Air Force tests new broadband IT

The Air Force's Cyber Command ' which is poised to evolve from a provisional unit into a permanent organization this fall ' recently sponsored tests of an upgraded technology for air-to-ground broadband communications. The service tested a Non-Traditional Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (NTISR) technology called Tactical Targeting Network Technology (TTNT).

That bowl of alphabet soup came from the kitchens of the Air Combat Command's Global Cyberspace Integration Center Modernization and Innovation division, according to an Air Force description of the interservice Expeditionary Force Experiment 2008, held April 15 through April 25 at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada.

TTNT gives various kinds of aircraft the capability to transmit extremely high-bandwidth data to ground installations and possibly to other airborne platforms, according to an Air Force description of the exercise. The Air Force is reviewing various technical means of increasing the speed and capacity of its IP links with aircraft ranging from drones to B-52 bombers.

The service envisions all of its aircraft, from drones to large, piloted aircraft, as likely platforms for gathering and transmitting intelligence data via NTISR.

Filling the ranks of the cyberforce

Meanwhile, various Air Force units that will roll into the newly permanent Cyber Command have been trolling for highly skilled, part-time cyberwarriors among Air National Guard members who also work for major information technology vendors. Some of the Air Force's cyberwarrior recruits might eventually include people who fall outside the military's existing physical-fitness and related standards, according to the command's leadership.

This recruitment drive echoes the Royal Air Force's successful bid to recruit experienced pilots from the ranks of barnstormers who had gained hundreds of flying hours during impromptu air shows in this country during the 1930s. Several of those pilots went on to become fighter aircraft aces during the pivotal Battle of Britain in the summer and fall of 1940.

The Yanks who joined the RAF did so in violation of the federal neutrality law, so some flew under Canadian auspices. The Guard members who have joined Cyber Command (Provisional) as cybercombatants, by contrast, do so with the protection of federal law that requires employers to accommodate their military duties.

The service has operated the Cyber Command (Provisional) with personnel and resources from other units up to now. Plans call for its launch as a permanent organization as of Oct. 1.

Some of the Cyber Command's technology resources will come from:
  • The Air Force Communications Agency.
  • Air Force Information Operations Center.
  • Air Force Institute of Technology's Center for Cyberspace Research.
  • Autonomic Trusted Sensing for Persistent Intelligence Office at the Air Force Research Laboratory.
  • Hanscom Air Force Base's Electronic Systems Center.
  • Strategic Air Command's 8th Air Force, which already provides support services to the provisional command.

The service has named several Air Guard units that have recruited cyberwarriors from IT vendors:
  • Kansas-based 177th Information Aggressor Squadron, which includes members from
    Boeing and Sprint.
  • The 262nd Information Warfare Aggressor Squadron based in Washington state, which includes IT specialists from Adobe, Cisco and Microsoft.
  • 688th Information Operation Wing in Texas, which recruits from tech-heavy Austin.

According to a statement by Gen. William Lord, the Cyber Command eventually will include five combat wings in various locations across the country in addition to individual members who will be assigned to overseas regional commanders as requested.

Air Force commanders emphasize that their command's mission does not focus on shielding the country as a whole ' or even all parts of the Defense Department ' from cyberattack. Rather, the Cyber Command will focus on protecting the Air Force itself.

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