Cyber supports Red Flag for first time

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By 2nd Lt. Meredith Hein, 24th Air Force Public Affairs / Published March 14, 2014

Royal Australian air force Flight Sgt. Sean Bedford (left) and U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Frederick analyze air missile defense systems inside the Combined Air and Space Operations Center-Nellis during Red Flag 14-1, on Feb. 5, 2014, at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. Space duty technicians direct air missile ballistic warnings and provide communication to combat search and rescue teams. Beford is an Australian Space Operations Centre space duty technician and Frederick is a 603rd Air and Space Operations Center space duty technician. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Brett Clashman)

Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Michael Lyons looks through information on a workstation inside the Combined Air and Space Operations Center-Nellis during Red Flag 14-1, on Feb. 5, 2014, at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. This is the first exercise that truly integrates advanced operational and tactical air, space and cyber training in a live, virtual, constructive environment. Lyons is a Joint Tactical Communications Office communications operator. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Brett Clashman)


For the first time in Red Flag's nearly 40-year history, the 24th Air Force played a significant role in the Cyber Mission Force, or CMF, at the Air Combat Command-sponsored exercise held at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. Jan. 27 through Feb. 14.

Red Flag, an Air Combat Command-sponsored exercise held four times annually, combines a series of complex scenarios and a robust simulated Integrated Air Defense Systems, which challenge exercise participants to collaboratively plan and execute missions in support of operational and tactical objectives, said Michael Connolly, the director of operations with the 90th Information Operations Squadron here.

The goal for 24th Air Force, the Air Force’s component to U.S. Cyber Command, was to demonstrate Air Forces Cyber's progress in implementing U.S. Cyber Command's CMF construct through the employment of combat mission teams, or CMTs and cyber protection teams, or CPTs.

CMTs provided full-spectrum cyber capability for combatant commanders. This was the first time that CMTs were used in this configuration for Red Flag. On the other hand, CPTs protect a specific target and provide mission assurance. In the case of Red Flag, the CPTs protected the combined air operations center at Nellis AFB.

"This is an asymmetric capability that we're scratching at the surface to employ,” said Brig. Gen. Robert J. Skinner, the AFCYBER deputy commander. “We are more engaged with Red Flag, allowing more opportunities to provide mission effects at the point of our choosing and at the drop of a hat for joint force commanders to use."

In addition to the CMTs and CPTs various squadrons from the 24th Air Force acted as the cyber defense service provider, which located general threats against the network and practiced enterprise protection.

One of the other key cyber components for Red Flag was the 318th Cyberspace Operations Group, Detachment 2, whose daily mission is to establish cyber operations as credible, replicable combat capability across air, space and cyberspace domains.

The detachment worked with the U.S. Air Force Warfare Center to integrate cyber into the Red Flag scenarios, which allowed cyber operators to fully participate in the exercise. In order for this to happen, effective ranges were built to represent the operating environment for U.S. and coalition forces and intelligence was created to fulfill the needs of the exercise.

The detachment worked closely with providers such as the 346th Test Squadron to build a replica of the Air Force Network for the "blue team" to defend during the exercise, as well as create targets for the "red forces" to attack.

In addition, the Det. 2 worked with intelligence units, such as the 547th Intelligence Squadron at Nellis AFB to create a realistic back story for the cyber operators to work under.

Red Flag is truly an integration exercise, said Maj. Robert Biggers, the 318th COG, Det. 2 commander.

"Operators participated from planning to execution, and all forces, air, space and cyberspace, worked as a collective body to understand how each of their actions affects one another and the mission," he said.

The warfare center fundamentally changed how Red Flag is being carried out this year in an effort to fully integrate non-kinetic operations and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities.

Changes to the Red Flag construct, which now links scenarios across several days, allowed intelligence to be gathered in a more realistic world setting. This Red Flag was also the first time 24th AF has been fully integrated with the Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Agency.

"Developments happening with cyber and ISR are all in preparation for operations in a contested environment," said Capt. Andrew Caulk, a spokesman for AFISRA. "We train like we fight."

According to Biggers, the red forces and blue forces engaged in a campaign plan against one another responding and adjusting to each other as they would in a real-world conflict.

"Lessons were learned and operators applied what they learned from day to day to refine how we can most effectively operate together," Biggers said. "This is exactly the type of advanced training cyberspace operators need today."

The Air Force was not the only service that provided cyber support to Red Flag. Army Cyber Command and coalition forces participated as well.

"Not only did each country bring their own weapon systems to be integrated into the fight, but they brought unique perspectives and expertise,” Biggers said. “The reality is that we fight alongside our coalition brothers and sisters every day. I am glad we are training together at this level, in the Air Force's largest and most advanced exercise."

The integration of these different units, branches and partner nations has far-reaching effects.

"We use Red Flag for advanced training to hone our skills, and we continue to learn great lessons to employ in the next one,” Skinner said. “You can see us taking advantage of operations to become better, faster and leaner. The expertise, professionalism and teamwork displayed throughout the activities, teams that don't normally work together, watching them be an integrated team shows how far we have come to provide effects for our mission and operations."

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