NATIONAL HARBOR, MD. — Air Force cyber mission teams supporting U.S. Cyber Command will be comprised of about 1,260 airmen, the head of Air Force Space Command said Tuesday.
Gen. William Shelton said that while an earlier projection may have called for 1,500 airmen, that was still being talked about in the leadership circles.
“After several briefings involving the services, the Joint Staff and U.S. Cyber Command, 1,264 was the number agreed to as the Air Force share of the overall requirement for the cyber mission force,” Shelton said at the Air Force Association Air & Space Conference.
“That is what we’ve been asked to provide and that is what we will provide for the next few years.”
The airmen will be divided under three mission teams — national, combat and cyber protection.
Shelton said that the Air Force’s dependence on both space and cyber has never been higher, and essentially, all operations on every level are dependent on cyber sustainment and capability.
“From a war fighting perspective, it is absolutely essential we have confidence in our data,” Shelton said during his presentation. “We [also]need to continue to invest in our people, to do our best to retain them, to promote them…we’ve got to establish a high-end cyber operations force that is sustainable long term.”
Cyber needs to remain a real priority even with the constant obstacle of budget cuts, Shelton said.
“[Sequestration] represents a bigger threat to our capability than almost anything that we can think of that the adversaries are dreaming up,” he said. “If we don’t get budget flexibility very soon, we will not be able to sustain the operational capability in space and cyber.”
Another issue on the horizon is sustaining future cyber warfighters.
“The biggest issue is training and retaining a high-end workforce,” Shelton said. “People with those skills are in high-demand in other places…so how is it we keep them on board, how do we give them an adequate career path that keeps them interested in what we’re doing and yet they have to understand that they might not get as much money as they would somewhere else?”
Shelton said something that is also being considered is more space and cyber opportunities within the Guard and Reserve.
“There’s a big total force study effort under way in the Air Force,” Shelton said. “For example, you take a reservists who’s working for a high-end IT company by day and then working for us as a reservist part-time, that is great capability for us — that comes back to the active force with certain ideas and thought processes we might not have in our capability,” he said.