Air Force moving ahead with Cyber Command

The Air Force is moving ahead on establishing its new Cyber Command, searching for permanent facilities and planning meetings to establish rules by which it will operate, according to Air Force officials.

In September, the Air Force announced it would establish a Cyber Command to prepare for fighting wars in cyberspace by defending national computer networks running critical operations and to attack adversaries computer networks.

The Air Force now operates a Provisional Cyberspace Command at Barksdale Air Force Base in northwest Louisiana. Its vice commander, Col. Anthony Buntyn, said the provisional command is solely involved with "standing up the permanent command," meaning it is developing a structure, finding a location for the base and hiring and training staff. Buntyn spoke this week at the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association's annual Air Force IT Day in Vienna, Va.

Next week, Air Force officials, mostly with the rank of major and colonel, will meet at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Ala., to begin laying out the rules that the command will follow during a possible cyberwar. Called the Cyber Space Warfare Doctrine, the rules will include defining what constitutes an act of cyberwar as opposed to what is merely a cybercrime or act of cyberterrorism.

Buntyn and Lt. Gen. Michael Peterson, chief of warfighting integration and chief information officer for the Air Force, emphasized that determining the origin of a cyberattack is difficult. "We do have significant ability to determine where the attacks are from, but it takes some time," Peterson said. "Two or three things may have to happen before we connect the dots. But as a team, we [the Defense Department, the FBI and other domestic law enforcement agencies] are generally able to say what happened when."

Peterson said part of the command's mission will be to protect critical information systems supporting U.S. infrastructures, but that would not be the primary focus, saying the command will be "ready to fight the fight." He added that there were multiple goals, including a better ability to see inside enemy networks.

Cyber Command also is looking for a permanent home. Officials at Barksdale AFB are looking for sites close to universities engaged in information security research and close to areas with a high concentration of major technology companies. Peterson said the command was considering "multiple good locations," and a recommendation is expected this spring.

Buntyn said the command is expected to begin initial operations by Oct. 1, 2008, and will be fully staffed and operational a year later. There are 160 staff members in the provisional command who have been pulled from various military services and other government organizations. The workforce eventually will reach 541, with about 400 located at the command's headquarters.

Peterson said the Air Force needed "folks that are all about technology," which is partly why it is considering "cyber warrior" -- personnel dedicated exclusively to cyberspace operations -- as a new career path and is determining the skills and tools necessary for that career. He said he expected to "see more suits and ties than at most commands," meaning the Cyber Command would likely hire more government workers from civilian agencies than what other military commands do.

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