WASHINGTON — A U.S. Air Force office focused on making sure aircraft and weapon systems are hardened against cyber intrusions wants to expand its reach within the Space Force.
The Cyber Resiliency Office for Weapon Systems, also known as CROWS, works with acquisition and testing teams to make sure old and new platforms are protected against cyber threats. The organization established Cyber Focus Teams to do this work within Air Force program executive offices and wants to replicate that work within the Space Force.
Col. Joseph Wingo, chief of cyber and spectrum operations for the Space Force, said CROWS’ approach of pairing experts with the teams that design satellites and ground systems is a good step for the service.
“Bringing folks like CROWS who have experience doing cyber resiliency work and thinking through that with weapon systems and then marrying them up with the engineers and [program executive officers] ad bringing those forces together is going to get us a long way,” Wingo said during the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association’s March 22 Space Force IT Day. “It’s going to provide a lot of benefit in the long run.”
The Air Force established CROWS in 2017 and started pairing Cyber Focus Teams, or CFTs, with program executive offices, which are responsible for a portfolio of development efforts that correspond with a particular mission, like fighter aircraft or ISR platforms. The service’s fiscal 2024 budget includes $37 million for the office, some of which will support the work of the focus teams.
Joe Bradley, the office’s director, told C4ISRNET in a March 6 interview that CFTs are usually made up of about seven specialists who work with engineers, logistics professionals and program managers to identify vulnerabilities and develop a plan to address them through “cyber health assessments.” For old or existing systems, the fix could be an upgrade or a hardware change. For new programs, the focus is on ensuring cyber resiliency is “baked in” from the start, he said.
Lt. Col. Zach Lehmann, materiel leader for CROWS, said in the same interview that the goal of the office’s cyber specialists is to be “change agents within the acquisition community.” Working with program executive officers that manage entire portfolios of systems is a great way to impact the broader acquisition culture, he added.
“The Cyber Focus Teams that are embedded at the PEO level are engaging across a portfolio to help ensure that the CFT isn’t the only one applying sound system security engineering best practices,” Lehmann said. “They’re acting within those portfolios to change the culture over time, to help ensure that this perspective becomes a part of the culture.”
In January, CROWS officials met with Space Force program teams based at Los Angeles Space Force Base to discuss the service’s needs and how to best deploy its cyber specialists. Bradley said he’d like to begin embedding CFTs by the end of FY23 or the beginning of FY24.
While CROWS has worked with the Space Force’s cyber community in the past, Bradley said bringing CFTs to the service offers a chance to deepen that partnership.
“We want to make sure that as they have evolved, we continue to evolve,” he said.
Courtney Albon is C4ISRNET’s space and emerging technology reporter. She has covered the U.S. military since 2012, with a focus on the Air Force and Space Force. She has reported on some of the Defense Department’s most significant acquisition, budget and policy challenges.