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Top official: Keesler one of the most important US bases - Cyberwarfare taught there is key to military’s future

The Department of Defense has placed heavy emphasis on the cyberwarfare taught at Keesler Air Force Base, which should keep the base in a major role for years to come, despite talk of defense budget cuts, a top U.S. Air Force intelligence official said Wednesday.

Maj. Gen. James Poss, assistant deputy chief of staff for Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance at Air Force headquarters in Washington, was on the Coast this week. Poss is partial to the area, as he grew up in Ocean Springs, where he graduated from high school, before he headed to the University of Southern Mississippi. He’s about to become the longest serving Air Force intelligence official, with just a few months shy of 30 years.

Poss said Wednesday in a meeting with the Sun Herald that Keesler, with its cyberwarfare, communications and other high tech training, will continue to play a major role in the U.S. military’s efforts.

“Keesler is one of the most important bases in the Air Force,” Poss said.

The Air Force’s Undergraduate Cyberspace Training Unit began at Keesler in 2010. The military is now hacking into computer systems to shut down power grids and communications systems, and also crippling enemy air bases by taking out power and air-traffic control equipment momentarily, among other tactics. Having more-secure networks is also a big emphasis for the U.S. government. Both security and hacking skills are being honed on base as part of the cyberspace program. The region as a whole will benefit from the new emphasis on cyberwarfare, as two hours away in Pensacola, Fla., the U.S. Navy is setting up its own cyber warfare lab.

“What I always tell people is I grew up on the Gulf Coast, but I think it’s the ‘Cyber Coast’ now,” Poss said.

It’s mostly unclear now how proposed budget cuts will affect Keesler.

The Obama administration has proposed defense cuts, which has lead to DoD plans to cut spending by $487 billion over the next decade.

There’s also talk of two new rounds of Base Realignment and Closure, which congressional Republicans from Mississippi and other states have vowed to fight. There’s talk of moving some C-130 aircraft from Keesler to another installation.

There have also been 106 civilian jobs cut at Keesler since last year as part of an effort to refocus the Air Force’s workforce.

The Air Force is cutting 9,000 civilian jobs in management, staff and support areas, but there are plans to add 5,900 positions across the Air Force in acquisition, nuclear enterprise, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and other areas deemed a higher priority.

Because of growth in recent years, Poss said today one in 11 airmen now work under Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, a division that represents about 10 percent of the Air Force’s overall budget. He believes his department and Keesler are both critical to the Air Force’s mission.

“(President Barack Obama) put out a new strategy and it’s very clear he wants to maintain a focus on combating terrorism around the world,” Poss said. “The secretary of the Air Force, chief of staff, and secretary of defense have all been very committed to keeping our capacity up for these medium altitude reconnaissance aircraft.”