Cryptologic wing develops cyberspace warriors
April 19, 2017
As one of Air Combat Command’s integral assets, the 70th Intelligence,
Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing is home to several types of
cyberspace warriors, including the exploitation analysts (EA) of the
41st Intelligence Squadron.
The 70th ISRW is known in the cyber community as “America’s cryptologic
wing,” being a premier source for the Defense Department’s information
network fortification. One way the 70th ISRW received that accolade is
through enhancing their 41st IS exploitation analysts with precise
selection, testing and training.
“An exploitation analyst’s job is to defend the DOD information network,
secure DOD data and mitigate risks to DOD missions against some of the
nation’s hardest cyber threats,” said Tech. Sgt. James, a 41st IS cyber
intelligence analyst. “Specifically, we provide actionable intelligence
about nominated targets in order to provide effects in cyberspace and
ensure our DOD’s freedom of maneuver within the cyber domain.”
Cyberspace warrior training is no easy task.
To become an EA, Airmen go through a rigorous and lengthy training
process, said James. After Air Force basic training, Airmen spend 110
days learning the foundations of intelligence analysis at Goodfellow Air
Force Base, Texas.
“Those that show potential in the cyber realm are then nominated or
selected for the Joint Cyber Analysis Course at Corry Station, Florida,
where they receive instruction on a wide spectrum of cyber topics,”
Before becoming fully operational, those selected must complete 600
hours and 15 courses in U.S. Cyber Command joint training. Airmen are
then tested on 114 job qualification requirements, James said. Upon
completion, they become Cyber National Mission Force qualified.
In addition to their military credentialing, EA Airmen are also given
the opportunity to qualify with certifications in Cisco Certified
Network Apprentice, Linux+, Security+, Network+ and others, like their
civilian counterparts, James said.
“Our training requirements are difficult because of the nature of our
mission,” he said. “Our squadron must build Cyber National Mission teams
and national support teams in an era when our economy demands that we do
more with less. We have to continually grow and learn to stay in stride
with new technologies, developing tradecraft and emerging threat
The exploitation analyst training flight at the 41st IS previously
realized that even with all the training through CYBERCOM’s joint
pipeline, it was not enough, said James. They had a zero percent
acceptance rate to high-profile cyber network organizations for their EA
“It became apparent that we needed more rigorous training in order to
prepare analysts for the tough mission; thus, our internal EA training
program was born,” James said.
Even though the program is still in its infancy, the increase in
efficient and knowledgeable Airmen has been realized.
“Our program takes the foundational knowledge from [Joint Cyber Analysis
Course], and the subject knowledge from the pipeline, and provides a
tailored environment to challenge each individual analyst to leverage
their unique bodies of knowledge and apply that knowledge to effectively
conduct cyberspace maneuvers and achieve mission objectives,” said
Master Sgt. Michael, a 41st IS cyber intelligence analyst. “This is the
art of teaching tradecraft.”
Creating these types of cultural investments to improve Airmen’s
readiness has begun to evolve the future of cyber Airmen at the 41st IS,
To practice performing their duties, EA Airmen are provided transient
training laboratories, individual lab kits, to utilize their knowledge.
In each kit, Airmen receive a locally crafted portable desktop which can
influence virtual machines and facilitate hands-on scenarios. This
advances Airmen’s capabilities, Michael said.
The advanced mobile desktop training challenges each individual analyst
in cyberspace maneuvers to achieve mission objectives. “This, of course,
is a short-term measure,” James said.
ideal, long-term goal is to have squadron, group and wing-owned labs and
hardware that can all be leveraged to develop amazing training, rather
than simply paying vendors, he said.
“Rather than relying so heavily on costly commercial training, our
innovative in-house training has enabled our EAs to join the ranks of
some of the best cyber professionals in the world, and take the fight to
the most advanced and sophisticated cyber actors across the globe,”
This one-on-one training has strengthened the unit’s comradery, he said.
As a plus, it has also saved the unit approximately $80,000 in training.
“This training is pivotal in not only helping analysts reach the level
they need to reach in order to pass the interview,” James said. “More
importantly, it empowers EAs to be the best they can be to fight harder
in our difficult mission space.”