Air Force Builds Up Information Warfare Operations for the Digital Age

Ed. note: The Air Force established the 16th Air Force in October 2019 to bring cyber, intelligence, and other information dominance operations together under one roof at JBSA-Lackland, Texas. The new organization combines the former 24th and 25th Air Forces, which oversaw cyber and ISR operations, along with electronic warfare, cryptology, psychological operations, the 557th Weather Wing, and the Air Force Technical Applications Center, which uses its own set of sensors to monitor nuclear treaty compliance. By merging the two organizations, the Air Force is trying to get a better understanding of what’s happening in the digital realm and operate in cyberspace, in data- and algorithm-driven “wars of cognition.” The 16th Air Force is intended to be a new template for these types of operations, and the Air Force will use it as a model for other similar cells in the future, according to an interview in Air Force Magazine with its Commander Lt. Gen. Timothy Haugh. 

Other military services are making similar changes. The Army announced last spring plans to transform Army Cyber Command at Ft. Gordon, GA, to Army Information Operations Warfare Command. With that headquarters will come a new multi-million cyber hub intended to drive academia and industry to Ft. Gordon and Augusta. The Army’s cyber school at Ft. Gordon will also now train cyber and electronic warfare personnel about information operations. Seems like this is a trend toward further integration of cyber with the cognitive aspects demanded by our complex information environment.

Read more about the Air Force’s plans inAir Force Builds Up Information Warfare Operations.

“The cell will be a pivotal player in 16th AF’s evolving structure. Haugh said the organization’s multiple operations centers will merge into a singular hub under one commander on March 16. Officials found those ops centers were focused on the same problems but were split up by specialty, limiting what they could do together.

As the 616th Operations Center handles daily intelligence-gathering, offensive and defensive missions in the air, on cyber networks, and across the electromagnetic spectrum, the IW cell will pull together the assets needed as the “integration point” for a particular response.

That could mean “naming and shaming” an entity for bad behavior through public affairs, supplying a combatant commander with helpful intelligence data, or reacting in the cyber and electronic spheres.”