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General fears weapons systems not protected enough from cyber attacks

Lt. Gen. John F. Thompson

By BARRIE BARBER | Dayton Daily News, Ohio | Published: October 21, 2015

DAYTON, Ohio (Tribune News Service) — The Air Force is working to bolster its weapon systems to withstand a potential cyberattack, a key defense the service branch will look to industry to help with, a high-ranking Air Force official said Tuesday.

Lt. Gen. John F. Thompson, commander of the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, said "cyber resiliency" in weapon systems, from aircraft to command and control functions, was a critical focus.

"We worry that our weapon systems are not as cyber resilient as we hope they are," he said in an interview.

The three-star general spoke Tuesday to about 230 people at a Dayton Area Defense Contractors Association conference at the Dayton Convention Center that brought together Air Force and industry representatives to talk about the needs of the military.

The gathering, which continues Wednesday, gives businesses opportunities they might not otherwise gain with the Air Force, said Dayton Defense President Carl. E. Francis.

"By attending something like this they're not reading about it in the typical acquisition publications," he said. "They're hearing about it firsthand and they're able to ask those questions about the (contract) requirements and get the clarity that they need."

The Defense Department has put a high priority on cyber operations and sought industry's help to tackle the problem of cyber-related concerns.

Thompson said in an interview individual weapon systems "have absolutely done the best job they can given the (intelligence) that we have" and knowledge about potential cyber vulnerabilities.

Cyber attacks have made headlines nationally with the theft of 21.5 million federal employees records at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management and the loss of secretive information on weapon systems, officials have said. Some health care insurers, retailers and companies have reported hacking intrusions with the loss of consumers' personal information.

"As we've seen a lot in the media, we're not sure that we're addressing all of the vulnerabilities that we need to, so building that capability to look at all our weapon systems … across the board is paramount to us," Thompson said.

The three-star general added making sure the Life Cycle Management Center workforce has the skills needed to address cyber threats and the Air Force has the infrastructure in place to identify cyber intrusions, such as on an aircraft, and can react quickly "are big priorities for us right now in the cyber realm."

The plan to modernize defenses could be adversely impacted if federal lawmakers extend a continuing spending resolution for the entire fiscal year of 2016. The resolution would keep spending at fiscal 2015 levels, officials say.

Pentagon leaders have said a continuing resolution this year would be worse than a return of sequestration, or automatic budget cuts under the Budget Control Act of 2011. Sequestration would remove about $450 billion from the Pentagon's budget between 2013 to 2021.

With spending levels flat under a continuing resolution, as many as 50 new programs might be impacted, including the possible delay of the development and production of the KC-46 tanker, F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and the Long Range Strike Bomber, an Air Force spokeswoman said Tuesday.

The Air Force would receive $13.4 billion less than requested this fiscal year under a continuing resolution, and $3.4 billion less than allowable spending caps under the Budget Control Act, an Air Force spokeswoman said.

"A year-long (continuing resolution) would potentially impact some of our bigger programs, like the KC-46 and the Long Range Strike-Bomber, but would also impact those very, very small but very, very important efforts that we do for the warfighter every day," Thompson said. "Under a year-long (continuing resolution), you're essentially restricted at the (fiscal 2015) appropriation levels. Any program that is planning on exceeding (its) FY15 levels, either in development or production, would be put in jeopardy by potentially not having enough money to do what they needed to do."

©2015 the Dayton Daily News (Dayton, Ohio)
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