Learning to Combat Risk the Air Force Way

 Col. William E. Young

April 8, 2019

Managing risk is an essential part of any operation. Syracuse University’s strong interdisciplinary expertise in military affairs, cybersecurity, human dynamics, business, and more provide the ideal setting for studying risk and how to guard ourselves, our businesses, and our country from an array of formidable threats.

This spring, Syracuse University hosted an interdisciplinary workshop on risk management for human and cyber security. The cross-University collaboration was led by United States Air Force strategist Colonel William E. Young, the creator of the Air Force’s cybersecurity doctrine. The doctrine, System-Theoretic Process Analysis for Security and its derivative Functional Mission Analysis, serves as the foundation for the Air Force’s mission analysis methodology. Under Young’s instruction, workshop participants learned how to systematically and rigorously develop system-level constraints based on Air Force missions and unacceptable losses.

“To manage risk, you need to know in detail how your system or operation functions, what control you have, why you do what you do, and what losses are unacceptable,” explains College of Engineering and Computer Science (ECS) Professor Shiu-Kai Chin. “This knowledge allows you to set priorities, make the best use of limited resources, and anticipate threats that could destroy you or your enterprise. It’s the difference between being in control and being controlled by bad circumstances.”

Young commands the 53rd Electronic Warfare Group at Eglin Air Force Base. His organization is the free world’s largest mission data software reprogramming center with over 1,200 engineers, operators, analysts, intelligence, IT professionals, and maintenance personnel. It provides network operations, software development and cyberdefense for Air Force and joint warfighters around the globe. His methods are based on the work of his Ph.D. advisor, Nancy Leveson at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, an internationally renowned safety expert.

“SU has a long history of collaborative research and education with the Air Force, specifically the Air Force Research Laboratory. Because of this shared history, our organizations have an abiding understanding for one another which enables us to support each other uniquely,” says Chin. “SU’s faculty and staff contribute to the Air Force’s capabilities and Air Force leadership teach in our programs. By doing so, we integrate theory with practice.”

ECS sponsored the interdisciplinary risk management workshop along with the College of Law, the David B. Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics, the Martin J. Whitman School of Management, the Office of Corporate and Foundation Relations, the Office of Government and Community Relations, the Office of Research through a CUSE grant, the Office of Veteran and Military Affairs, and the School of Information Studies.