From ground to air: Altus’ MDT protects Air Force cyberspace

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Breanna Klemm
  • 97th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs

The 97th Communications Squadron is tasked with protecting Altus Air Force Base’s cybersecurity year-round, whether it’s from aircraft in the sky or network client systems on the ground. The 97th CS Airmen ensure all forms of communications are operational and secure in order to aid in the wing’s mission of training the next generation of exceptional mobility Airmen.

Airmen from the 97th CS are responsible for command and control of communications and computer systems. The 97th CS operates and maintains the base’s network infrastructure and client support systems, enabling core services to more than 4,000 users across the 97th Air Mobility Wing.

“Overall, our mission here at the 97th CS is to protect all cyberspace at Altus AFB,” said Christopher McMall, the 97th CS Mission Defense Team flight chief. “From managing all communication platforms, to motoring the servers that support our camera systems throughout the base, we are charged with protecting and managing [base-wide] communication.”

After the 97th AMW received its initial KC-46 Pegasus, the 97th CS formed the Mission Defense Team. The MDT is comprised of specially-trained Airmen, led by McMall, tasked with protecting the KC-46’s cyber networks and support equipment which connects the aircraft to the ground crew.

“Every time one of the aircraft flies, we have to go and analyze the data from that flight,” said McMall. “Once we pull the data from the aircraft, we review the internal data to make sure there are no anomalies and the plane is operating the way it should. We are basically seeing how the cyber realm interacts with the physical realm, how it affects day-to-day operations and utilizing this data to protect our weapon systems here.”

McMall explained how it is important for the KC-46 to have a cyber team securing the aircraft, such as the 97th CS, because many of the aspects of the aircraft are digital. Compared to earlier mechanical systems used in the C-17 Globemaster III and KC-135 Stratotanker, a cyber-team is attached to the KC-46 to provide increased digital protection from the ground.

Additionally, despite the C-17 and KC-135’s less advanced digital capabilities, the 97th CS plans on expanding their MDT coverage to both these airframes to further protect the Air Force’s sole formal mobility training units.

“Without the basic communication platforms we run and monitor, we wouldn't be able to fly sorties and train mobility Airmen,” said McMall. “Comm is pretty integrated into the mission here and is a very important asset; not only are we the team that can fix your computer, we are the ones who protect it.”