Air Force to outsource ‘low-hanging’ IT operations freeing airmen for cyber Mission Defense Teams

Staff Sgt. Alex Garviria, 721st Communication Squadron senior systems controller, and 2nd Lt. Rachel James, 721st CS crew commander, work in the Global Strategic Warning and Space Surveillance System Center at Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, Colo., Sept. 2, 2014. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Krystal Ardrey)


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The Air Force is transforming the way it manages IT operations, outsourcing virtually all day-to-day IT functions and retooling its workforce for cybersecurity.

In a new report, CyberScoop’s Patrick Howell O’Neill details the years-long process that now includes the biggest Microsoft Office 365 enterprise in the world, a $293 million Oracle cloud system and a $1 billion spend on a mass cloud migration.

Private sector contractors have been tapped to run Air Force’s email servers so airmen can be placed in more critical Mission Defense Teams — sets of operators who do day-to-day, front-line cybersecurity work at bases around the world.

“We want our airmen transitioning from running email and boxes to focusing on cyber defense,”said Bill Marion, the Air Force’s deputy chief of information dominance and deputy chief information officer. “Every time we move to the cloud, the intent is to free up cyber operators for the Mission Defense Teams.”

The role switch is described within the Air Force as a fundamental shift in focus around the mission so that the objective is no longer ensuring access to a Microsoft SharePoint portal or an email server, but to defend the mission itself.

“The strategic intent is to focus on our core competency,” Marion said. “Our core competency is ‘fly, fight, win’ in air and space. It is not to run email servers or configure desktop devices.”

Air Force officials describe the 40 existing Mission Defense Teams as internally driven “beat cops who know the base, know the threats, know the local ecosystem,” Marion explained.

Not every single piece of traditional IT is being handed off. The immediate candidates for outsourcing are services with mature markets — commercial email, logistics, HR and finance are obvious examples of highly commoditized services the Air Force is giving up. On the other hand, the Air Force’s Defense Enterprise Accounting Management System is staying in-house.

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Air Force, Bill Marion