AFIT's Joint Intermediate Cyberspace Operations Course Adds Unique Senior Leader Perspectives Published Oct. 16, 2023 By Lt. Col. Jason Fields Air Force Institute of Technology The Air Force Institute of Technology’s School of Strategic Force Studies Joint Intermediate Cyberspace Operations course (Cyberspace 200) graduated its fifth offering of 2023 in September while evolving a recent new twist on the final student capstone project. Cyberspace 200 is one of two professional development courses offered by AFIT’s Department of Cyberspace Studies for Department of Defense professionals transitioning from tactical to operational level responsibilities. The course is designed to develop these cyberspace professionals for current and future challenges by enhancing their operational mindset to plan, operate, and execute cyberspace capabilities across full spectrum operations and joint multi-domain environments. A key component of Cyberspace 200 is the final capstone project where student teams react to realistic military scenarios and develop cyberspace course of action responses using the joint planning process. The final step of the capstone is an operationally focused out-brief to a “Joint Forces Commander” usually role-played by a local department faculty member. While department cyberspace cadre are experts at the capstone, the students are also very familiar with these faculty members’ style and backgrounds by the end of the course. This led to the faculty taking a different approach in casting the commander roles, reaching out to leaders with higher ranks and more assorted operational backgrounds than department members can provide. Col. Sarah Isbill, commander, Air University Detachment 1 and AFIT director of staff, brought her security forces and instructor background to the Cyberspace 200 class capstone and took two out-briefs from students while role-playing as a JFC. This is Isbill’s second time participating and she stated, “the students do a fantastic job of immersing themselves in their roles and providing a realistic course of action briefing to apply what they’ve learned. Getting to hear these briefings has taught me a significant amount about cyberspace operations and capabilities, in addition to the balance of cyber-specific costs, risks, and strategies.” Another recent participant, Col. Christopher Landwehr, dean, School of Strategic Force Studies, has also been impressed with the students saying, “the capstone briefs showcase the diversity of thought and experiences of the students, building on all the course content to deliver a Joint Force Commander level brief. It is wonderful to see the students excel in pulling it all together. I am always impressed by their ability to think critically, innovate, and solve tough problems.” The higher-level ranks, perspectives, and different backgrounds of the outside participants has been appreciated by the students as well. Recent Cyberspace 200 graduate John Racela provided positive feedback writing, “I believe that involving senior leadership from outside the school is essential to infuse real-world experience and a sharper focus into the learning environment.” Isbill agreed saying, “I think being a cyber ‘outsider’ gives the students valuable practice at highlighting the most important aspects of their work, using AFSC-neutral vocabulary – and I think they have enjoyed watching me learn from them.” Landwehr echoed these thoughts and stated, “the work the Department of Cyberspace Studies has accomplished to pull in leaders with different backgrounds, both internal and external to AFIT, forces questions and conversations they might not normally get when presenting the information to a communications and cyberspace senior leader. Knowing their audience and how to link and translate what is often referred to as ‘geek speak’ to JFC-level lines of effort and strategic capabilities is invaluable. Having senior leaders with non-cyberspace backgrounds helps facilitate this objective.” The willingness for these leaders to participate has added value beyond just the specific learning objectives of the course. Cyberspace 200 course chief Capt. Tyler Jones observed, “the questions that the senior leaders ask are often questions I would have never considered since they approach the situation with a different viewpoint, enhancing the learning experience. I have also seen some fantastic mentorship from the senior leaders who have taken these briefs, as after the activity concludes, the students will ask questions typically focused on leadership topics and not topics about the course.” The partnership offered by the various leaders outside of the Department has been an exciting addition to the normal course battle rhythm. As the next iteration of Cyberspace 200 curriculum is deployed in 2024 the team will continue to look at options to incorporate leaders with various operational backgrounds and mindsets to further enrich student’s learning experience. More information about Cyberspace 200 is available at https://www.afit.edu/EX/page.cfm?page=1503 About the School of Strategic Force Studies AFIT's School of Strategic Force Studies is responsible for delivering professional continuing education in nuclear deterrence policy and theory, nuclear command, control, communications and cyberspace operations. The School's mission is to develop Airmen, joint service members, and international partners to deter and if necessary, prevail in current and future conflicts by providing relevant and responsive nuclear and cyberspace PCE and cyberspace upgrade training. On average, the school educates 3,000 Department of the Air Force and DoD students annually. Visit www.afit.edu/EX for more information.