27 SOCS innovates first near real-time airborne cyber defense suite, posturing MC-130J for future challenges

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Christopher Storer and Airman 1st Class Drew Cyburt
  • 27th Special Operations Wing Public Affairs

For the first time in Air Force Special Operations Command history, Airmen assigned to the 27th Special Operations Communications Squadron Mission Defense Team demonstrated the ability to conduct near real-time cyber-integrated threat analysis and deterrence onboard an active MC-130J Commando II special operations airlift aircraft here, Nov. 22, 2021.

This was the first time this capability has been connected to an operational weapon system outside of a laboratory environment. The successful demonstration was a major milestone for the MDT and led to approval to integrate its capabilities into flight operations with the MC-130J aircraft. This in-flight integration will be an Air Force first.

“My squadron was tasked, as a Mission Defense Team pathfinder, to predict and overcome the challenges of the future strategic competition environment - specifically within communications contested or congested environments,” said Major Emily Short, 27 SOCS commander. “My Airmen have exceeded all expectations through their technical expertise, ingenuity, and exceptional mission partnerships.”

The Air Force began to transform traditional communications squadrons into cyberspace units, and the MDT pathfinders are one of the primary initiatives in the redesign. Over the last few months, the team focused their efforts on the MC-130J through close partnerships with both the 9th Special Operations Squadron and the 9th Aircraft Maintenance Unit, 27th Special Operations Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. Additionally, the MDT engaged with several organizations outside the 27th Special Operations Wing to include Air Force Material Command, the Air Force Research Laboratory, the MC-130J Special Program Office, and the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, driving the fastest progressing MDT in the Air Force.

In addition to these key partnerships, MDT technicians innovated new capabilities to match the light, lean, and real-time requirements for AFSOC missions. Within the last few months, MDT technicians virtualized the cyber vulnerability assessment kit and wrote their own code to translate critical aircraft flight information during operations onto an aircrew readable dashboard. The development of these capabilities exponentially decreased the amount of equipment required while also adding real-time data analysis.

“The MDT’s ability to provide near real-time mission system cyber analysis allows mission owners critical insight regarding the weapon system’s critical components and inputs,” said Master Sgt. Javier Parris, 27 SOCS MDT flight chief. “Moreover, this capability can be utilized to enhance aircrew situational awareness, decreasing their time to react to emerging cyber intrusions.”

The information provided by the MDT’s cyber analysis also demonstrated the potential to shape preventative maintenance functions on MC-130Js. The information captured and the subsequent analysis will predict requirements needed to harden MC-130J fleet operations, both for routine maintenance actions and in anticipation of strategic power competition.

“This will be... the first time in the Air Force that this capability has been conducted on an operational aircraft during flight operations,” said Parris. “The 27 SOCS MDT continues to lead efforts within AFSOC and strengthen its position as a leading Mission Defense Team in the Air Force.”