Air National Guard creating first cyber wing


The Department of the Air Force has chosen an Ohio base as the preferred home for the first Air National Guard (ANG) cyberwarfare wing in the United States.

With the August 25, 2021, selection of Mansfield-Lahm ANG Base, the cyberwarfare wing will further elevate the National Guard’s capability to be — as U.S. Air Force Gen. Joseph L. Lengyel, former chief of the National Guard Bureau, once called it — the “Swiss Army knife” of the U.S. military.

In this mission, the tool used is the expertise in cybersecurity and information technology that citizen Soldiers and Airmen bring from their civilian careers.

“It’s a huge deal because, No. 1, it will be one of the first of its kind in the Air National Guard inventory, and secondly, that’s really where the emerging challenges are going to be for us as a nation in the future,” Maj. Gen. John Harris, who commands Ohio’s National Guard, said August 3 in comments to the Statehouse News Bureau, a public broadcasting operation.

The Air Force wants to retire eight C-130H Hercules from the 179th Airlift Wing as part of its fiscal year 2022 budget proposal, which is contingent on congressional approval, according to an ANG news release. The new mission will bring an increase of about 175 Airmen and associated infrastructure support to the base, the ANG said.

“This selection will build on the 179th Airlift Wing’s legacy of excellence to begin a new chapter in the cyber warfare domain,” Harris said after the announcement, according to the Tribune News Service. “The transition to a cyber wing places the Ohio National Guard at the forefront of leveraging cutting-edge technologies and capabilities for national defense and mitigating emerging threats.”

National Guard cyber units have been established around the country as the need for defense against cyberattacks has grown, according to a November 19, 2019, story in CPO Magazine. The Army National Guard’s 91st Cyber Brigade, for example, is based in Virginia but is tasked with overseeing cyber response units in more than 30 states, with the brigades often combining personnel and resources from National Guard branches (Army and Air Force). There are more than 3,900 Army and Air National Guard personnel serving in 59 Department of Defense (DOD) cyber units in 40 states, according to the National Guard Bureau. The personnel directly support the U.S. Cyber Command.

The Army National Guard and Air National Guard are trained to respond to a variety of events and natural disasters. On the cyber front, Guard units have monitored polling stations to guard against intrusions into election systems and helped small cities and towns recover from ransomware attacks. (Pictured: Members of the 157th Communications Flight, who protect computer and information assets at Pease Air National Guard Base in New Hampshire, pose for a portrait.)

“Cyber incidents are an ongoing and substantial threat in 2021; America’s power plants, food supply, water supply, health care, law enforcement and defense sectors have all come under attack,” Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau, said during a media roundtable June 29.

“The National Guard plays a vital role in DOD’s cyber enterprise,” he said. “The domain may be virtual, but the danger is real.”