52nd CS leads large force employment information network operation

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany --

The future of the 52nd Communications Squadron is rapidly evolving, and its cyber warriors are leading the charge to revolutionize the role of communications squadrons across the Air Force through an initiative called “the Comm Squadron Next.”

As part of this initiative, the 52nd CS is identifying and focusing on the protection of key cyber terrain which will allow for more efficient use of limited resources. In order to better use the limited resources available to squadron planners, 52nd CS Airmen received tactical cyber mission planning and guidance in conducting the mission, environment, enemy, effects, capabilities, plan, phasing, contracts and contingencies - also known as the ME3C (PC)2 process.

“The ME3C (PC)2 process is distinct from the typical communications project planning cycle,” said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Anthony Williams, a 52nd CS mission planner. “ME3C (PC)2 is a powerful addition to a planner’s toolbox, allowing for scalability in terms of planning. Utilizing this planning process we are able to focus on specific goals, such as providing mission assurance for command and control systems.”

While the initial operating capability of the Comm Squadron Next is still several months away, the squadron made large strides by participating in a mission assigned from the Air Force Mission Assurance Center. This marks the first time that an Air Force communications squadron was formally tasked for such an operation.

Airmen from the 52nd CS at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany; the 691st Cyberspace Operations Squadron, Ramstein Air Base, Germany; the 26th Network Operations Squadron, Maxwell Air Force Base-Gunter Annex, Alabama; and the 83rd NOS, Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, participated in a large-force employment Department of Defense Information Network operation April 12-18, 2016.

As operations lead, the 52nd CS provided the mission coordination and specific capabilities to assist in the success of the operation. The Air Force Intranet Control weapon system, operated by the 26th NOS, supported the operation by executing a mission to modify the cyber terrain. AFINC required the removal of any previous single points of failure from prior reconnaissance missions on the Secure Internet Protocol Routing Network boundary.

In the same mission, the cyber security and control system weapon system, operated by the 691st COS and the 83rd NOS, executed an escort mission to provide overall mission assurance.

Operators of both weapon systems worked together to reduce threats to the warfighter mission, reduce overhead in firewall management workload and troubleshooting, reduce latency in network traffic, and hardened the SIPRNet by adding redundancy and eliminating single points of failure.

“This mission has greatly streamlined our boundary — allowing for easier troubleshooting,” said U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Blake Benson, a 52nd CS cyber infrastructure technician. “This mission exposed us to areas of networking that we do not use on a day-to-day basis at the squadron level, and the assistance from the other units has enhanced our knowledge and improved the overall structure of our network.”

U.S. Air Force 2nd Lt Chad Speer, a 691st COS mission commander, said working with four units from three different time zones on two continents presented unique challenges. Yet he attributed the mission's success to the cooperation between multiple mission partners and their willingness to lend forces to this new construct.

"Mission execution was exceptionally smooth, clearly a result of our extremely proficient operators and planners, allowing us to finish exactly in our four-hour execution window with precision," Speer said. "I look forward to working with the 52nd CS and other communication squadrons as we continue to refine the Department of Defense Information Network cyberspace operations process and execute similar missions."

U.S. Air Force Maj. Duane Fisher, 52nd CS commander, noted this mission also marked a key milestone for the squadron.

“As a ‘pathfinder’ unit for the Comm Squadron Next initiative, we are continually integrating with the cyber community to further our capability and resources,” Fisher said. “This mission represents another step toward becoming a more cyber-capable squadron. We are excited to be working with the 691st COS to plan and execute missions across our network. The future of cyber in the Air Force is bright, and Spangdahlem is proud to be blazing a new path for communications squadrons across the Air Force.”