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The Airpower School Students Win Big at International Cyber Competition

  • Published
  • Air Command and Staff College

A team of Air Command and Staff College students traveled to Paris, France, and won the 2024 International Cyber 9/12 Strategy Challenge April 24-26, 2024.

Held at the University of Paris, ACSC’s team beat out a field of 15 other teams from France, the United Kingdom, Kazakhstan, and the United States, many of whom were previous winners of regional and national competitions. 

The four-person team, comprised of Maj. James Beach, United Stated Space Force Maj. Anthony Caltabiano, Maj Marco Catanese, and United States Coast Guard LCDR Gregory “GQ” Quillen. They were different from other teams because of their service jointness, as well as the diversity of their backgrounds.

Beach, a career cyberspace officer, observed that the ACSC team reflected the diversity needed to tackle the complex issues in cyberspace despite the rest of his team were officers in space acquisition, data science, and fixed-wing pilot.

“Our varied perspectives and experiences were critical in seeing problems holistically and greatly assisted in winning the ‘Best Oral Presentation’ at the competition,” Beach said. “This award recognizes a team’s ability to clearly and concisely assess the crisis and recommend courses of action to resolve it.”

Dr. Cj Horn, ACSC faculty and team coach, reflected that the team’s success is representative of the ACSC goals for developing leaders who can analyze complex environments and demonstrate creative thinking, critical analysis, and persuasive communications about airpower and operational problem solving.

According to the Atlantic Council website, the Cyber 9/12 Strategy Challenge is a one-of-a-kind cyber competition designed to provide students from across academic disciplines with a deeper understanding of the policy and strategy challenges associated with management of tradeoffs during a cyber crisis. Part interactive learning experience and part competitive scenario exercise, it challenges students to respond to a realistic, evolving scenario of international cyber crisis, analyze the threat it poses to national, international, and private-sector interests, and provide recommendations on the best course of action to mitigate the crisis.

Before arriving in Paris, all teams received a simulated intelligence report outlining an emerging cyber incident affecting France and French Guyana.  Team members took on the role of being on the French equivalent of the national security council members.  In this role they analyzed the situation and developed multiple courses of action to address the emerging crisis with a cyber flavor.  They had to submit a written report that formed the basis of the oral presentation they had to make in Paris.  The scenario continued to evolve over two more days as the teams advanced in the competition.

Caltabiano said the team’s performance in Paris and other competitions throughout the year validates the ACSC's core curriculum and how the Cyberspace Specialization supplements it.  The Cyberspace Specialization started at ACSC just two years ago.  It is a year-long course designed to complement the ACSC core curriculum by allowing the students to delve deeply into the policies and strategies used by the United States.

“What we have learned this year at ACSC provided us with the foundation for the team to conduct their analysis, develop courses of action, and effectively advocate for policy recommendations regardless of any curves thrown in the later rounds,” Caltabiano said.

“Going into the scenario, the team had very little knowledge and understanding of all things French – their perspectives, laws, foreign and domestic policies, organizations, and capabilities,” Quillen pointed out. “Add in the additional layer of the European Union’s laws, policies, and organizations, and it was clear that the scenario’s complexity matches what we have found in the United States.”

Students have one final opportunity to bring more acclaim to ACSC before graduation when they compete in the 2024 Trust & Safety Cyber 9/12 Strategy Challenge being held at Fordham University in New York on May 13-14.