“These exercises taught us a great deal about ourselves and we’ve come out stronger than we started,” said Maj. Gen. Robert Skinner, who, in addition to commanding 24th Air Force and AFCYBER, is also the JFHQ-C (AF) director. “The lessons we learned will help us continue to improve our readiness and lethality.”
JFHQ-C (AF) plans, performs and executes operational planning for cyber teams in support of three Air Force-aligned combatant commands: U.S. Strategic Command, U.S. Transportation Command and U.S. European Command.
EUCOM’s Exercise Austere Challenge 2019 was the driving exercise, hosted from March 13-26. The annual exercise focused 4,500 personnel from 15 NATO countries on multi-national, multi-domain synchronization in response to a real-world-like crisis. AC19 linked with STRATCOM’s Exercise Global Lightning 2019, U.S. Cyber Command’s Exercise Cyber Lightning 2019, North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command’s Exercise Vigilant Shield 2019, the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s Exercise Positive Response 2019 and the U.K.’s Exercise Joint Venture 2019.
Cyber Airmen accomplished a number of firsts throughout the exercises, including the first time three Cyber Operations-Integrated Planning Elements worked together to simultaneously support three combatant commands. The CO-IPEs link the joint cyber component and the combatant commands to best integrate cyber operations with the combatant command’s scheme of maneuver.
“The link between the CO-IPEs and combatant command provides a level of synchronization not seen before,” said Col. Anthony Thomas, JFHQ-C (AF) operations director. “It allows JFHQ-C to incorporate cyber operations that enhance mission execution.”
Additionally JFHQ-C (AF) served as the cyber coordinating authority for all participating joint cyber organizations, providing a single touch-point to the combatant commanders for all cyber capabilities available.
“The orchestration of cyber operations through JFHQ-C was a huge success this year,” Thomas said. “We were able to coordinate actions from all echelons of U.S. Cyber Command to the supported combatant command.”
Physical exercise operations were conducted in the U.S., Germany and other EUCOM locations, while JFHQ-C operators participated from their computer consoles at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, along with several who were forward deployed to TRANSCOM, EUCOM, STRATCOM and CYBERCOM.
“The key to success in cyber is having the right people, with the right training, equipment and support, unleashed to accomplish the mission,” Skinner said. “As our world evolves around us, we must keep pace or, better yet, be a step ahead — and we made great strides during Austere Challenge.”
AC19 is part of a series of training events that have been planned and executed since the 1990s to strengthen partnerships and enhance warfighter readiness.