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US airforce shifts 30,000 troops to 'cyberwar front lines'

Soon more Yanks in digi-trenches than in Afghanistan

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The US Air Force reports that it has assigned no fewer than 30,000 digital troops to "the front lines of cyber warfare". This is close to a third of the number of US troops deployed in Afghanistan.

The Air Force Times reports that 27,000 enlisted airmen and women are now classified as cyber scufflers, having previously been rated as communications and electronics people. Some 3,000 officers have been shifted out of other trades to become elite "cyber officers", potentially eligible to wear the coveted cyber wings recently established by the USAF.

Only a fraction of these people are actually assigned to the new cyberwar formation, the 24th Air Force, which is now forming up. Most belong, and will continue to belong, to communications sub-units in normal airforce formations with planes and stuff. But USAF cyberwar enthusiasts insist that a major change is happening.

According to the AF Times:

Communications officers often saw themselves as others saw them: airmen who made sure the base computer network worked, said [Brigadier David Cotton, director of cyberspace transformation] who began his career a computer programmer.

Cyberspace officers will continue to provide support but they also will be the go-to experts on how a computer or communication network can improve war-fighting capabilities.

In particular the hundreds of digi-warriors assigned to 24AF's 67th Network Warfare Wing will actively seek to exploit and attack other people's networks, rather than defending and securing their own. And the lightning-winged cyberspace officers, rather than being retread comms types, will henceforth come from a lengthy course lasting 115 training days.

“It’s not just spray paint, it’s a new mindset,” insists Cotton.

With the US Navy also commissioning its 10th [Cyber] Fleet, the US Army keen to get stuck in as well, and a central Cyber Command now forming alongside the NSA (itself a military combat support agency) it is no exaggeration to say that America will soon have more troops on the "front lines of digital warfare" than it does in Afghanistan.

Some will applaud this, others will see it as a comic/tragic misallocation of resources at a time when the US and its allies have a real war to fight. Others, perhaps more accurately, will see it as a barely-controlled bureaucratic and budgetary land grab by the US forces.

But Brigadier Cotton is certainly right that it's no mere can of paint. Whether it's a real can of whup-ass for America's cyber enemies (if any) remains to be seen. ®

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