Air Force Service Cryptologic Component Commander authority enables strategic competition

  • Published
  • By Sharon Singleton
  • 16th Air Force (Air Forces Cyber)

U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Kevin B. Kennedy, 16th Air Force (Air Forces Cyber) Commander, wears six symbolic hats; these “hats” represent actual authorities under his command and range from operating and defending the U.S. Air Force Internet to presenting personnel to U.S. Cyber Command in support of cyber missions. Of these authorities only one, the Service Cryptologic Component (SCC), makes him the U.S. Air Force lead for cryptologic activities.  

As the sole authority appointed by the Secretary of the Air Force for U.S. Air Force cryptologic operations, Kennedy ensures 16th Air Force operations support the National Security Agency/Central Security Service mission of leading the U.S. Government in cryptology, encompassing both signals intelligence (SIGINT) insights and cybersecurity products and services, and enabling computer network operations to gain a decisive advantage over our adversaries.

Kennedy’s SCC authorities allow him to posture the 16 Air Force’s SIGINT resources to support the warfighter at both the tactical and strategic levels. Utilizing the national-to-tactical integration program, 16th Air Force operators are able to reach back to national centers to help fulfill unique warfighter requirements with tailored products. The 16th Air Force’s tactical resources (e.g. RC-135, U-2, Global Hawk, MQ-9) provide the warfighter with up-to-the-minute information, allowing them to better prosecute their targets. This intelligence also provides the warfighter an edge to operate inside the enemies’ OODA loop (observe, orient, decide and act). 

“With this authority the 16th Air Force commander is able to organize, train and equip Air Force intelligence units and personnel to conduct SIGINT activities.” said Maj. Bryant Bair, 16th Air Force (Air Forces Cyber), Chief of Intelligence Law.

As the AFSCC Commander, Kennedy is responsible to the Director of the National Security Agency for cryptologic activities, including missions related to tactical warfighting and national-level operations. 16th Air Force Detachment 1, also known as the Air Force Cryptologic Office, serves as Kennedy’s principle AFSCC staff and, coordinates with NSA on all cryptologic activities.

Bair explains, “The cryptologic authorities used by 16th Air Force are  a subset of the intelligence authorities held and used by 16th Air Force, which in turn are  a part of the larger set of missions gathered together to create a single Numbered Air Force capable of conducting activities across the whole spectrum of Information Warfare.”

This makes 16th Air Force the Air Force lead in providing Information Warfare capabilities, and the SCC authority helps address the strategic competition goals outlined by the Department of Defense and NSA/CSS. 

IW is an integral part of those strategic goals, and 16th Air Force provides the core tenets of Air Force IW (cyberspace operations, electronic warfare, information operations, and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) to meet their objectives.

The SCC authority has not always been with the 16th, however it spans multiple decades. In 1948, the United States Air Force Security Service (USAFSS) emerged as the Air Force's sole organization for cryptologic activities.  Originally referred to as a Service Cryptologic Element (SCE), USAFSS joined the Army Security Agency and Naval Security Group to execute National cryptologic missions.

That authority remained as the organization changed names and evolved with technology. Modifications in capabilities, manpower, and resources prompted the NSA director to change SCE to SCC in 2007.
In 2019, after 71 years of holding the cryptologic authority, the Twenty-Fifth Air Force (the last successor of USAFSS) inactivated, transferring the Air Force SCC authority to 16th Air Force.
Currently, 16th Air Force cryptologic operations have evolved to use modernized sensors on various platforms and information systems, turning signals into usable intelligence in the competition for Information Warfare dominance.

“While advances in technology have made IW competition more complex, the authorities and intelligence supported by the SCC will continue to be integral to the success in the information domain,” said Bair.

The 16th Air Force (Air Forces Cyber), headquartered at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, is the first-of-its-kind Numbered Air Force. Also known as the Air Force’s Information Warfare Numbered Air Force, that fully integrates multisource intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, cyber warfare, electronic warfare, and information operations capabilities across the conflict continuum to ensure that our Air Force is fast, lethal and fully integrated in both competition and in war.