Air Force Wants a ‘Nerd Cyber Swat Team’ at Pentagon

Zeros and Ones. A DARPA graphicZeros and Ones. A DARPA graphic

Engineers walking around in hoodies and jeans may become a common sight at the Pentagon as part of an Air Force initiative to create its own “nerd” cyber squad, according to the service’s top civilian.

“We’re setting up a nerd cyber swat team — the NCST,” Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James announced during an Air Force Association breakfast Friday.

The team will also be known as the Air Force digital services team, a group of engineers “helping [to] build software excellence and troubleshoot existing programs that run into difficulties associated with softwares,” she said.

“The Air Force digital service is going to be a component of the [Defense Department] digital service,” James said, “which is a group of extremely talented engineers with skills honed in the private sector who today have come into government for a brief period of time … and [are] now serving their country solving some big problems.”

James said she recently saw the team’s skillset firsthand as they worked on the GPS next-generation operational control system, or the OCX program.

The secretary said the OCX, made by Raytheon, “ran into some problems in part because we … underestimated what level of software complexity and cyber security that the project would require.”

The OCX is the new ground control station for the GPS-III satellites built by Lockheed Martin Corp.

Brought in from Silicon Valley, the “experts helped us understand some very advanced new software … techniques and practices, and gave us some advice in part that helped us collectively bring the program back on track,” James said.

The team members will be known as “HQE” or highly qualified experts, she said, “working six to 12 months, and then would return to the private sector.”

While James did not say how much the nerd squad will cost, the idea is to avoid unforeseen hiccups that could end up delaying programs, or costing the Air Force more money in the long run — all part of the service’s commitment to get the most “bang for its buck,” she said.

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Oriana Pawlyk
Oriana Pawlyk is a reporter at Military.com. She can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.