Joint Base San Antonio-Medina Annex, Texas --
As the Air Force’s functional communities are leading a number of initiatives designed to impact cyber awareness and culture, one Cyber Gladiator recently had the opportunity to help educate a group of senior leaders on the integration of cyber requirements for Air Force systems undergoing testing and evaluation.
First Lieutenant Kortnie Stiehm, a Citizen Airman assigned to the 960th Cyberspace Operations Group as the chief of weapons and tactics, spent Oct. 15-Nov. 30 at the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve Command Test Center in Tucson, Ariz., researching and building a concept for establishing a cyberspace vulnerability assessment and penetration test directorate.
This directorate will be called the Cyberspace Combined Test Force and charged to perform vulnerability assessments and penetration tests for all systems going through operational test and evaluation at AATC.
“Anything processing 1s and 0s has the potential to be degraded in a contested environment,” Stiehm said. “The goal is to identify attack vectors of tested systems and mitigate them prior to sending the systems to the warfighter. The Airmen employing these systems rely on their functionality and capability while in theater supporting the Combatant Commands.”
Stiehm went on to say he’s proud to have been selected for the opportunity to assist in this effort to not only protect vital Air Force assets, but also to help educate his fellow Airmen.
“Not all organizations understand the importance of cyberspace operations,” he said. “As operators employing cyberspace weapon systems to produce effects, it is our job to educate our brethren from other domains and specialties and ensure we can translate it clearly so they understand.”
Stiehm’s experience as an instructor and evaluator for the Air Force Cyberspace Defense weapon system, the fact that he’s combat mission ready, and the chief of weapons and tactics made him the best choice for this rare opportunity, according to Col. Anthony M. Perkins, 960th CyOG commander.
“Kortnie’s experience and his ability to tell the cyber story in a way that those who don’t have a cyber background can understand the cyber requirements made him an easy choice to represent the Air Force Reserve’s only cyberspace group in this forum,” Perkins said. “He is familiar with mission assurance and vulnerability assessments, so he didn’t need training or spin-up, which was perfect based on AATC’s ops tempo.”
During his duty at AATC, Stiehm created a presentation that AATC leadership used to brief Maj. Gen. Kevin W. Bradley, the National Guard Assistant to the United States Cyber Command Commander and the Director of the National Security Agency, as well as the Director of the Air National Guard and the AFRC Commander. As a result, the DANG approved the allocation of two full-time cyberspace bodies to stand up the C-CTF.
“With cyberspace now being integrated into OT&E [organize, train and equip], the warfighter will have secure systems they are using during real-world missions,” said Stiehm. “The Air Reserve Component (ARC) has a large amount of legacy weapon systems (i.e. F-16 Fighting Falcon) currently going through OT&E for upgrades and AATC is the organization testing them. Everyone from the top down is very interested in how the C-CTF will be integrated and are anxiously waiting for the new team to arrive.”
Before completing his mission at AATC, Stiehm was afforded an F-16 incentive flight in recognition for his efforts.
“I have a new respect for pilots,” said Stiehm, having pulled eight G’s during his flight. “They are seriously multi-tasking – focusing on the G forces, communicating with the home base, and watching all the instruments – for hours at a time. It similar to what we do in cyber, but on a whole other level! I was definitely more hungry and tired after the flight, but it was a great way to understand the bridge between our career fields and the level of concentration and importance of what we do.”