Space Command at Peterson AFB loses cyber unit
Author: Tom Roeder, The Gazette - June 8, 2018 - Updated: June 8, 2018
COLORADO SPRINGS — Peterson Air Force Base will lose 72 airmen and civilians after Air Force Space Command was stripped of its role overseeing the service’s computer warfare efforts.
The Air Force announced the change Thursday afternoon, moving the service’s cyber component from Colorado Springs to Virginia where it will become part of Air Combat Command.
“This move will drive faster decisions as we fight by realigning the cyber operations and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions under the same command,” Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said in a statement.
The move is planned to more firmly focus Air Force space efforts, which have drawn criticism in Congress amid calls by President Donald Trump to establish a separate “space force” within the military.
Retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Jay Lindell, who serves as Gov. John Hickenlooper’s chief advocate for military and aerospace jobs in Colorado, said losing the computer warfare piece might turn out to be good news for Colorado Springs.
“I think it is good for Space Command to focus on the requirements and capabilities needed to adequately support national security in space,” he said.
The shift had been rumored in the region for months but wasn’t made official until a late afternoon news release from the Pentagon.
While losing 72 jobs isn’t something to celebrate, Lindell said more jobs and more money are on the way as the Air Force beefs up its space efforts,
Air Force space spending is up nearly 20 percent over two years. More money is likely on the way to Colorado Springs in 2019, with lawmakers demanding the Air Force establish a new unit – called a “numbered Air Force” – dedicated to planning and executing warfare in orbit.
The space boost is already hitting, with an April announcement that the Air Force is adding 150 new space troops to Schriever Air Force Base as Space Command assumes the leading role for Pentagon satellite efforts.
The computer warfare role fell to Space Command under a Bush administration realignment of Air Force duties. The command had been responsible for overseeing the military’s fleet of land-based nuclear missiles, but that mission was consolidated with nuclear bombers under Global Strike Command in Louisiana in 2008.
With the missile job gone, Space Command was picked to fill in on the growing role of computer warfare. But only a small planning cell for the mission wound up in Colorado Springs. The rest of the mission went to the Texas-based 24th Air Force.
Those planners will head to Langley Air Force Base in Virginia this summer as the cyber mission departs.
Although cyber work didn’t add many airmen to Peterson, it did spur growth of a cybersecurity industry, which has boomed in Colorado Springs.
The National Cybersecurity Center opened in 2016 with big plans to make Colorado Springs and the Pikes Peak region a high-tech hub for cyber defense.
Government contractors including consulting giant Deloitte also beefed up their cybersecurity presence in Colorado Springs to accompany Space Command’s cyber role.
Experts say that growth is likely to stick in the Pikes Peak region even without the command because there’s no real need to move: An industry focused on the internet can set up shop anywhere there’s a data connection.
“Remote working today is so easily done, I wouldn’t expect big impact,” said Dirk Draper, who heads the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce. “We also have to recognize the commercial component of cyber we have in Colorado Springs would not be affected by this at all.”
And while the shift removes the local leadership role over Air Force cyber activities, it will leave plenty of cyber airmen in place. Computer warfare units including the 561st Network Operations Squadron at Peterson are slated to stay in Colorado Springs.
Space Command boss Gen. Jay Raymond said the change will make the Air Force better-prepared to fight.
“Integrating cyber operations and intelligence in cyber capabilities under one command is a significant step towards enhancing our war-fighting capabilities to conduct multi-domain operations,” Raymond said in a statement.
“Air Force Space Command will stay focused completely on gaining and maintaining space superiority and outpacing our adversaries in the space domain.”
The move could also quiet Space Command’s congressional critics who have said it wasn’t poised for increasing competition and growing threats in orbit.
At issue are efforts in Russia, China, Iran and North Korea to target American satellites. American troops on the ground need satellite data to navigate, gather intelligence, communicate and target enemy forces.
Without satellites above, America could lose battles below.
The Air Force’s top general said the changes will help avert that possibility.
“Under the guidance of the National Defense Strategy and the emergence of great power competition, we must be prepared for a future high-end fight,” Gen. David L. Goldfein said in a statement.
“We must organize, train and equip ourselves to compete, deter and win. This move integrates key capabilities and helps ensure that we are fully prepared to win today and in the future.”
The move also cements Colorado Springs role as the world’s capitol for military space programs.
“We are well positioned to become the epicenter for all things space,” said Bob Lally, who heads the Chamber’s Military Affairs Council.