The Advanced Course in Engineering (ACE) develops the next generation of cybersecurity leaders with an emphasis on educating future military leaders. The ACE follows the model for the General Electric ACE to transform top cadets in the Reserve Officer Training Corps into original thinkers, problem solvers, and technical leaders.
The ACE completely immerses interns in the cyber security discipline through the combination of intense coursework and internship exercises. Each week, the interns attend a daylong lecture given by a domain expert from military, academia, or industry. They also spend three days a week in cyber security research internships at either local industry or the government labs. In addition, they work as teams to solve open-ended problems.
The ACE develops interns into the next generation of cybersecurity warriors through military research seminars. These seminars demonstrate the immense value of cyber leaders today through exploring and analyzing real-world case studies with experienced Air Force officers. Interns also travel to Gettysburg, PA to visit the site of the famous 1863 battle and study leadership links between the historic conflict in Gettysburg and today.
Beyond academic engagement, interns learn leadership skills through the weekly 8-mile run, labs, and research projects. By the end of the 10 weeks, ACE interns exemplify the principles of leading upward, inspire insights into planning and decision-making processes, and possess outstanding self-reflection and critical analysis skills.
In addition to time spent in lectures and internship activities, ACE interns engage in weekly mission operations, which encourage the interns to work as teams to solve open-ended, Air Force-relevant problems.
Throughout the ACE, interns learn how to develop exploits and tools to gain access, escalate privileges, and communicate covertly in a contested cyber battlespace. These operations culminate in the finale of the ACE program, Capstone, where interns apply what they have learned to achieve mission objectives in a simulated cyber-warfare scenario.
During the ACE, interns engage in a series of cutting-edge lectures that immerse them in the world of cyber operations. These weekly lectures, which are delivered by domain experts from military, academia, or industry, prepare interns for the Capstone exercise and develop them into the next generation of technically excellent cybersecurity leaders.
Over the 10 weeks, interns begin with the basics of the cyber domain before expanding into more technically challenging computer security concepts. In addition to attending lectures, interns are also responsible for writing comprehensive technical solutions to open-ended problems, as well as explaining these technical concepts in time-constrained oral presentations.
Over the course of the ACE, interns compile the skills and information obtained from lectures into a functional framework that allows them to grow in their knowledge both during and after their internship. This dynamic skill set is instrumental to the final Capstone operations, as well as the interns’ future endeavors and careers.
At the start of the program, ACE interns are divided into research groups where they spend the summer working on intensive, in-depth research projects. The projects encourage interns to experiment with new concepts and techniques to advance and execute a research plan.
"Running, like ACE, is an intrinsically individual activity, but along the way, our peers give a shout of encouragement, a high five, or simply presence when we have difficulty, so that we can achieve things we thought impossible."
In addition to lectures, research projects, and hands-on mission operations, interns participate in a weekly 8-mile run through the Griffiss Air Force Base. Physical fitness is an integral part of the ACE program, and all interns must traverse the entire course each week.
Interns who complete the first four miles of the run receive a poker chip as a token of their accomplishment. Each week upon finishing the run, interns place their chips in a container that visually embodies their collective perseverance and dedication.
The run also exhibits the strong sense of camaraderie that develops among the interns during the 10 weeks. Though running is a highly individual sport, the interns motivate themselves and their peers through high fives and encouraging words. A legacy passed down from class to class, the weekly ACE run promotes not only physical fitness but team building through shared adversity.
The finale of the program, Capstone, integrates the interns’ leadership, communication, and technical skills in a two-day exercise fought for specific military and political objectives. During the exercise, interns participate as operators for one of three belligerents engaged in an escalating struggle for dominance in a full-scale cyber warfare scenario.
Success at the Capstone requires a combination of outstanding crisis decision-making skills and technical excellence, which interns use to coordinate fires in the air, space, and cyber domain to achieve operational objectives. During the exercise, interns are awarded credit for fulfilling mission objectives as defined by a joint force commander.
The ACE Capstone allows interns to observe first-hand the fog and friction of a contested, cyber-physical battlespace and teaches a final lesson on the devastating, asymmetric impact of cyber effects in an Air Force-relevant context.
Since the ACE’s founding in 2003, the program has proudly graduated over 400 interns, adding them to the growing ranks of technically excellent cyber leaders. The hands-on experience and knowledge gained through the program proves exceptionally valuable, as ACE alumni apply their incomparable skill set to their research projects, publications, career pursuits, and positions in the USAF.
- Raphael Mudge, ACE 2003
- Marc Jabbour, ACE 2006