New GAO Reports on Cyber Security and Air Force Readiness
According to the GAO, “the Air Force faces management and readiness challenges in four interrelated areas:
- Personnel: The Air Force has reported that pilot and aircraft maintainer shortfalls are a key challenge to rebuilding readiness.
- Equipment: Air Force aircraft availability has been limited by challenges associated with aging aircraft, maintenance, and supply support. GAO reported in September 2018 that, from fiscal year 2011 through 2016, the Air Force generally did not meet availability goals for key aircraft.
- Training: The Air Force has identified the need to ensure its forces can successfully achieve missions to address a broad range of current and emerging threats.
- Organization and Utilization: Air Force management of its force structure can also exacerbate readiness challenges.
Looking to the future, the Air Force will have to balance the rebuilding of its existing force with its desire to grow and modernize. To meet current and future demands, the Air Force has stated that it needs to have more squadrons. However, the costs of such growth are as yet unknown, and will have to compete with other military services looking to increase their force structure and recapitalize their forces. Even with growth, the Air Force would be dependent on the force of today for decades to come and will need to stay focused on rebuilding the readiness of existing forces. Addressing GAO's recommendations are necessary steps to meet current and future needs and can assist the Air Force moving forward.
The 2018 National Defense Strategy emphasizes that restoring and retaining readiness across the entire spectrum of conflict is critical to success in the emerging security environment. Air Force readiness has steadily declined primarily due to the persistent demand on a fleet that has aged and decreased in size since the 1990s. The Air Force is working to both rebuild the readiness of its forces and modernize its aging fleet to meet future threats. However, according to the Air Force, its readiness goals will take years to achieve as it continues to be challenged to rebuild readiness amid continued operational demands.”
- GAO-19-128 Weapon Systems Cybersecurity: DOD Just Beginning to Grapple with Scale of Vulnerabilities.
According to the GAO, “The Department of Defense (DOD) faces mounting challenges in protecting its weapon systems from increasingly sophisticated cyber threats. This state is due to the computerized nature of weapon systems; DOD's late start in prioritizing weapon systems cybersecurity; and DOD's nascent understanding of how to develop more secure weapon systems. DOD weapon systems are more software dependent and more networked than ever before. Automation and connectivity are fundamental enablers of DOD's modern military capabilities. However, they make weapon systems more vulnerable to cyber attacks. Although GAO and others have warned of cyber risks for decades, until recently, DOD did not prioritize weapon systems cybersecurity. Finally, DOD is still determining how best to address weapon systems cybersecurity.
In operational testing, DOD routinely found mission-critical cyber vulnerabilities in systems that were under development, yet program officials GAO met with believed their systems were secure and discounted some test results as unrealistic. Using relatively simple tools and techniques, testers were able to take control of systems and largely operate undetected, due in part to basic issues such as poor password management and unencrypted communications. In addition, vulnerabilities that DOD is aware of likely represent a fraction of total vulnerabilities due to testing limitations. For example, not all programs have been tested and tests do not reflect the full range of threats…., DOD faces barriers that could limit the effectiveness of these steps, such as cybersecurity workforce challenges and difficulties sharing information and lessons about vulnerabilities. To address these challenges and improve the state of weapon systems cybersecurity, it is essential that DOD sustain its momentum in developing and implementing key initiatives.”