MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. —
The ability to disrupt U.S. military and civilian operations is no longer a hypothetical exercise perpetrated by bad actors. In fact, the number of cyber threats to the nation’s security increase exponentially each year.
In response, 29 Language Enabled Airman Program scholars – including two Space Force Guardians, two Marine Corps foreign area officers and two Air Force crypto-linguists – gathered at Maxwell Air Force Base from bases worldwide for 10 days of advanced training during the Air Force Culture and Language Center’s Second Annual Cyber Language Intensive Training Event from July 6-17, 2022.
“Cyber is comprised of technology and people, so understanding one but not the other only makes you 50 percent capable of operating in a space that impacts every area of responsibility. We’ve worked with our partners at the Air Force Cyber College and Defense Language Institute Language Training Detachment to create a unique educational event to fuse cyber academics and foreign language instruction for ‘topic fluency’ in cyber. As a result, the students will be able to effectively work with their coalition and allied partners and provide insights on adversary intentions,” said AFCLC Director Howard Ward. “The people aspect of cyber is often overshadowed in the discussion of technology, but in reality, the actions in cyberspace reflect the decisions of the humans operating there. Graduates of this course are equipped to deal with both, which inherently makes us more competitive.”
AFCLC partnered with the Air Force Cyber College, Air War College, Air Command and Staff College, the Air University Teaching and Learning Center, Defense Language Institute Language Training Detachment and the 341st Cyberspace Operations Squadron, Ft. George G. Meade, Md., for the educational event.
“As the Cyber LITE graduates move on to jobs interacting with our mission partners or supporting embassy operations, the cyber education they receive here will enable much better advice to senior leaders and, more importantly, better outcomes navigating the complexities of cyber and information operations for the U.S. and its partners,” said Col. David Bosko, Air Force Cyber College commandant.
During the two-week Cyber LITE, attendees speaking Chinese-Mandarin, French, German, Russian and Spanish explored how the U.S. and other cultures approach partnership and competition in cyberspace. Each morning was filled with presentations and interactive discussions by guest speakers, and the afternoons were devoted to small groups working toward a final presentation in their target languages to demonstrate the value of understanding the integration of language and culture of U.S. competitors and strategic partners with cyber and information operations, tactics and strategy.
Guest speakers, such as Air University Commander and President Lt. Gen. James B. Hecker; Air University Chief Academic Officer Dr. Mark Conversino; and Russell Frasz, director, Force Development and deputy chief of staff for Manpower, Personnel and Services, Headquarters U.S. Air Force, presented a wide range of cyber and strategic operations topics focused on today’s era of global integrated deterrence. Additionally, senior leader viewpoints also provided unique high-level perspectives by Air Forces Cyber Forward and 16th Air Force representatives.
“Air University has been very successful in adding a fair amount of cyber and space topics to our curricula,” Hecker said. “We work extensively with our international partners on cyber issues and threats, alerting them when their systems are compromised and collaborating on other cyber security issues they may encounter. However, there are always better ways to expand that network and do it better, which is where this Cyber LITE comes in. We need to work more effectively and efficiently with our allies and strategic partners worldwide, so knowing cultures and languages as LEAP scholars and FAOs do puts us in a better position to do that.”
Conversino explained how the importance of language and cultural understanding in the era of integrated deterrence is recognized at the highest levels of the federal government as “critical skills.”
“There is a reason why you are here,” Dr. Conversino told the group during his senior leader address. “The bottom line in competition is and always will be understanding other cultures. Part of that is brought through your understanding of language and culture and putting that into context. Your understanding, leavened by your experiences as LEAP scholars and FAOs, brings fluency in language and culture and provides nuance to the cyber topics discussed these next two weeks. Those are now recognized as critical skills at the highest levels of the national security apparatus and the federal government.”
Speaking in their target languages for much of the day, attendees will grow linguistically, culturally and professionally as military communicators in their languages; expand their knowledge and comprehension of cybersecurity issues; explore how U.S. and other cultures approach partnership/competition in cyberspace; and comprehend how language and culture shape other nations’ approaches to cybersecurity. Topics include cyber strategic culture, cybersecurity and computing, cyber myths, information warfare, cyber economics and cyber law.
The course is an active-learning activity with attendees using smaller workgroups to prepare specialized projects for the event’s last day. Instructors use different learning tools, such as virtual-learning environments and real-world scenarios, to prepare attendees to think and speak about cyber issues in their target languages.
“We operate in our languages daily but don’t talk about cyber in our target languages as much. So, to understand, comprehend and articulate in your target language, you need to understand the topic genuinely. Then you need a vocabulary to put the two together. This course is the melding of all those components and has provided me with great insight,” said Russian LEAP Scholar and Space Force Senior Master Sgt. Sergey Aguryanov from Scott Air Force Base in Illinois. “This Cyber LITE will help me advise my leadership, bridge the gaps between cyber intel and space operations and create and implement advanced cyber policies.”
For Chinese-Mandarin LEAP Scholar 1st Lt. Sarah Melton, a pilot from Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota, the experience was a step outside her comfort zone and one she encourages other LEAP scholars to try in the future.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first applied,” Melton said. “I knew the course would be partly about China, but I wasn’t expecting to learn so much about Eastern Europe, its history and how those roles affect current cyber policies. We are getting so much information we can apply to our missions and everyday lives that I fully intend to take home and share. Every day has been extremely useful, which is why I want to encourage my fellow LEAP scholars not to ignore an opportunity because you think it may not apply directly to your job. Every facet of the Air Force will touch every other on a certain level, so take the opportunity to learn something new.”