Military officials have announced that the Air Force Academy’s CyberWorx program — designed to train the next generation of American warfighters to more effectively engage threats in cyberspace — has reached its “initial operating capability.”

High-ranking Air Force officials from the Academy and from Air Force Space Command announced the achievement at a press conference last Wednesday (Feb. 8) during a three-day conference at The Broadmoor hotel in Colorado Springs.

“Achieving [initial operating capability denotes]  that a new unit or weapon system is capable of being utilized and delivers a new capability — in this case, that Air Force CyberWorx is open, proven and ready for more business,” said USAFA spokesman John Van Winkle.

Van Winkle qualified that by adding that the program is not at its “final state or full capacity, but it’s a significant step in that direction.”

According to Lt. Col. Cynthia Brothers, an Academy professor who handles partner relations and outreach for CyberWorx, the program’s operational status comes after its recent completion of three simultaneous projects.

“These projects focused on cyber risk and situational awareness reporting,” she said. “Every one of those projects has leveraged social and intellectual diversity through the use of human-centric ‘design thinking’ methodology found and applied in the most successful private industries.”

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The concept of “design thinking” is at the center of the CyberWorx model, officials said. The term comes from work performed at Stanford University that focused on design as a way of thinking and the basis for executing creative action.

“‘Design thinking’ is a concept for problem solving that brings a diverse group of people together to work quickly toward good answers,” said CyberWorx Director Col. Jeff Collins. “While designing, the team uses techniques of rapid, low-fidelity prototyping to find out what ideas work, don’t work and can be made better to improve the end-user’s experience.”

“Every one of those projects has leveraged social and intellectual diversity.” 

— Cynthia Brothers

Collins went on to explain some of the ins and outs of the program.

“By the end of what CyberWorx calls our ‘design sprints,’ the team has looked at potentially hundreds of ideas, quickly tried many of them, and comes together toward a few innovative solutions or policy advancements that have a high probability of working for the warfighter user,” he said.

“These sprints are a very rapid method of getting good solutions and having the whole team buy in on the proposals moving forward.”

The program was founded last year with the primary motive of helping the Air Force — and the U.S. military as a whole — adapt to the changing digital landscape of war.

To achieve a more well-rounded approach to digital challenges, the program partners with a slew of government agencies, educational institutions, nonprofits and companies.

So far, those partners have included Boecore Inc., Boeing, LinQuest, MTSI, SynGlyphX, Vance Consulting, Peak Social Insights, Otis LLC, nestCare, Rim Technologies, Fourth Axis Games, Bourbon Street Productions, Spark Mindset and Braxton Technologies, among others.

During the press conference, Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson said her vision for the program relies heavily on collaborating with businesses and nonprofits to educate and train officers to keep up with the rapidly changing internet environment, and to use the lessons learned to more effectively integrate the Air Force’s three mission domains: air, space and cyberspace.

“For the Air Force, CyberWorx represents a new and unique opportunity to — through design thinking and problem-solving — harness the ingenuity of 4,000-plus digital natives to innovate new and better ways to revolutionize our employment of cyber,” she said.

“The future of CyberWorx is bright; it’s full of possibilities and we’re currently finalizing space on two floors of our library … to develop the capacity for up to three simultaneous projects.”

While the Academy is working to create a dedicated space for the program, it’s already looking ahead with plans to eventually construct a “state-of-the-art facility paid for with MILCON [military construction] and private donor funds with high-tech laboratories and collaboration spaces to support 10 simultaneous projects,” Johnson said. “But the crown jewel of this program will not be its physical location but its revolutionary breakthroughs.”

Gen. John Raymond, commander of U.S. Air Force Space Command (headquartered at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs), said the work that is currently being done at CyberWorx has already made a considerable impact by establishing a “new cyber training model” for the military.

“There is nothing that we do as a joint force that doesn’t rely on cyber — so it’s important that we up our game in cyber,” he said.  n CSBJ

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