Air Force chief wary of cyber ‘black hole’

Gen. Mark Welsh, the U.S. Air Force’s brand new chief of staff, revealed today that he is worried that investing in cyber without truly understanding the military’s requirements could be a resource "black hole." "I’m a believer, I’m just not sure we know exactly what we’re doing in it yet, and until we do, I’m ...

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Gen. Mark Welsh, the U.S. Air Force's brand new chief of staff, revealed today that he is worried that investing in cyber without truly understanding the military's requirements could be a resource "black hole."

"I'm a believer, I'm just not sure we know exactly what we're doing in it yet, and until we do, I'm concerned that it's a black hole," said Welsh during a speech at an Air Force Association-sponsored conference just outside of Washington. "I'm going to be going a little slow on the operational side of cyber until we know what we're doing."

One of the biggest problems is that he does not know exactly what is expected from the Air Force in terms of cyber. Until he has a feel for that, he said, he is hesitant to commit to resources to cyber at a time of declining defense spending.

Gen. Mark Welsh, the U.S. Air Force’s brand new chief of staff, revealed today that he is worried that investing in cyber without truly understanding the military’s requirements could be a resource "black hole."

"I’m a believer, I’m just not sure we know exactly what we’re doing in it yet, and until we do, I’m concerned that it’s a black hole," said Welsh during a speech at an Air Force Association-sponsored conference just outside of Washington. "I’m going to be going a little slow on the operational side of cyber until we know what we’re doing."

One of the biggest problems is that he does not know exactly what is expected from the Air Force in terms of cyber. Until he has a feel for that, he said, he is hesitant to commit to resources to cyber at a time of declining defense spending.

"I don’t know of a really stated requirement from the joint world, through U.S. Cyber Command in particular, as to what exact kind of expertise they need us to train to and to what numbers to support them and the combatant commanders," said Welsh in response to Killer Apps’ questions during a press conference after his speech.

The general went on to say he thinks that up to 90 percent of Air Force cyber personnel are simply responsible for operating and defending Air Force IT systems. "They’re not what NSA would call a cyber warrior for example," said the four-star, meaning that a very small percentage of Air Force cyber operators specialize in offensive operations. "That’s confusing to the rest of the Air Force because the rest of the Air Force doesn’t understand, they don’t really know what we’re doing [in cyber]."

"Until we’re all on board and under the same direction, I’m a little hesitant to commit wholeheartedly a major resource expenditure in an area that I don’t completely understand," added Welsh. "I may understand it very quickly. . . but I want them [Cyber Command] to have to explain [what’s expected of the Air Force], not just to me but all the people who work resources. It’s not as simple as it sounds."

He went on to say that overall, the service leaders must learn more about cyber, since the majority of the service’s leadership still doesn’t understand it.

"This is essential, it’s an air space and cyber future, there’s no doubt about it and everything we do and be effected either by or through" cyber, he added.

To that end, Air Force brass will be taking a trip to the National Security Agency at Fort Meade, Md., later this week to learn what the agency does in the cyber realm. In November, the service will hold a cyber summit for its four-star generals to educate them in all things cyber, Maj. Gen. Earl Matthews, director of cyberspace operations for the Air Force’s chief information officer said earlier in the day.

John Reed is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy. He comes to FP after editing Military.com’s publication Defense Tech and working as the associate editor of DoDBuzz. Between 2007 and 2010, he covered major trends in military aviation and the defense industry around the world for Defense News and Inside the Air Force. Before moving to Washington in August 2007, Reed worked in corporate sales and business development for a Swedish IT firm, The Meltwater Group in Mountain View CA, and Philadelphia, PA. Prior to that, he worked as a reporter at the Tracy Press and the Scotts Valley Press-Banner newspapers in California. His first story as a professional reporter involved chasing escaped emus around California’s central valley with Mexican cowboys armed with lassos and local police armed with shotguns. Luckily for the giant birds, the cowboys caught them first and the emus were ok. A New England native, Reed graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a dual degree in international affairs and history.

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