39th IOS breaks new ground on cyber warrior training

Lt. Col. Angela Waters, 39th Information Operations Squadron commander, addresses the assembled crowd during the Cyber Training Campus groundbreaking ceremony at Hurlburt Field, Fla., Aug. 10, 2017. Once completed in fiscal year 2018, the CTC will double the 39th IOS’ current capacity to produce operators for U.S. Cyber Command’s cyber mission force and Air Force cyber weapons systems

Lt. Col. Angela Waters, 39th Information Operations Squadron commander, addresses the assembled crowd during the Cyber Training Campus groundbreaking ceremony at Hurlburt Field, Fla., Aug. 10, 2017. Once completed in fiscal year 2018, the CTC will double the 39th IOS’ current capacity to produce operators for U.S. Cyber Command’s cyber mission force and Air Force cyber weapons systems

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas -- As the cyber domain weaves into daily life and the Air Force mission, qualified cyber warrior Airmen serve to protect cyberspace operations.

Tasked with training these cyber operators is the 39th Information Operations Squadron and their Reserve counterpart, the 717th Information Operations Squadron, at Hurlburt Field, Fla.

The 39th IOS is home to the Air Force's only cyber and information operations formal training unit where 125 experienced Airman, civilian and contract instructors teach future cyber warriors. The 39th IOS offers 18 courses, taught several times per year, producing 2,000 annual graduates.

In addition to teaching, instructors develop curriculum, train new instructors, and create virtual environments, which students use to hone their craft. All of this requires money, qualified instructors and physical space.

To meet these requirements, the unit recently broke ground on a 36,000 square foot, two-story, nine classroom, state-of-the-art Cyber Training Campus, scheduled for completion by the end of fiscal year 2018 . Each student workspace will be on the cutting-edge of technology, with connectivity to multiple networks, enabling students to participate in realistic training scenarios and gain operational cyberspace experience.

“It’s an honor to be at the forefront of the Air Force’s cyber training expansion,” said Lt. Col. Angela Waters, 39th IOS commander. “Breaking ground on this state-of-the-art building will enable us to double the number of cyber operators trained to execute missions across the full spectrum of military operations.”

The 39th IOS’ Detachment 1, which stood up in 2015 to train cyber warriors in the Joint Base San Antonio area, shared its parent squadron’s requirement challenges shortly after activation. The unit moved into its new training facility on JBSA-Lackland on Oct. 13, 2017. Their 8,400 foot, $7 million, multi-classroom, state-of-the-art Kisling Cyberspace Center now provides for 75 students each course iteration.

“Opening [this building] gives students a more consistent, positive working environment, and gives time back to the instructors,” said Maj. Jason Abshire, Det. 1 commander.

Students come to the 39th IOS after initial cyber skills training. The 39th IOS then trains them on their specific weapons system. All cyber training is driven by real-world operational needs, so courses undergo refreshes and improvements on a six-month deliberate development cycle.

Recently, the Cyber Intelligence Formal Training Unit unveiled a newly redesigned course following a yearlong, systematic overhaul. The Cyber IFTU prepares Airmen in the intelligence field to work with cyber units. The course underwent more than a year of enhancements and redesigns to meet graduate feedback and operational cyber demands. The first class graduated this new and improved offering Oct. 13, 2017, paving the way for future classes.

Looking ahead, the 39th IOS aims to continue refining courses, eventually offering courses specialized to the individual crew positions on the cyber weapon systems.

“Right now we have one course per weapon system, but if you look at the space or flying domain, every crew position has its own training and we don’t have that yet,” Waters said.

Taken together, these changes are all geared toward delivering better-trained cyber warriors.

"The 39th IOS is charged with leading and growing our most important cyber investment and our most critical component of any cyber weapon system -- our Airmen," said Col. Eric DeLange, 688th Cyberspace Wing commander. "The unit, in partnership with many of its stakeholders, continues to move mountains to increase its capacity as well as to become increasingly agile and responsive to the ever-changing contested environment of cyberspace. While they are
focused on producing trained and ready operators on today's weapons systems, in my mind they are really laying the foundation for who will be tomorrow's AFCYBER and USCYBERCOM enlisted and officer leaders."