Spangdahlem AB leads the way in cyber defense

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Marcus Hardy-Bannerman
  • 52nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany – U.S Air Force aircraft are tasked to carry out complex missions. It’s easy to see the relationship between aircraft maintainers, like crew chiefs, aircraft ground equipment and avionics, and the flying mission, but one career field’s role has increasingly grown through the years: communications.

The duty of safeguarding critical digital infrastructure within aircraft at Spangdahlem Air Base and across the Air Force falls to a group of specialized Airmen within the communications squadron, the mission defense team.

“The mission defense team as a whole is tasked to protect and defend the F-16 mission at Spangdahlem AB,” said Tech. Sgt. Robert Gangwish, 52nd Communications Squadron Mission Defense Team noncommissioned officer in charge.

As one of 10 primary MDTs in the Air Force and the only one in U.S. Air Forces in Europe - Air Forces Africa, the 52nd Cyber Defense Flight has a large influence throughout the F-16 Fighting Falcon community. The work this flight does is split between two sections, the mission defense team and the mission support team.

“The mission support team will perform a functional mission analysis of all cyber components related to the F-16 weapon system and determine their role and criticality to the mission,” said 1st Lt. Kieran Pellicano, 52 CS Cyber Defense Flight commander.

The functional mission analysis is an interview and evaluation process used by the MST to determine what is normal for every system within the F-16 and form a baseline for the MDT to monitor.

The systems in the F-16 record every entry, authorized or unauthorized, and it is up to the professionals in the MDT to determine if any of these are out of the ordinary.

Gangwish said part of the MDTs mission is to monitor servers authorized to communicate with F-16 subsystems. The MDT evaluates files that deviate from the baseline for those networks.

The work that MDT does is relatively new. With the career field still being in its infancy, each new day presents an opportunity to improve.

The biggest challenge with the MDT is that everything is new, said Tech. Sgt. Matthew Mayer, 52nd CS Mission Support Team NCOIC. Airmen learn a lot every day because they are essentially starting from scratch.

The Airmen in the 52nd Cyber Defense Flight aren’t just learning, though; as one of the first MDTs, they are also developing training and a standard that will be the backbone for every unit under their umbrella. The 52nd Cyber Defense Flight holds true to their mission to protect and defend the F-16.