Lackland Ushers in New Cyber Warfare Era with Activation of 16th Air Force

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Courtesy / USAF - Tech. Sgt. R.J. Biermann

Chief Master Sgt. Summer Leifer, Sixteenth Air Force command chief, unfurls the Sixteenth Air Force flag to signify its activation, as Gen. Mike Holmes, Air Combat Command commander, and Lt. Gen. Timothy Haugh, former commander of 25th Air Force, look on.

A new numbered Air Force unit has been activated at Lackland Air Force Base, a development that will have implications for national security as well as the local cybersecurity sector.

The 24th and 25th Air Forces have been deactivated and folded into a new Numbered Air Force command known as the 16th Air Force, which will make information warfare its mission.

Lt. Gen. Timothy Haugh, the commander of the 25th Air Force, has taken the reins of the 16th Air Force and been promoted from a two-star to a three-star general in the process.

Port San Antonio and the San Antonio cybersecurity industry, writ-large, stand to benefit from the injection of resources that invariably comes with elevating a military command. The U.S. Department of Defense is now likely to pump more money into the 16th Air Force, which will lead to more contracts with the preponderance of defense contractors in the San Antonio area and a greater demand for local cybersecurity talent, said Jim Perschbach, president and CEO of the Port.

“By consolidating and recognizing [the cybersecurity military operations at Joint Base San Antonio] should be elevated to a three-star command, what it does is it creates more opportunities,” Perschbach said. “It’s opportunities to buy new resources, hire new talent, and [it increases the] ways to participate in a domain that, traditionally, we as a nation and the world haven’t really thought of as being a domain for national opportunity.”

The Port and its tenants have announced the creation of more than 2,500 jobs over the past 18 months with national security contractors such as Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman establishing new facilities at the 1,900-acre campus in Southwest San Antonio and local cybersecurity startups such as IPSecure expanding their operations.

The 24th Air Force, also known as Air Forces Cyber, had only last year realigned and installed a new commander, Maj. Gen. Robert Skinner, who left for Hawaii’s Indo-Pacific Command in August.

Air Forces Cyber has played a role in connecting cyber warfare with other domains, including land, sea, air, and space.

At the 25th Air Force, Haugh was in charge of leading the Air Force’s global intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, cyber, electronic warfare and information operations. He will lead about 32,000 military and civilian Air Force members assigned to the 16th Air Force.

The presence of the 24th and 25th Air Forces has helped define San Antonio as Cyber City USA, an unofficial moniker that has gained steam as the city’s cybersecurity industry grows, said U.S. Rep. Will Hurd. The activation of the 16th Air Force will streamline the activities of the 24th and 25th Air Forces and enable a more effective warfighting strategy, he said.

“Having cybersecurity, electronic warfare, and information operations all under the same umbrella is going to create efficiencies that we haven’t been able to see in the government before,” Hurd said. “The impact of San Antonio is going to remain the same, but the efficiency of information operations by the Air Force is going to increase significantly because of the way you bring all those talents under one organizational structure.”

The past few years have seen an emphasis placed on election security and countermanding threats to U.S. democracy, such as the 2016 Russian interference in the presidential election. The 16th Air Force is set to continue Lackland’s role in ensuring fair and secure elections in addition to defending the U.S. from the theft of sensitive data, state secrets, and intellectual property.

Activating the 16th Air Force brings with it enhanced missions and abilities.

“The time has come to strengthen our Air Force’s information warfare capabilities,” Gen. David Goldfein, Air Force chief of staff, said at a ceremony last week as the new Air Force unit was activated. “And the work of this community will provide the tools our nation’s leaders need to succeed in the 21st century.

“Perhaps our adversaries will watch how we are operating and take pause – and if we are successful at causing our enemies to pause and question whether they can achieve their political objectives, perhaps that is what deterrence looks like in the age of hybrid warfare.”

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