said.
"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 Air Force is in a phase where it is still trying to identify the mission in the cyber realm, and a large focus will be how to handle cyber crises, wrote Rand Corp. expert Martin C. Libicki in a January report on crisis and escalation in cyberspace.
"The Air Force should develop itself as an independent source of expertise on cyberwar," Libicki wrote.
The service needs to understand how adversaries would react to and possibly respond to the escalatory aspect of offensive cyber operations, Libicki wrote, with attention given to specific foes. For example, Shelton said, Iran is becoming a "force to be reckoned with" in the cyber realm, with the country developing capabilities that could represent a threat to the U.S.
Additionally, Libicki wrote that the Air Force needs to convey that its operations can still be carried out in the face of cyber attacks, be careful about messages it sends out in public and private domains and be careful about taking operations that could be perceived as escalatory.
Since Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh took charge last summer, the Air Force has been working to better understand cyberwarfare and improve its communication with the other services and combatant commanders. In November, the Air Force's four-star generals met to discuss cyber issues and visited the National Security Agency to better understand current cyber operations and risks.
The Air Force also needs to study its own structure to ensure that it can adequately support U.S. Cyber Command, Chief Information Officer Lt. Gen. Michael Basla said recently.
The service can restructure and add people, and more training for this will be needed. As a result, training in offense and defensive operations in the 39th Information Operations Squadron at Hurlburt Field, Fla., may ramp up to 24 hours a day, along with adding additional bed spaces and more instructors, Basla said.
Trying to grow in a time of budget downsizing will be difficult, Shelton said, but the Air Force's cyber and space assets need to be a top priority.
"It does not matter what size the United States military becomes, we count on space and cyber capabilities to underpin the force, to enable the way we fight today, to give us the capabilities we need globally,'" Shelton said. "You can't say, ‘Well, I'll just have one less GPS satellite' … you can't create holes in the constellation and still have global capability."