Air Force Study Shows Wrench-Turners Make Better Cyber Warriors

185th Air Refueling Wing jet engine mechanics remove a transfer gear box from a General Electric F-108 engine on a U.S. Air Force KC-135 at the Iowa Air National Guard aircraft maintenance facility in Sioux City, Iowa on January 17, 2019. (U.S. Air National Guard/Senior Master Sgt. Vincent De Groot)
185th Air Refueling Wing jet engine mechanics remove a transfer gear box from a General Electric F-108 engine on a U.S. Air Force KC-135 at the Iowa Air National Guard aircraft maintenance facility in Sioux City, Iowa on January 17, 2019. (U.S. Air National Guard/Senior Master Sgt. Vincent De Groot)

The U.S. Air Force is learning that wrench-turners, not computer geeks, may make ideal cyber warriors, National Guard Bureau cyber officials said Thursday.

"We tend to be very linear in our thinking sometimes -- that you have to have a computer science degree; you have to come from a computer background; and that is what makes a good cyber operator," Air Force Col. Jori Robinson, vice commander of the Maryland Air National Guard's 175th Wing, told a group of reporters at the Pentagon on Thursday.

The Air Force is studying "what actually makes somebody have a capacity -- not necessarily the ability right now, but a capacity -- to learn cyberspace operations," Robinson said.

"So there have been some studies recently that are showing that, hey ... that person is over in maintenance, that person has been turning wrenches on a jet for the past 15 years. They actually have the capacity and the innate ability to understand networks and get a better idea, and they are turning out to make some of the most prolific and fantastic operators that we have," she said.

"We took some of our maintainers and turned them into cyber operators, and they are just crushing all of these classes. They are the most sought-after folks from Cyber Command to come and sit on these teams," Robinson said.

Air Force Lt. Col. Jody Ogle, J6 director of communications and cyber programs for the West Virginia National Guard, said his state has already experienced success from the effort when the 167th Air Wing recently began converting from the C-5 Galaxy to the C-17 Globemaster.

"C-17s don't require as many maintainers as C-5s, so there was a net loss of people," Ogle said.

Using workforce development grant money, "we put them through civilian education, and it was met with great success," he said, adding that roughly 50 maintainers went into cyber-related jobs.

"Cyber isn't always defense," Ogle said. "There is an [information technology] side of that too -- you build the domain. .... When you think of cyber, you've got to think of those who maintain your IT systems as well."

The Air National Guard currently has seven network warfare squadrons, two information operations squadrons, one information aggressor squadron and a small number of other cyber-capable units.

The Army National Guard is establishing a Cyber Brigade with five cyber battalions; 10 cyber protection teams, one in each of the Federal Emergency Management regions; five cyber support companies; and five cyber warfare companies under state authority by fiscal 2022.

The National Guard Bureau currently has 3,880 cyber warriors, and "we are building out all of our units, all of the training, so by 2022 we should be fully mission capable across all the units and the skill sets," said Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Burkett, vice director of domestic operations for the National Guard Bureau.

"We see the future is bright for the National Guard ... and we definitely embrace the best talent that's out there to join our ranks and be part of a very cutting-edge mission that is absolutely necessary for the survival of our country," he said.

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.

Show Full Article