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The US air force held an activation ceremony in Texas yesterday for its new cyberspace combat unit, the 24th Air Force, which will "provide combat-ready forces trained and equipped to conduct sustained cyber operations".

The 24th will be commanded by former Minuteman missile and satellite-jamming specialist Major-General Richard Webber. Under his command are two cyber "wings", the 688th Information Operations Wing and the 67th Network Warfare Wing, plus combat communications units.

According to Air Force Space Command, under which the new cyber force comes, the 688th will be "exploring, developing, applying and transitioning counter information technology, strategy, tactics and data to control the information battle space". The unit was formerly known as the Air Force Information Operations Center, and will continue to function as an "information operations centre of excellence".

The 67th, by contrast, seems to be a more offensive unit. It will "execute computer network exploitation and attack" as required, and when not doing that will conduct "electronic systems security assessments" for US military units and facilities.

When fully manned up, the combined wings plus supporting units and the 24th AF headquarters are expected to number several thousand personnel, many of whom will be from new specialist career paths in cyber warfare. Space command public affairs describes the 24th as "a battle-ready, responsive and forward-thinking team of America's best".

The new netwar force will be headquartered at Lackland airbase in Texas, with some personnel dispersed to bases in Oklahoma and Georgia. The US Army and Navy are also in the process of setting up cyberwar units, and there is to be a tri-service cyber command too - co-located with the NSA (another Defense Department tentacle) at Fort Meade. ®

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