Air Force eliminates new cyber defense teams from communications squadrons

WASHINGTON – In September, the Air Force announced that the 55th Communications Squadron had met all targets to be renamed the 55th Cyber ​​Squadron, meaning the service would add a new mission defense team to its capabilities, a cyber- specialized team focused on critical defense of the Air Force. missions and installations such as critical infrastructures or computers associated with aircraft and remotely piloted systems.

The Air Force has made a multi-year commitment to redesigning communications squadrons through efficiencies achieved by outsourcing mundane computing efforts to private industry, allowing it to reinvest its personnel. in cyber defense.

As a result, the service has been building these Mission Defense Teams, which differ from the cyber protection teams that the Air Force and other services provide to US Cyber ​​Command.

Specifically, while the technical tools between mission defense teams and cyber protection teams are similar, the mission is slightly different, an Air Combat Command spokesperson told C4ISRNET. Mission Defense teams are aligned with specific missions allowing dedicated experts in each mission area, while Cyber ​​Protection teams defend missions based on Cyber ​​Command priorities. The distinction has already been made that mission defense teams serve as combat cops while cyber protection teams are SWAT teams.

Mission defense teams serve as a local wing commander resource. The transformation of communications squadrons into cyber squadrons provides wings or equivalent organizations within the Space Force’s organic cyber defense capabilities to key mission owners, the spokesperson said.

Currently, there are 81 organizations identified as pilot mission defense teams, the spokesperson said, with three units meeting initial operating criteria. These teams are created where local commanders identify mission needs and are able to reallocate existing resources to meet new demands.

These pilots exist in several major geographic and functional commands within the Air Force.

The teams generally consist of eight people with some variations depending on the mission areas with more or less important needs. The size also depends on the mission they are defending where other factors such as deployment or 24/7 operational support are needed, the spokesperson said.

Despite their differences, officials said there are natural alliances between mission defense teams and cyber protection teams, such as enhanced training.

“We found a natural symbiotic relationship between the CPTs who are on mission and the MDTs who use the same weapon systems, so we went to some bases where the MDTs have not yet undergone training,” said the Colonel Jeffrey Phillips, Commanding Officer. of the 67th Cyberspace Wing, said. “They had their weapons system there, so the CPTs were able to load their weapons system onto whatever cyber terrain the squadron commander felt they wanted to protect, and they were able to undergo practical training with MDT staff who have not yet received formal training.

Support requests can be submitted by units at the base level for Cyber ​​Protection Team Support in which the teams will work together on incident response efforts.

Mission Defense teams continuously monitor and analyze their respective terrain, which can prove useful for cyber protection teams that step in to help by providing analysis of suspicious activity and life patterns of malicious behavior.

The two teams also participate simultaneously in major command exercises as well as key events that the Air Force calls flag exercises, developing tactical techniques and procedures to better enhance real-world collaboration, the porter said. -speak.

Mark Pomerleau is a journalist for C4ISRNET, covering information warfare and cyberspace.

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