Defense

Air Force to roll out new cyber job category

Air Force cyber warriors at Port San Antonio (Air Force)  

The Air Force plans to roll out new workforce categories, including cyber this summer, according to Secretary Heather Wilson.

Testifying before the House Armed Services Committee April 2, Wilson said that the Air Force will add seven new job categories to better facilitate career advancement.

"We've been working for about 18 months on how do we evaluate, how do we promote officers and develop officers for the future of combat," Wilson said during the hearing, which focused on the Air Force and Army budget requests.

"A cyber officer doesn't have the same things to do in their careers as a maintenance officer, and they don't compare to each other … we need to promote to the needs of the service, and not just promote everybody," Wilson said.

The Air Force is scouring its ranks for cyber talent in hopes of converting maintainers and logisticians to keyboard warriors.

"We tend to be very linear in our thinking sometimes" that a computer science degree or a computer background is "what makes a good cyber operator," Col. Jori Robinson, vice commander of the Maryland National Air Guard's 175th Wing said during a Jan. 17 media briefing at the Pentagon.

The Air Force and National Air Guard have been studying "what actually makes somebody have the capacity -- not necessarily the ability right now -- but the capacity to learn cyberspace operations," Robinson said.

The Air Guard has seen maintainers "become some of the most prolific and fantastic operators that we have" and the "most sought after folks from Cyber Command to come and sit on these teams," she said.

The test, if successful, could help solve the Defense Department's struggle to recruit and retain cyber workers.

U.S. Cyber Commander Gen. Paul Nakasone told Congress in February that current threats, such as those from Russia and China, would require the Cyber Mission Force to expand beyond its current 133 teams. DOD executives also told Congress the organization lost nearly 4,000 civilian cyber personnel in 2018 and needed to better understand its market.

The Air Force's cyber aptitude assessment study was first launched in 2015 as part of an Air Force sponsorship with the University of Maryland Center for Advanced Study of Language and was originally set to end in 2017. But the study has been extended each year with no end date, Air Force spokesperson Robert Leese told FCW via email.

"The tests attempt to correlate a meaningful measure of success in the cyber warfare career field, and with additional data validation, hope to offer an ability to predict success in the field," Leese said.

The Air Force has identified, but not validated, several experimental constructs that would potentially help spot "those with the aptitude and motivation to be successful in cyber," Leese said.  

The study looked at about 350 cyber training participants to help determine the best predictors of success in cyber careers. Once the study is completed, Leese said the Air Force plans to share results and integrate the predictors "as part of a standardized test given to those enlisting in the Air Force to identify and vector well-suited enlistees for specific career fields" for active duty, Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve. 

This post was updated to clarify that cyber is at least one new career category the Air Force will roll out for officers this year. 

About the Author

Lauren C. Williams is a staff writer at FCW covering defense and cybersecurity.

Prior to joining FCW, Williams was the tech reporter for ThinkProgress, where she covered everything from internet culture to national security issues. In past positions, Williams covered health care, politics and crime for various publications, including The Seattle Times.

Williams graduated with a master's in journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park and a bachelor's in dietetics from the University of Delaware. She can be contacted at lwilliams@fcw.com, or follow her on Twitter @lalaurenista.

Click here for previous articles by Wiliams.


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