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US cyber-combat Top Gun training details emerge

Best 15% creamed off for real-life Operation Screaming Fist

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Details are emerging of the training programme that will produce the US military's new elite corps of cyberwarfare operatives.

According to a Department of Defense statement, the undergraduate cyber training course for career field 17DX "cyber operations officers" in the US Air Force was launched last week at Keesler airforce base in Mississippi. The course lasts six months.

"We didn't have the pipeline in place to train the new skills needed to operate in the cyberspace domain," says Lieutenant Colonel Scott Solomon of the 333rd Training Squadron. "It's the one domain for which we didn't have an initial skills course.

"For years, we've done fundamental training in telecommunications, radar, radio, long-haul infrastructure, microwave and air traffic control systems, but now most of these things are connected at the Internet protocol level via the Internet," he added. "Our new cyberspace operators are going to be trained to operate looking through the lens at that IP level."

According to the USAF, qualified cyber officers will be able to establish, secure, operate and "actively defend" seven types of networks including command and control systems, IP, telephony, satellite and mobile telecommunications.

It seems that "active defence" will include learning ways to do unto others as well as preventing them doing unto one.

"For example, in one exercise, two blue team students will be defending an installation's cyberspace while two red team students will be trying to penetrate the network boundaries and security," says Colonel Solomon.

It seems that the top 15 per cent of each course will go on to further training at the 39th Information Operations Squadron at Hurlburt Field in Florida, which seems to be emerging as the cyberwarfare equivalent of the famous "Top Gun" advanced fighter combat school*. Among other things the 39th teaches "military deception" and "network warfare". It is co-located at Hurlburt with the US Air Force's special-operations units.

These elite "A-shred" officers, having won their basic cyber wings at Keesler and done further net-war training at Hurlburt Field, will then move on to "mission qualification training and crew mission-ready training" at an unspecified base, before standing by to put digital boot to network ass in the Wars on Stuff.

The remaining, also-ran 85 per cent of cyber officers will go to "more mainstream" duties involving "telecommunications infrastructure, installation and operations, base communications and network operations".

"Nobody in the world can contest our Air Force in the air and space domains. We dominate them," says Solomon. "We also need to dominate cyberspace. It all starts right here at Keesler." ®

*Run by the US Navy rather than the air force, but you get the idea.

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