WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio --
One of the Air Force’s greatest ongoing challenges in the information age is how to ensure its myriad weapon systems continue to function effectively within increasingly cyber-contested environments. After all, if adversaries can manage to disrupt or stop equipment from working during conflicts, it could have a devastating effect on the Air Force’s fundamental ability to successfully carry out its mission.
Col. Mike Clark is one of a number of Reserve Citizen Airmen on the front lines in the Air Force’s efforts to keep its weapon systems safe from cyber attacks. He’s been involved in the fight since he began his assignment with the then-fledgling Cyber Resiliency Office for Weapon Systems at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio on a cold January morning in 2017.
When he reported for duty, his Senior Executive Service boss told him he had a week to get up to speed. After that, the two hopped on a flight to Los Angeles to brief senior leaders at the Air Force’s Space and Missile Center on how they were going to tackle the Congressional mandate to address Air Force weapon system cybersecurity. Despite the lack of prep time, Clark proved to be a quick study and the pair presented a professional briefing to the SMC leadership.
Working on the cyber resiliency of weapon systems isn’t without its own set of challenges. How do you work with the Air Force acquisition, operations and test communities to gather all the appropriate information in order to make a tangible difference that helps these communities address potential areas of concern? How do you cross-pollinate information so that all stakeholders are working off the same guidelines and sharing best practices?
Over time, Clark tackled these challenges and others by constantly seeking to align the CROWS and the Congressional mandate with similar ideas from across the Department of Defense.
This frequently resulted in him being asked to speak at prominent events, ranging from working groups to Office of Secretary of Defense events to briefing Congressional staffers on the latest weapon system cyber resiliency updates.
On one occasion, he was invited to brief the Air Force Science Advisory Board on his weapon system cyber resiliency work and how it impacted Nuclear Command, Control and Communications capabilities. The information he presented later became foundational in how cyber security was incorporated into NC3 capabilities.
Likewise, when senior Pentagon officials needed someone to brief the deputy secretary of defense on the latest weapon system updates, they unflinchingly selected Clark as the right man for the job.
His interactions across the Air Force have motivated and inspired thousands of people across countless organizations in government, academics and industry to deal with Air Force weapon system cyber threats collaboratively in order to ensure efforts were being aligned towards the same overarching goals.
Mark Flater, a long-time CROWS colleague of Clark’s, said the colonel was vital to the CROWS mission.
“Colonel Clark knows how to get the best from his team while maintaining a positive outlook,” he said. “He elicits trust from those who work for him that if they do the best they can, they will succeed. And if they fall short, he’ll be there to back them up. He goes into a fight to resolve it, not expand it.”
Joe Bradley, the current director of the CROWS office, agreed.
“Colonel Clark exemplifies the servant leader,” he said. “He never asks his team to do anything he wouldn’t do himself. He is patient and calm under pressure and has a great sense of both himself and the bigger, strategic picture. His professional legacy will be a list of cyber vulnerabilities for the 50 critical Air Force platforms for us to work off of. His team learned from his professionalism, both in terms of how to tackle problems, as well as how to deal with people in a respectful manner.” #ReserveReady
(Fischer is assigned to the Cyber Resiliency Office for Weapon Systems.)