The Road Ahead for Communications Squadrons

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Freddie Rosas
  • 36 Communications Squadron commander
In the last 22 years of my career, I've witness first-hand how the communications career field in the Air Force has evolved rapidly and one thing is for is constantly changing! Military and commercial technology has given our military the upper hand with respect to other countries because it has enabled the creation of superior weapons and deployment of forces with more effective aircraft, satellite, intelligence, and network systems. Like it or not, change is here to stay; therefore, we must embrace it and figure out its true potential and be aware of its limitations as well.

Another way to illustrate how change has affected our base communications squadrons is to look back in time where our units were so big with so many people and responsibilities under one commander. For instance, did you know or remember that air traffic control duties belonged to communications? Most young Airmen today without a doubt in their mind will say, 'That responsibility belongs to the operational support squadron,' but most probably don't know that it came from communications. If you look around the Air Force, you will notice that our communications services support every career field and every base around the world.

In the last ten years, our career field has had an approximate 70% reduction in officer manpower; and most squadrons that used to have five or six flights, now only have two. These drastic changes can be attributed to the financial cut backs in several military programs, the advancement of technology, the need for better security, standardize procedures, centralized cyber command and control, etc. The part that I don't think many really know is that every base is unique, independent, and has completely different network capabilities. This is because each major command and wing helped fund their own infrastructure as money became available. While this approach provided each wing and major command complete control and oversight of their network, it lacked the strategic vision that our Air Force and the Department of Defense needed.

The first step in the right direction was to develop an Air Force network enterprise solution and to move all these individual networks into a more effective, cohesive, and efficient operational and operational support platform. Are we there yet? The answer is no, but we are making great progress by embracing concepts like Air Force Network (AFNET) and e-mail for life. AFNET leverages existing commercial technology to help the Air Force to better manage the network and all of the users across the AF enterprise. Once we convert all the installations into AFNET, this will allow all users to move from one base to another, be able to login to any computer on the AF network, and get access to the resources they need anywhere around the world. Furthermore, instead of closing and opening network and e-mail accounts over and over with every permanent change of station, or having two accounts because you are on temporary duty or deployed, your network accounts will only need new permissions according to your assignment (for sharepoint sites, shared drives, etc), while never losing any e-mail.

Currently, we are at the crossroad of this change and centralization. While a change like AFNET can be great, nobody likes to lose control. The AF has made a corporate decision to centralize cyber operations and support as much as possible; therefore, each base is relinquishing some operational control of their local network into a central regional location to ensure AF standards are applied uniformly across the enterprise. This is needed to prevent threats and provide more effective services. The communications career field is working very hard to establish great tactics, techniques and procedures to ensure no matter where we manage and protect the network from, we continue to provide effective and efficient mission support.

In the next five to 10 years, I see a few things that could happen both within the AF and DoD. Within the AF, communications squadrons could become detachment or flight sized units. For example, as we continue to modernize airfield and radar systems, telephony, internal infrastructure, eventually we may only need to retain touch-up maintenance responsibilities at installations because everything could potentially be done remotely. My only concern is to keep a healthy balance between centralizing and keeping technical experts at each base to support the wing's mission. On the other hand, DoD will most likely implement an AFNET like capability (i.e., Joint Enterprise Network) to ensure true interoperability across all the branches of the military and make it available anywhere. These efforts should also include the need to develop similar capabilities for our allies and coalition partners.

As we continue to live in a more financial and resource constrained environment, we need to ask ourselves, what communications capabilities we "need" to have versus "would like" to have every day. Everything cost money and limited resources can't tackle all the requirements at the same time; therefore, we need to prioritize. The good news is that it doesn't matter how many times things change in our communications career field; we'll continue to provide the best capabilities because we have Airmen with a lot of creativity, technical talent, and determination to make things happen!