Cyber’s expanding role in today’s Air Force

Gen. (Ret.) Charles Holland ’68 met with four cadets on Nov. 13 to talk about the expanding cyber fight and how that emerging domain will impact the warfighter in the years ahead.

C1C Nathan Montierth, C1C John Johnson, C1C Jacob Orner and C1C Austin Gadient were on hand to quiz Gen. Holland about his views on cyber and how the modern battlefield is impacted by offensive and defensive cyber operations.

Holland, a special operations commander during the closing years of his Air Force career, has been assisting our nation’s military with war game efforts since 2004.

Over the past decade, Gen. Holland said, planning for future conflicts has included an ever-increasing awareness of cyber and the vulnerabilities that our country faces.

Gen. Holland told the cadets that the U.S. has almost always enjoyed a competitive advantage over its adversaries, due to advanced technologies and strategies, but that’s now changing.

“Our adversaries are getting smarter all the time,” he said. “We have to protect our systems. We need to fix that problem.

“And our adversaries don’t necessarily go by international norms, nor do they really go by the rules of law, versus how we in the U.S. try to operate.”

A big concern is the ability of adversaries to fight in the cyber domain with very little cost involved. That adds to the challenges that U.S. forces face.

As an example, Gen. Holland noted that 23 million people in Afghanistan have cell phones and 90 percent of Afghanis have access to the Internet. That means that potential cyber weapons are in the hands of everyday citizens throughout the world.

Gen. Holland encouraged the upcoming Air Force leaders to explore opportunities in cyber and space, as those domains will be vitally important in the days ahead.

“For all of you, these are pretty exciting times,” he said. “People are recognizing the importance of cyber. It’s going to be very important that we have people who are well steeped in what cyber brings to the warfighters.”

Responding to a question about future technology that might help in the cyber fight, Gen. Holland suggested that Artificial Intelligence, lasers, jamming capabilities and “assured communications” will be important new developments in the near future.

He noted that the military’s partnerships with private industry will be key as new technologies are explored, as tech companies can more rapidly respond to threats in the cyber realm.

“What can we learn from them? That’s very critical,” he added.

As for a final piece of advice, Gen. Holland offered the following:

“Think outside the box, don’t allow yourself to get into a group think, and don’t be bashful,” he says. “Talk to your leadership in a respectful way.”

Gen. Holland’s Academy class — the Class of 1968 — will gather for its 50th reunion next year. The class gift will focus on ongoing cyber education and cyber efforts at USAFA, including support for the Academy Cyber Competition Team.

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