It takes three years to train someone in cyber operations, and the Army, which is doubling its cyber force, wants to keep them around.
The Army today activated a Cyber Protection Brigade and could launch a new cyber branch as early as next month, as it continues toward its goal of doubling the size of its cyber workforce over the next two years.
Funding isn’t a problem in increasing that workforce—across the military, cyber defense is one of the few areas where funding is increasing. The real challenge is in recruiting, training and retaining skilled cyber warriors.
"These soldiers are so unique, and they're so skilled and they're so few," Command Sgt. Maj. Rodney Harris of the Army Cyber Command said in an Army release. "The chief of staff of the Army has asked us to focus hard on what we're doing for talent management" to attract and keep them on board.
Retention is critical because of the time it takes for them to become skilled at cyber operations. Properly training them takes three years—including two six-month courses and two years of apprenticeship, Harris said. And that’s to qualify as a journeyman. Very few NCO jobs in the Army require that much training. "They are highly sought-after technicians," he said.
The keep them from then journeying off to intelligence work of the private sector, military leaders have discussed various incentive programs. During a conference last month at Fort Meade, Md. (home to the U.S. Cyber Command), officials talked about creating a new career management field for cyber operators, CMF 17. That field would be broken down according to occupational specialties, such as CMF 17A for cyber warfare officers and CMF 17C for cyber warfare specialists, and would be coupled with a package of reenlistment incentives.
The Cyber Protection Brigade, being activated by the 7th Signal Command at Fort Gordon, Ga., is one of a number of approximately platoon-sized teams that will take on various missions, such as offense operations or defending networks. The teams will consist of soldiers, NCOs, officers, warrant officers and Army civilian employees.
As cyberspace becomes ever-more important to military operations, linking everything from sensors to weapons systems, the significance of having skilled cyber operators becomes more apparent, as does the need for training them. The Army Times recently reported that, in a classified cyber war game last year between uniformed personnel and reservists, the reservists—many of whom work private-sector jobs in the cyber realm—handed the uniforms a beating. If that’s what the Cyber Command is up against, training can’t begin soon enough.