Robins cyber defense unit activated

Robins Air Force Base welcomed a new unit into its ranks as the 689th Combat Communications Wing was activated in a Monday afternoon ceremony at the Museum of Aviation.

The unit is a subordinate to the 24th Numbered Air Force, the Air Force’s cyber defense headquarters, which itself was activated Aug. 18. The activation ceremony was overseen by Gen. Robert Kehler, commanding general of the U.S. Space Command, and Maj. Gen. Richard Webber, commanding general of the 24th Numbered Air Force.

The 689th Combat Communications Wing will add about 40 active duty airmen to Robins Air Force Base. It is the first unit of its size with its capabilities in the Air Force. The 689th will specialize in facilitating communications in deployed locations. It figures to help defend lines of communication to and from deployed bases against cyber attacks.

“As we activate the Combat Communications Wing, that fills in a critical niche,” Webber said. The 689th “cyber warriors” will have a “high rate of deployment,” Webber added.

Col. Theresa Giorlando, a career communications officer, officially assumed command of the unit moments after it was activated. It is the first time she has been assigned to Robins Air Force Base.

“We are going to be the cornerstone for dominating cyberspace,” Giorlando told her airmen.

The unit is the latest participant in the battle over global communication networks, a hot button topic since President Obama ordered a 60-day review of the entire federal government’s cyber defense apparatus last spring. The results of the review have not been released.

The review promises to shed some light on who will direct the government’s cyber defense. The military, the Department of Homeland Security, the CIA and even the Treasury Department will likely be assigned some portion of the broader cyber defense portfolio.

“I think the military has to have a role,” Kehler said during a news conference after the unit activation. “The lead role remains to be determined.”

Meanwhile, the structure of the military’s cyber defense apparatus seems to be coming together. The 24th Numbered Air Force, almost exclusively tasked with cyber defense missions, now reports to Kehler and the U.S. Space Command. It is just beginning to stand up its tenant units. The 24th Numbered Air Force, based out of Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, “will hit about 70 percent manning in the spring,” Webber predicted.

“It’s going to be a crawl, walk, run approach,” he said.