By Marina Malenic

The Air Force will not to go through with plans to create a Cyberspace Command dedicated solely to computer network defense and attack, service officials said this week.

Service leaders, meeting at a “Corona” at the U.S. Air Force Academy last week, decided to create a separate command dedicated to the service’s strategic nuclear mission instead. The briefings and decisions at the Corona were “dominated by discussions on the nuclear enterprise,” according to an Air Force press statement.

The service last month disciplined 15 officers over two nuclear safety incidents that earlier this year prompted the forced resignation of its secretary and chief of staff (Defense Daily, Sept. 26).

A highly critical report released last month identified ways the service can reinvigorate its nuclear mission. Headed by former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger, the panel responsible for the report presented 33 recommended changes in the Air Force’s approach to nuclear-related activities. Defense Secretary Robert Gates commissioned the panel following a report by Adm. Kirkland Donald that examined one of the incidents, which involved the mistaken transport of nuclear components to Taiwan (Defense Daily, Sept. 15).

The Schlesinger task force recommended that bombers come under the authority of a proposed Air Force Strategic Command. The ICBMs currently under Air Force Space Command would also be moved to the new nuclear command under the Schlesinger plan. The Air Force did not, however, announce the name of the new nuclear command established at the Corona, nor which specific missions would fall under its purview.

Further, instead of a separate command organization for cyberspace efforts, senior service leaders said a Numbered Air Force (NAF) for cyber operations within Air Force Space Command would be created.

“The conduct of cyber operations is a complex issue, as [the Defense Department] and other interagency partners have substantial equity in the cyber arena,” Air Force Secretary Michael Donley said in a statement released following the meeting. “We will continue to do our part to increase Air Force cyber capabilities and institutionalize our cyber mission.”

The command, temporarily headquartered at Barksdale AFB, La., was conceived as a coordinator of computer network defense, as well as of offensive cyber attacks. The plan was announced under previous service Secretary Michael Wynne and Chief of Staff Gen. Michael Moseley as an effort to stake an Air Force claim on what the former leaders saw as a new warfare domain. In January, the Air Force realigned some $500 million from other programs into developing technologies and capabilities for the new command.

However, this summer Donley and new Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz announced plans to stop budget transfers to the project while they re-evaluated the plan (Defense Daily, Aug. 15).

Locations for the new nuclear command and cyber NAF were not decided at the Corona.

“We will announce decisions soon because they are crucial steps toward attaining excellence in our nuclear enterprise and re-vitalization of the nuclear culture across the Air Force,” said Donley.

In addition, leaders at the Corona discussed which missions and functional specialties should receive additional personnel as the service’s end strength grows to 330,000 in the coming years.

“There are many factors that need to be considered as we determine where manpower billets will be placed–everything from new missions that are directly contributing every day to joint operations, to shortfalls in specific functional areas,” said Schwartz. “The leadership will work to close this issue for this budget cycle in the coming weeks.”

The execution of command and control of air assets was also discussed at the Corona. Schwartz and Donley directed that senior Air Force officers with authority to direct air support be assigned to Joint Forces Commanders, according to an Air Force statement. The leadership also decided to increase the number and training of airmen supporting tactical air control systems and accepted offers from other services to integrate their personnel into its command and control units.