The Air Force is outgrowing its current cyber and information operations training facility.
The demand for cyber training has increased substantially in recent years, so much so that the 39th Information Operations Squadron had to build another building adjacent to its headquarters in Hurlburt Field, Florida, in order to accommodate the influx of new students.
“Looking toward the future, we are building a $14.2 million, 36,000-square-foot schoolhouse facility at our main cyber formal training unit,” Maj. Gen. Christopher Weggeman, commander of 24th Air Force, wrote in prepared testimony before the Senate Armed Services Cyber Subcommittee in March.
As the Air Force expects cyber to play a critical role in future conflicts, schools like the 39th Information Operations Squadron become increasingly important in preparing airmen for that battlespace.
A groundbreaking took place in August 2017 and construction is scheduled to be completed in late fiscal 2019.
The current schoolhouse is at capacity in terms of space for students and the tailor-made environment or maneuver space each student operates in. During a recent visit to the schoolhouse, Fifth Domain observed a classroom with wall-to-wall desks.
Moreover, each student is provided their own segmented working environment to practice on, which in the cybersecurity world is referred to as a sandbox.
This sandbox allows students to practice scripts and code without worrying about affecting an operational network or the workspace of other students.
“We … create that maneuver space for our folks to actually operate their weapon systems or to learn concepts; we have to provide that for them. We’re providing the air that they can fly in,” Lt. Col. Angela Waters, the squadron’s commander, told Fifth Domain.
In the future, “each student will have their own environment at their desk,” she added. “They’ll have that sandbox environment that they can learn and operate and maneuver in, as well as the network connectivity that they need in order to do, say, intel analysis or to look at open-source information in order to really learn what’s being taught in the classroom and also expand on that knowledge by looking at other resources that are available.”
The Air Force's 39th Information Operations Squadron and its detachment at Joint Base San Antonio – Lackland address the increasing need for cyber training by co-locating and integrating the training community with operators.
This capability requires a great deal of computing power and more server space, which the new building will provide.
The new building will be “purpose built for cyber training,” Waters said, adding while it will be mainly for the cyber mission forces, they will not be the sole occupant.
“As you can see by our current construct, we continue to build out as needed and this was a much-needed expansion for us in order to not only be ready for the future of cyber mission forces but also that additional growth for anyone who’s going to operate … weapon systems,” she said.