Corporate partner helps Academy, cadets address cyber

Cubic Corporation provides networked and secure Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) solutions as well as live, virtual, constructive and game-based training solutions to the U.S. military. They have partnered with the U.S. Air Force Academy to research how best to prepare cadets and airmen for a major cyber-attack event.

“We focus on solving complex problems that are pain points for our customers. For training systems in particular, our solutions support combat readiness through delivery of multi-domain military training with performance-based results and data analytics. A critical area of training focus is effective defense against enemy cyber attacks,” says Melanie Hagerty, vice president for engineering and innovation at Cubic.  “We believe enemies will attack communication structures between the ground and air forces. In order to provide comprehensive and realistic training against our most determined adversaries, we absolutely have to address cyber.”

At the Air Force Academy, Cubic is addressing cyber through its sponsorship of senior capstone projects, involvement with AF CyberWorx, and most recently, a $1 million gift toward the construction of the new United States Air Force Center for Cyber Innovation at USAFA.

“Cubic and the Air Force Academy were both born of innovation, and it is interesting to me that we are both recommitting to it now,” says Mark Graper ’80, vice president for business development, Cubic Global Defense, Europe. “On the military side, we’ve been a training company for pilots and soldiers. We know cyber is a domain of warfare as well, and we are committed to training cyber warriors with the same rigor that we help kinetic warriors train.”

This support of the cyber center will further enhance existing partnerships Cubic already fosters at the Academy.

Capstone projects

Cubic has been addressing cyber issues with its sponsorship of senior capstone projects.  They provided initial funding to set up the project, and they have continued their involvement with ongoing mentorship of cadets enrolled in the course. Each semester, the objective advances, and new cadet team members build on the advancement made by the previous cadet researchers.

“This project has been an evolution,” Hagerty says. “It started with a generalized hypothesis, and it has progressed this semester to a focus on creating a notional cyber percent kill formula based upon network access, detection probabilities and other input parameters. The student teams have grown in their knowledge of what the real problem is and have learned how to best characterize the real problem in order to propose and test quantifiable solutions.”

Part of the challenge of training for cyber attacks is understanding how they are deployed. Just as Cubic’s Air Combat Training Systems can measure the effectiveness of a pilot deploying a weapon, Cubic wants to be able to measure how potential enemies are able to effectively deploy cyber attacks. That information will inform training scenarios so that the military can employ preemptive measures to successfully defend against them.

Cubic’s partnership with the Academy allows the exchange of new perspectives between Cubic’s project leads and Academy faculty and cadets, which they believe benefits everyone.

“We are able to leverage the students’ availability and academic interests to complement Cubic’s own research and development. The more resources we can put towards this particular research topic, the better it is for everyone involved,” Hagerty says. “As they conduct research, the students come up with novel approaches that may influence future cyber training doctrine.”

As future officers, the cadets are also learning about potential Air Force vendors and partners.

“We want to innovate with our customers to solve their hard problems. As these students progress in their Air Force careers, they will remember that Cubic was a huge proponent of realistic cyber security training. It is our hope they’ll look to us as a trusted partner to provide reliable and innovative solutions in other areas,” she says.

Assisting with design sprints

Cubic’s involvement at the Academy also includes an employee embedded with Air Force Cyberworx, the beginning of a new internship collaboration and three new capstone projects.

Cubic employee Vel Prakhantree works on campus with CyberWorx to conduct and facilitate design sprints. She helps the participating groups understand human-centered design and to approach problems from a design-thinking angle.

During the summer of 2019, three cadets will be able to intern at Cubic to gain real-world experience. The lessons they learn can be used to inform how they interact with industry partners during their time as Air Force officers. “Internships are early opportunities for successful collaboration between industry and the military,” Hagerty says.

The new capstone projects expand into additional technology areas. They will focus on running artificial intelligence (AI) on low-SWAP (size, weight and power) commercial hardware options, AI-enabled self-network discovery, and the ability to integrate an airman’s physiological measurements (heart rate, temperature, etc.) into a training platform that includes real and virtual inputs.

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