Thursday, January 22, 2009

Speaking of Finalists

Six Air Force bases are also in the running to host 24th Air Force, the USAF's new cyber component.

The cyber organization was originally envisioned as a stand-alone command, by was down-sized to a numbered Air Force by the service's Chief of Staff, General Norton Schwartz. His decision came after other services accused the USAF of attempting to "monopolize" the cyber mission, and senior DoD officials questioned the need for another Air Force command.

Instead, the cyber organization has been designated 24th Air Force, and will join Air Force Space Command next spring or summer. It's predecessor, the (provisional) Air Force Cyber Command, has been operating at Barksdale AFB, Louisiana since last October.

Not surprisingly, Barksdale is among the bases vying to host 24th Air Force Headquarters. Also on the list are Scott AFB, Illinois; Lackland AFB, Texas; Scott AFB, Illinois, Offut AFB, Nebraska and Peterson AFB, Colorado.

Among those contenders, Barksdale and Lackland are believed to be the early front-runners. Having the provisional cyber command on base gives Barksdale a minor advantage, since many of the personnel who will form the 24th Air Force cadre are already in place.

Lackland is home to the Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (Agency), a key player in signals intelligence and information operations for both the USAF and Strategic Command. That means the Texas base already has the "connectivity" sought for the new numbered Air Force, possibly giving Lackland a leg up in the final competition.

But the other installations can't be ruled out. Offut is home to U.S. Strategic Command, which has overall responsibility for the cyber mission. Air Force Space Command, the parent organization for 24th Air Force is based at Peterson, while Scott is home for the Air Force Communications Agency (AFCEA), and two operational customers: Air Mobility Command and U.S. Transportation Command. Langley AFB hosts one of the cyber unit's most important clients, Air Combat Command.

Scott was once considered something of a long shot, but with a new commander-in-chief from Illinois, the base's stock seems to be rising. The installation that eventually "wins" 24th Air Force will get an organization with 5-6,000 employees and an annual budget of more than $5 billion.

Given the size of that prize, the political tug-of-war over the cyber organization will only intensify in the coming months. But we'll be surprised if 24th Air Force doesn't wind up at either Barksdale or Lackland.

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