With U.S. civil and military officials increasingly concerned about cyber attacks against American networks, the U.S. Air Force is planning to establish what will probably be the largest and most comprehensive military organization to defend against cyber attack. And, unlike the apparent efforts of the other U.S. military services in this field, the Air Force will conduct offensive cyber warfare.
The massive Air Force effort will pull together existing cyber-related units and establish new ones, all under the Air Force Cyber Command -- AFCYBER in milspeak -- and its operating arm, the 24th Air Force. According to Major General William T. Lord, the provisional commander of AFCYBER, the command and 24th Air Force will achieve "initial operational capability" on 1 October 2008. However, many components of the command are already operational.
Two new wings are being established to work with two existing wings. The total strength of the new commands have not been established, but they will be "large," with active, Air Force Reserve, and Air National Guard personnel assigned. The AFCYBER/24th Air Force headquarters are at Barksdale AFB, Louisiana, on an interim basis; the permanent base for those headquarters will be decided shortly.
Operating directly under AFCYBER will be the Network Operations unit, which will develop the standards and integration architecture for the command. All other major components are line units under the 24th Air Force; these will be:
67th Network Warfare Wing (Lackland AFB, Texas) -- This is the core of Air Force cyber operations. Its official functions are to organize, train, and equipment "cyberspace" forces to conduct network defense, attack, and exploitation. It is believe that this is the only U.S. military organization that carries out extensive offensivecyber operations.
Under Colonel Joseph J. Pridotkas, the 67th is the largest "wing" in the Air Force, consisting of five intelligence groups with 35 squadrons and detachments comprising more than 8,000 men and women. They serve at about 100 locations on every continent except Antarctica.
450th Electronic Warfare Wing (Lackland AFB, Texas) -- Consisting of electronic attack as well as protection components, this wing will provide operational input for Air Force EC-130J Commando Solo (Hercules) as well as EA-6B Prowler electronic aircraft. The latter are flown by Navy and Marine Corps squadrons, but with some Air Force personnel assigned. Those electronic warfare aircraft will soon be replaced by Navy EA-18G Growler variants of the F/A-18 Hornet.
688th Information Operations Wing (Lackland AFB, Texas) -- Formerly known as the Air Force Information Operations Center, this wing integrates information warfare tactics, training, and technology.
689th Cyberspace Wing (Scott AFB, Illinois) -- Responsible for communications and information functions as well as deployable communications capabilities, the wing is assuming the functions now performed by the Air Force Communications Agency and the Global Cyberspace Innovation Center. (Those commands will be deactivated when AFCYBER becomes operational).
The Air Force leadership believes that the AFCYBER command and its components will provide the necessary capabilities and expertise for "cyber warfare" in the 21st Century. The command is being established at a time that thousands of efforts are being made every day to break into Department of Defense databanks and links, and when there will be increasing efforts by potential military enemies as well as terrorist to wage cyber warfare against the United States.