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Cyber units secured joint networks during Northern Strike

Maj. Richard Frantz, 272nd Cyber Operations chief of training, explains the Threat Cloud program to Senior Airmen Kelsie Hubbart and Micah Sage, cyber operators on the operations floor at Battle Creek Air National Guard Base, Michigan, Sept. 14, 2020. Threat Cloud was used to improve traffic conditions for the state of Michigan during Operation Resilience, Innovative Readiness Training.

Maj. Richard Frantz, 272nd Cyber Operations chief of training, explains the Threat Cloud program to Senior Airmen Kelsie Hubbart and Micah Sage, cyber operators on the operations floor at Battle Creek Air National Guard Base, Michigan, Sept. 14, 2020. Threat Cloud was used to improve traffic conditions for the state of Michigan during Operation Resilience, Innovative Readiness Training.

LANSING, Mich.— During Northern Strike 21 (NS21), the 272nd Cyber Operations Squadron (272 COS), with the Michigan Air National Guard trained with the 273rd COS, Texas National Guard, in mission assurance through keeping networks safe. Cybersecurity consistently takes measures to protect information technology from unauthorized use and is crucial to safeguarding against unauthorized access to information and enabling mission success. Cybersecurity units must incorporate many functions to balance the cybersecurity risk with the assuring capabilities required for mission success.

“An exercise like Northern Strike is intended to prepare our warfighters for Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2) operations in contested environments,” said Col. Lanse LaVoy, commander, 217th Air Operations Group, 110th Wing, Battle Creek Michigan Air National Guard Base. “Those engagements will undoubtedly involve all domains of warfare, to include cyber.”

Meeting training objectives, concepts, and plans can lead to force modernization of integrated training and training support requirements, which are necessary to train personnel to provide a realistic, scalable, and persistent training.

“Deliberately integrating cyber training objectives into the exercise during the early planning stages gave us the opportunity to train as closely as we can to a real-world scenario to better understand how we will fight in potential future competition and conflict,” said Lt Col John Brady, commander, 272nd COS.

During NS21, the role of the Cyber Protection Team was to perform defense of the Air Operations Center (AOC) weapon system which provides global command and control (C2) capability for air, space, and cyberspace forces. The Cyber Protection Teams performed defense of the Air Operations Center Weapon System at the 217th AOG in support of NS21, Joint All Domain Operations (JADO), and Multi Domain Operations (MDO) across the state.

The Air Force has established several operations centers that provide the ability to command and control (C2) air, space, and cyberspace forces. By design and intent, the AOC provides C2 capability to command and control the joint air effort and forms the nucleus, with appropriate augmentation from other Services and components.

“Defending the AOC helped ensure air operations planning and execution can happen unhindered during the exercise,” said Chief Master Sgt. Erik Morse, senior enlisted leader of the 217th Air Communications Squadron (ACOMS). “It also adds assurance that the adversary does not have access to our plans.”

NS21, one of the Department of Defense’s largest reserve component readiness exercises, took place across Northern Michigan from July 31 to August 14. NS21 consisted of approximately 5,100 participants from across the country, including sister services and coalition forces. The exercise also provided participating units a chance to conduct robust and relevant scenario-based, full-spectrum readiness training and complete mission essential tasks.

“Our team was comprised of two Cyber Operations Squadrons (COS)—the 273rd COS from the Texas Air National Guard and the 272nd COS from the 110th Wing who performed cybersecurity operations in collaboration with the 217th ACOMS,” said Morse. “Cyber vulnerability assessment training operations were conducted across Army and Air Force network traffic resulting in an enhanced cybersecurity posture.”

During NS21, Air National Guard cyber protection teams provided an opportunity to operate in a joint network environment, assuring joint systems employed for coordination between Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine, and Special Operations in conjunction with allies and partners during an operational level exercise achieving Joint Command and Control.

“We are still growing cyber participation in Northern Strike and foresee attracting even more joint participation within cyber (i.e., joint cyber teams) as we have done in the past with exercises like SABER GUARDIAN 2019 and across multiple domains in the future,” said Brady.

During Northern Strike 20, the 272nd COS was the only cyber protection team performing the monitoring of networks. This year during the planning and execution of NS21, participation was expanded to include the 273rd COS.

“Based on the success of cyber mission assurance and cyber security activities during NS21, we anticipate more cyber squadrons will want to participate in NS22,” said Brady. “Beyond adding more participants, we also broadened the scope of our activities to include actively deploying endpoint software which is a more in-depth security approach.”

“We also provided much better defensive measures and improved training opportunities for our cyber operators and the 217th Air Communications Squadron information security team,” he said.

This joint endeavor offered opportunities for growth in building professional relationships, in which effective, professional relationships can enhance morale, unit cohesion, and improve the operational environment while focusing on the mission.

“We were able to have face-to-face interactions that build strong working relationships in an integrated training environment,” said Brady. “This boosts trust and confidence on both sides and built a strong foundation for working together during real-world situations.”

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