The U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School has a long, rich history of educating the best of the best in air and space. Apollo 13 astronaut, Fred Haise; X-15 pilot, Joe Engle; and the first man to break the sound barrier, Chuck Yeager; are just a few of the notable Test Pilot School alumnae who have cemented their places in history books for their impressive accomplishments in both air and space.
Now that cyberspace is an integral part of the Air Force mission – it is time for TPS to educate the next generation of heroes.
“We are the place where the world comes to learn about test and evaluation. With the introduction of the Cyber Systems Test Course, we can now teach our graduates and others the framework for testing cyber systems in a contested environment,” said Col. Noel Zamot, USAF TPS commandant. “This is the first course of its kind that includes a disciplined, yet flexible approach to testing cyber intensive systems.”
The Cyber Systems Test Course provides Test Pilot School students with the knowledge and resources for successfully identifying and testing cyber vulnerabilities on a variety of systems. It provides students with a construct developed for identifying and testing cyber vulnerabilities, loosely based on a common decision making process known as the OODA Loop, which stands for observe, orient, decide, and act.
“The rigorous thought process applies to a wide variety of systems, whether it’s testing vulnerabilities of a support system for the Joint Strike Fighter, the radar signal processer of a Global Hawk, or even a laser targeting pod for the B-1 or F-16 Strike Eagle,” said Zamot. “We’re asking students to think broadly about cyber vulnerabilities. I expect that students will look at systems in a disciplined fashion.”
The course ensures that Test Pilot School students are better able to recognize cyber vulnerabilities, such as interference with precision airdrop missions and gives them the resources to not only identify that threat, but create an experiment to challenge it.
According to Zamot, the intensive curriculum of the Test Pilot School ensures that each graduate knows the entire test process, which includes mitigating cyber risks and vulnerabilities. It is their job as test professionals to lead people, bring experts together, and function as the glue and grease of the test program, even when it comes to cyber systems.
The need for the course became apparent during a visit approximately 18 months ago from Gen. Donald J. Hoffman, Air Force Material Command commander, during which he questioned how the school was integrating cyberspace studies into the curriculum.
“We were a little behind when it came to teaching cyber,” said Zamot. “We were glad to have General Hoffman’s support and interest. So, we talked to a number of folks and everyone agreed that the perfect person to help us develop the course was Dr. Kamal Jabbour.”
The school immediately contacted Dr. Jabbour, the Air Force’s senior scientist for information assurance, at the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Information Directorate facility located in Rome, N.Y. The school invited Jabbour to take the Senior Executive Short Course to better understand the test culture and asked for his assistance in developing a cyber curriculum.
Jabbour, the Air Force’s premiere information assurance scientist, with more than 30 years of experience developing systems-related curricula at the undergraduate and graduate levels, was the ideal candidate to work with the TPS on developing the Cyber Systems Test Course.
“We needed someone who has extensive knowledge of cyber and understands test and evaluation, as well as Test Pilot School limitations and constraints. In my mind, there was only one person in the world, and that was Dr. Jabbour,” said Zamot.
Throughout his career, Jabbour has spent an immense amount of time educating top military leaders on the inherent threat associated with cyber vulnerabilities.
According to Jabbour, he began teaching Air Force ROTC cadets ten years ago and gradually made his way up to helping develop and even teaching the Cyber Operations Executive Course at Air University. Just a few years back, he taught every cyber component for flag officer courses at Air University, educating more than 200 General officers in one year.
His valuable expertise played a critical role in the development of the Cyber Systems Test Course, as he worked with the school to create a curriculum that will provide students with resources to evaluate and mitigate risk associated with cyber vulnerabilities, which will evolve as technology continues to advance.
“Aircraft functional dependence on software increased from next-to-nil with the F-4 Phantom to approximately 85 percent with the Joint Strike Fighter. It is increasingly important for testers to understand this dependence and test accordingly,” said Jabbour.
After five months of working with the school and three visits to Edwards, the Cyber Systems Test Course was ready to be taught for the first time to the senior class, during the systems phase of the intensive year-long masters program.
“We sought to educate future developmental testers on evaluating weapons systems in a contested cyber environment through development of hypothesis, design of experiment, and creating of a test plan,” said Jabbour. “I want the students to think critically about developing hypotheses to explain and challenge thoughts on aircraft functions.”
Currently, the class has been taught three times to a variety of students, including during the school’s first-ever Enlisted Flight Test Course. Initial feedback from all three classes was positive.
The intent moving forward is to expand on the class, which would drastically increase the length from four to six hours, to perhaps as lengthy as one week. Additionally, preparations are underway to write and present a formal scientific paper at a conference about the Cyber Systems Test Course framework.