New Department of Air Force partnership brings cyber, space and information units closer

Under a new agreement, Space Operations Command is sending liaison officers to 16th Air Force.
(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

The Department of the Air Force is tightening the linkage and relationship between its cyber entity and the Space Force to harden networks against threats and improve operational outcomes.

The 16th Air Force announced in January that it is partnering with Space Operations Command (SpOC) in order to integrate space-based capabilities into all of its warfighting operations. Through the agreement — which will see Space Force personnel embedded with 16th Air Force — the two organizations are seeking a greater understanding of how to defend space assets from cyber attacks. 

“In order to perform the different capabilities within Information Warfare, the forces are dependent on and need space-based assets,” Lt. Col. Theresa Kopecky, 16th Air Force and Space Force liaison officer, said in a statement. “A key partnership between the 16th Air Force and the Space Force is essential to understand the combatant commander’s requirements for effects during strategic and operational planning that is done together.” 

Space Operations Command and its mission deltas are responsible for a range of warfighting functions, including space domain awareness, missile warning and satellite communications. The organization is the Space Force’s service component for U.S. Space Command, which carries out military operations across the space domain.


Specifically, SpOC’s Delta 6 unit has multiple cyberspace squadrons that are tasked with defensive cyberspace ops in support of the Space Force’s other mission deltas. Other units within Delta 6 are also responsible for operating the Satellite Control Network — a global network of antennas and links that communicate with and control both Pentagon and non-military satellites.

16th Air Force is the Air Force’s information warfare organization housing cyber, electronic warfare, information operations, intelligence and weather units all under one commander. 

Increasingly, space and space-based capabilities are falling into the fold of information warfare within the Department of Defense, with some services, such as the Navy and Marine Corps, including space in their cyber and information warfare commands.

Additionally, Space Command created a new position specifically dedicated to information warfare within the last year. 

A 16th Air Force spokesperson told DefenseScoop that integrating mission support between their organization and SpOC is part of an effort to maximize resources in order to generate the desired information warfare outcomes for combatant commanders and air components. 


As part of the agreement, the two organizations are looking to ensure the Pentagon’s on-orbit systems and the links connecting them are protected against adversary cyber effects, the release stated.

A Space Force spokesperson told DefenseScoop in an email that liaison officers working with the 16th Air Force will facilitate collaboration between the two organizations “across the strategic, operational, and tactical level.” The SpOC liaisons — embedded within the 616th Operations Center, which is described as the “glue” holding 16th Air Force’s capabilities together — will share technical expertise about the Space Force’s systems and operations with the 16th Air Force.

“Creating synergy amongst all cyberspace operations elements within the Department of the Air Force, including setting foundations with our Delta endeavors, allows for seamless integration across all echelons of our persistent defensive mission,” a 16th Air Force spokesperson said. “This opens the door for enabling mutually supporting functions across enterprise-scale cyber operations, converging cybersecurity service provider capabilities, and evolving our Defensive Cyber Operations approach for the strongest, collective defense in cyberspace.”

Officials also said the partnership creates a stronger link when it comes to cyber support to Space Command. Cyber operations, on behalf of U.S. Cyber Command, are conducted through a construct known as Joint Force Headquarters-Cyber, which provides planning, targeting, intelligence and cyber capabilities to assigned combatant commands. Each service cyber component commander also serves as their respective JFHQ-C commander.

16th Air Force, through JFHQ-C Air Force, supports Space Command.


 “This partnership enables a better mutual understanding of the defensive cyber operations for space-based systems. As such, JFHQ-C(AF) and SpOC can more effectively plan and execute defensive operations and more efficiently employ our forces,” the spokesperson said.

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