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NEWS | Dec. 6, 2023

16th Air Force cyber warriors increase interoperability during Cyber Coalition 2023

By Matthew McGovern

Sixteenth Air Force (Air Forces Cyber) served as the Air component command and U.S. representative for NATO’s annual Cyber Coalition exercise, Nov. 27–Dec. 1.

This year’s exercise brought 35 collaborating countries to NATO’s flagship collective cyber exercise aimed at improving cyber readiness.

“Sixteenth Air Force’s role in cyber coalition is to enhance NATO partner cyber defense capabilities, while improving overall coordination in the event of a cyberattack,” said Maj. Gen. Thomas Hensley, 16th Air Force deputy commander. “As we find ourselves in this era of long-term power competition, it’s absolutely important that we continue to strengthen the bonds we have with our allies and partners so we can sharpen our competitive edge, secure our common interests, and promote our shared values.”

Cyber threat actors hack, disrupt and attack systems in multiple training scenarios for Cyber Coalition, NATO’s largest cyber defensive exercise. This training permits the testing and improvement of cyber defense capabilities for U.S., NATO allies and partners.     

"Each year, Cyber Coalition establishes and matures key relationships between NATO allies and partners," said Candace Sanchez, 16th Air Force lead exercise planner.
“Our cyber defenders have had an opportunity to work with their counterparts within the various nations to share their tactics, techniques and procedures, and we are looking forward to participating in future iterations of Cyber Coalition.” 

The U.S. Cyber Coalition lead representative for five years running, 16th Air Force, coordinates with allies and partners to build realistic exercise scenarios testing capabilities to identify cyber defense weaknesses and help mature Information Warfare, a 16th Air Force priority.

“I’m here to tell you that 16th Air Force Airmen are empowered, they’re ready, they’re willing and able to support our allies and partners in securing our networks,” said Hensley.

Sixteenth Air Force personnel operated in real time scenarios across four time zones, assessed capabilities and strengthened partnerships with NATO allies and partners.

Planners created several different scenarios in the year leading up to the exercise, each one tailored to prepare cyber defenders for real-life challenges, including attacks on power grids, vaccination programs and disruptions of NATO and allied assets. These operations triggered the coordination and collaboration of participating cyber defenders.

“Countries enroll in their preferred scenarios based on the cyber defense capabilities they wish to evaluate," said Capt. Ryan Baity, 33d Cyberspace Operations Squadron, serving as the white cell and exercise lead for the participating cyber operators at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland. "Throughout the exercise, each participating nation shares its investigative findings. Likewise, through technical information sharing, we aim to identify training deficiencies and strengthen future collaboration with our NATO allies and partners.”

The 16th Air Force, headquartered at Joint Base San Antonio, Texas, focuses on Information Warfare in the modern age. Information Warfare requires integrating: Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance; Cyber Warfare; Electromagnetic Warfare; Weather; Public Affairs; and Information Operations capabilities.

16th Air Force ensures that our Air Force and Nation are fast, resilient and fully integrated in competition, crisis and conflict by incorporating Information Warfare at operational and tactical levels, capitalizing on the value of information by leading the charge for uniquely-21st century challenges in the highly dynamic, seamless and global information domain.