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NEWS | Sept. 28, 2021

Cyber units secured joint networks during Northern Strike

By Master Sgt. David Eichaker, Michigan National Guard

LANSING, Mich. – The Michigan Air National Guard's 272nd Cyber Operations Squadron trained with the Texas National Guard's 273rd COS to secure networks during Northern Strike 21.

"An exercise like Northern Strike is intended to prepare our warfighters for Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2) operations in contested environments," said Col. Lanse LaVoy, commander, 217th Air Operations Group, 110th Wing, Battle Creek Michigan Air National Guard Base. "Those engagements will undoubtedly involve all domains of warfare, to include cyber."

Lt. Col. John Brady, commander, 272nd COS, said integrating cyber training objectives into the exercises early "gave us the opportunity to train as closely as we can to a real-world scenario to better understand how we will fight in potential future competition and conflict." 

The cyber protection teams defended the Air Operations Center (AOC) weapon system, which provides global command and control (C2) capability for air, space and cyberspace forces, at the 217th AOG in support of NS21, Joint All Domain Operations, and Multi-Domain Operations across Michigan.

"Defending the AOC helped ensure air operations planning and execution can happen unhindered during the exercise," said Chief Master Sgt. Erik Morse, senior enlisted leader of the 217th Air Communications Squadron (ACOMS). "It also adds assurance that the adversary does not have access to our plans."

NS21, one of the Department of Defense's largest reserve component readiness exercises, took place across Northern Michigan July 31 to Aug. 14. About 5,100 personnel from across the country, including sister services and coalition forces, participated.

Morse said the 273rd COS from the Texas Air National Guard and the 272nd COS from the 110th Wing performed cybersecurity operations in collaboration with the 217th ACOMS.

"Cyber vulnerability assessment training operations were conducted across Army and Air Force network traffic resulting in an enhanced cybersecurity posture," he said.

During NS21, Air National Guard cyber protection teams operated in a joint network environment, assuring joint systems employed for coordination between Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine and Special Operations with allies and partners.

"We are still growing cyber participation in Northern Strike and foresee attracting even more joint participation within cyber (i.e., joint cyber teams) as we have done in the past with exercises like Saber Guardian 2019 and across multiple domains in the future," said Brady.

During Northern Strike 20, the 272nd COS was the only cyber protection team monitoring networks. For NS21, the 273rd COS was included.

"Based on the success of cyber mission assurance and cybersecurity activities during NS21, we anticipate more cyber squadrons will want to participate in NS22," said Brady. 

"Beyond adding more participants, we also broadened the scope of our activities to include actively deploying endpoint software, which is a more in-depth security approach," he said. "We also provided much better defensive measures and improved training opportunities for our cyber operators and the 217th Air Communications Squadron information security team."