As part of an effort to fix its troubled nuclear program, the USAF will consolidate its nuclear operations in a new command, rather than under Air Force Space Command (AFSPC).
And, in a separate organizational change, the service has decided against the creation of a new "cyber command." Instead, the service will create a Numbered Air Force (NAF) for cyber operations, aligning it under AFSPC.
According to Air Force Times, the mission realignment was finalized last week, during four days of meetings at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. Details on the new organizations will be released in the following weeks, after the service unveils its new nuclear road map.
Details from that plan were published by this blog last week; the 200-page document highlights the root causes of recent nuclear security mishaps, and USAF's game plan for fixing them, emphasizing accountability, rigorous self-assessment, and reinvestment in personnel and equipment.
In the wake of two high-profile nuclear incidents, organizational changes in the Air Force were almost inevitable. But the plan outlined in Air Force Times deviates from recommendations provided by a DoD Nuclear Task Force, headed by former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger.
As part of their investigation into the service's nuclear woes, the Schlesinger panel suggested that USAF nuclear missions be consolidated under AFSPC, which would be re-named Air Force Strategic Command.
Instead, Air Force leaders elected to move AFSPC's intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) into the new command, which has not been formally named. While the service's long-range nuclear bombers are also expected to be a part of the new organization, officials have not explained the realignment's impact on nuclear-capable platforms like the B-2 and B-52.
It is also unclear how the organizational change may affect tactical nuclear missions, now performed by fighter units in the CONUS, Europe and the Far East.
As Air Force Space Command prepares to lose its long-standing ICBM mission, it will become responsible for the service's cyber operations. Originally, USAF leaders hoped to establish a separate command for cyber wafare, with a provisional headquarters at Barksdale AFB, Louisiana. However, those plans were subsequently scaled back, after the other services accused the Air Force of "poaching" the cyber mission.
Under the option selected last week, AFSPC will gain the cyber operations NAF, although details of that realignment have not been released. Currently, the Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (AFISR) Agency is the service's executive agent for cyber warfare, reporting to Eighth Air Force and U.S. Strategic Command.
The AFISR organization is a Field Operating Agency, reporting directly to the service's Deputy Chief of Staff for ISR. Creating of the cyber operations NAF could mean a loss of assets for the agency, a change in its reporting chain, or both.
Creating of the "Cyber NAF" is viewed as something of a sop for AFSPC and Colorado officials. With creation of the new "nuclear command," AFSPC stands to lose hundreds of billets associated with its ICBM mission--and there's no guarantee that the new organization (or those positions) will remain in Colorado.
However, there's also the issue of what cyber assets--if any--the service might uproot in establishing the new numbered air force. The bulk of the Air Force's cyber units are concentrated in Texas and Maryland, and shifting them to Colorado (or another AFSPC location) makes little sense.
Indeed, the best option might be a NAF (with a minimal staff) at an AFSPC base, while the organization's "war-fighting" assets remain in their current location, with the personnel and infrastructure to carry out their mission. When it first proposed a full-fledged cyber command, the Air Force talked about a virtual headquarters, leading subordinate units across the country. That template could be easily applied to the new, cyber NAF.
Would Congress go along with the idea? While no elected officials have weighed in on the organizational changes (at least not yet), many would have misgivings about a virtual command structure. Their opposition would be based on two issues: money and manpower.
With AFSPC losing jobs at Peterson AFB, Colorado (and other locations) in conjunction with the ICBM shift, politicians in the state will be looking for an offset. And we're guessing they won't be satisfied with a small NAF in Colorado, commanding large cyber ops units whose personnel--and payrolls--are located hundreds of miles away, in other states. Look for the cyber NAF that eventually emerges to have a full headquarters staff--and enough operational assets in Colorado to keep the pols happy.