Air Force announces new information warfare entity

After some delay, the Air Combat Command will combine its 24th (cyber) and 25th (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) Numbered Air Forces into one.

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The Air Force is merging its cyber and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities in a new information warfare organization: the 16th Air Force.

Gen. James Holmes, commander of Air Combat Command, confirmed Sept. 18 that the existing cyber and intelligence functions -- the 24th and 25th Numbered Air Forces, respectively -- would be combined into a single entity headquartered in San Antonio, Texas.

The service announced the merger of Air Combat Command's 24th and 25th Air Forces earlier this year, initially expecting it to stand up this summer. The effort follows the headquarters merger of cyber and ISR. The new 16th Air Force will be led by Air Force Maj. Gen. Timothy Haugh, who now leads the 25th Air Force and was previously the director for the Cyber National Mission Force at U.S. Cyber Command.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper nominated Haugh for 16th commander position and promotion to lieutenant general on Sept 18.

"Tim brings unique experience to us as both an intel professional, and then he's been working for [U.S. Cyber Command head] Gen. Nakasone as one of his task force commanders in USCYBERCOM," Holmes told reporters during a media briefing at the Air Force Association's Air Space Cyber conference at National Harbor on Sept. 18. "So he has broad experience across all the things we'll ask that Numbered Air Force to do."

The 16th Air Force will initially stand up pending Haugh's confirmation, after which the two organizations will combine into a single operations center with a director.

Holmes didn't give specifics on how the teams will work together, but he said the unification would increase synchronization so ISR teams would be able to better measure the effects and responses of cyber campaigns and influence information operations.

"Cyber teams are dependent on intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance just like the rest of our component is. So on one level, it's making sure that we have the ISR that's required for cyber … and that we optimize the use of cyber for ISR and putting it all together under one command," Holmes said.

Holmes said the Air Force's cyber capabilities mainly lie in the Mission Defense Teams charged with protecting the networks and that the 16th Air Force was not interested in building standalone information warfare campaigns. Instead, the goal is to build tools for combatant commanders to use that are "proportional to the things that peer adversaries are doing in the same space" without being "escalatory," he said.

"How do we take everything that we do and marry that up with people who are focused on trying to influence the enemy, trying to drive changes in behavior in this competition phase by influencing people," he said.

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