Air Force emphasizes skills training for cyber personnel

New occupational skills category helps define cyber career path

The Air Force has revised how it trains its cyber operations personnel to create a more defined set of skills and career path, a top service official has said. 

People are key to Air Force cyber defense and warfare plans, Maj. Gen. Earl Matthews, director of cyberspace operations with the Air Force’s Office of Information Dominance and CIO of the Office of the Secretary of the Air Force, said at the Network Enabled Operations Conference in Alexandria, Va., on Jan. 25. The service has developed a series of training courses designed to train military and civilian personnel in various skills to support cyber operations, he said.

In 2010, the Air Force converted some 3,000 officers to a new cyber career specialization and the service is reevaluating more than 2,800 cyber officer positions, he said.

The service now has a more focused definition of cyber defense and warfare skills and how they track in a career path; officers will be awarded additional special skills criteria while enlisted personnel can become cyber specialists. There are now some 250 enlisted cyber specialists in the Air Force, Matthews said.

Demand for skilled cyber personnel is high; the service can only produce 50 specialists a year and there's a shortfall of some 350 skilled cyber personnel slots in the Air Force, he said.

The current training program is built around an intensive eight week basic training course which then goes into specific mission training and skills qualifications for an individual airman’s assignment.

Because it is now designed to follow and update personnel skills throughout their careers, the cyber training program has additional follow-on stages that kick in after an individual’s initial training and qualification. These steps have been built in because the force is relatively new. It will be 10 to 12 years before the lieutenants currently being trained become field grade officers, he said.

Cyber training in the Air Force is now built around 200-, 300- and 400-level courses, Matthews said. At the six year point in airmen’s careers, they will take the 200 level courses which will update existing skills and introduce new skills. After 10 years of service, personnel will take the 300 level courses, which focus less on technology and more on joint cyber operations and strategic implications of cyberspace. The 400 level course is designed for officers at the lieutenant colonel and colonel level and their civilian grade counterparts and focuses on policy issues and refreshing skills, he said.

Because more than 70 percent of the service's cyberspace operations and support is conducted by civilians with officer grade levels, the training and skills program is designed to include and support them in the process. In addition to supporting civilian personnel, many of the 200 and 300 level courses will see enlisted personnel and officers sitting together. This is because enlisted and officer cyber personnel will probably work together for much of their careers, Matthews said.

The Air Force is also opening its 200 and 300 level courses to personnel from other services to avoid stovepiped training and promote joint cyber operations. “This is an area where we can’t bury our heads in the sand,” he said.

About the Author

Henry Kenyon is a contributing writer for Defense Systems.

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