Keep COMM and Carry On

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Bryan Crane
  • 509th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
In July 2010, the Natanz nuclear harnessing facility in central Iran - the site of a large portion of Iran's uranium enrichment - randomly initiated emergency cooling procedures on 3,900 of the facility's 4,700 centrifuges. The rapid decline in temperature triggered an emergency shutdown of the facility, and the 3,900 centrifuges had to be replaced.

The cyber attack, known as Stuxnet, set Iranian nuclear aspirations back upwards of six months. The creator of Stuxnet is still unknown, but the ability to attack and potentially cripple an enemy without putting a single individual in harm's way shows the power of a technological advancement in warfare never before explored.

In the newly released Congressional Budget for Military Affairs, only two major entities received a significant increase in funding. One of those was the cyber warfare branch of the Department of Defense.

The abundance of cyber warfare across the DOD has changed the vision and goals of every Communications and Information Technology Airman over the past five years.

"In no work center at Whiteman Air Force Base is this more visible than the Wing Information Assurance Office," said Marcus Tenenbaum, 509th Communications Squadron Quality Assurance flight commander.

The 509th Communications Squadron's Wing Information Assurance Office (WIAO) processes more requests for cryptographic materials and communications security checks than all but one base in Air Force Global Strike Command. The shop, a workcenter with five first-term Airmen and only one NCO, faces dual goals in a rapidly changing communications landscape.

"Although we are undermanned, it doesn't stop us from completing the mission, and completing it at a high level," said Tech. Sgt. Jessica Hildebrand, 509th CS Wing Information Office NCOIC.

The WIAO's main mission is to continue to keep Whiteman as secure as possible.

"We make sure that nobody hacks into our networks," said Hildebrand. "We make sure our base stays safe and secure at all times."

"We identify threats," she said. "And we resolve any that may come through to us."

In addition to providing the proper guidelines for cyber defense on all Whiteman networks, the shop is responsible for providing all cryptographic materials to the base populace.

Every single time the B-2 Spirit takes off, there are 10 COMSEC items provided by the WIAO shop which guarantee the protection of the missions carried out by the operators in the air. All secret and top-secret communications on base are certified by the WIAO Airmen.

"This could include something as simple as a conversation in Brig. Gen. Bussiere's office, to something far more sensitive, like the security of the vault the Intel work-center uses," said Hildebrand.

As the use of cyber warfare increases on a national level, Air Force leaders made the decision to establish a numbered Air Force dedicated solely to cyber attack and defense. The Wing Information Assurance Office receives much of their guidance from this new entity - the 24th Air Force.

The 24th Air Force is the operational warfighting organization that establishes, operates, maintains and defends Air Force networks to ensure warfighters can maintain the information advantage as U.S. forces prosecute military operations around the world, according to the unit's official fact sheet.

The changing landscape of warfare is visible at every level, including right here at Whiteman Air Force Base. The Wing Information Assurance Office is only one of the evolving entities changing the dynamics of the modern-day, steely eyed warrior-Airman.