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Air Force leaders push cyberspace training, innovation

By: Tony Peck
March 6, 2018 Updated: March 6, 2018 at 7:12 pm
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photo - Lt. Gen. John Thompson is  commander of the Space and Missile Systems Center  at Los Angeles Air Force Base, Calif.. He graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1984. (Courtesy of the U.S. Air Force)
Lt. Gen. John Thompson is commander of the Space and Missile Systems Center at Los Angeles Air Force Base, Calif.. He graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1984. (Courtesy of the U.S. Air Force) 

Less bureaucracy and better training are key to winning the cyberspace battle with the nation's adversaries, Air Force leaders said Tuesday at a summit in Colorado Springs.

The Department of Defense "has succeeded in building our requirements based solely on threat," said Lt. Gen. John Thompson, commander of the Space and Missile Systems Center of the Air Force Space Command in Los Angeles.

That creates a "prey" mindset, prevents innovation and hinders the military's ability to safeguard itself, Thompson said at the Rocky Mountain Cyberspace Symposium at The Broadmoor.

Using the full spectrum of future Department of Defense capabilities would allow the U.S. military to be the "predator," he said.

But it takes several years to buy and install new systems, and cyber threats are evolving daily, Thompson said.

His solution is to slash red tape and let departments acquire new technologies faster.

Thousands of requirements on programs hamstring the military's ability to develop spin-off technologies and apply practical solutions to unforeseen problems, he said.

"You have to be willing to accept failure in order to innovate and do something that has not been done," Thompson said.

Ultimately, he said, it is up to the commander to accept those failures as a step in the right direction.

But accepting failure can be difficult when military personnel don't have the expertise they need, said Maj. Gen. Robert Skinner, deputy commander of the Air Force Space Command at Peterson Air Force Base.

Skinner said his issue isn't with his airmen's ability or drive, but rather with how they are prepared.

He described an "overly homogenized" career field that promotes a "perpetual amateurism."

The Air Force cybersecurity career field has too few specialties, creating a "jack of all trades, master of none" approach to a rapidly evolving cyber battlefield.

"We need to continue growing a deep bench," he said.

But these issues have not prohibited the Defense Department from stepping up to meet the deeply complex demands of the cyberspace mission, Skinner said.

"We are finally catching up. Finally."

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