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As The Battleground For Warfare Moves To Cyberspace, DOD Contemplates Altering Recruitment Requirements

While we've viewed much of the hyped up discussions about cyberwarfare with some trepidation here, we now live in a reality where it would be clearly silly to suggest that the internet and internet-connected devices are not an emerging battleground for rival nations. While much was made these past few years about what mostly amounted to the penetration of private business networks, the discussion about several democratic elections throughout the country and the clear interference in them, potentially by state actors, has pushed the overdrive button on all of this. As you can imagine, groups in charge of defense for the nations of the world have been paying attention, including the US Department of Defense.

But it seems the DoD has a problem: it isn't meeting its recruitment goals for its Cyber Command division.

The US military is having a hard time getting people with essential information technology and information security skill sets as the services struggle to build a force of "cyber-warriors." During a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing today, senators focused in part on how the work force problem is affecting the US Cyber Command's (US CYBERCOM's) ability to deal with the demands of information warfare and threats both to the Defense Department's networks and those of other agencies and industry.

The goal put in place for the DoD was to have CYBERCOM fully operational by 2018. Michael Rogers stated at the hearing that he believed that goal could still be met, but the larger problem of keeping CYBERCOM operational was driven by a lack of bulk in qualified personnel. Senator John McCain noted part of the problem is that CYBERCOM officers slated for duty have routinely been rotated out of that role when deployed on tour. It seems there isn't a full commitment by some branches of the military that are likewise generally hurting for bodies. The partnerships the DoD has forged with organizations like the National Science Foundation, the Office of Personnel Management, and DHS to promote its CyberCorps scholarship program haven't managed to fill the ranks, either.

Mostly, this comes down to recruiting requirements.

But as Rogers noted in his testimony, "We need a broad range of skills, and many of the best candidates won't necessarily have advanced educations but have deep experience in the field." And the problem won't be fixed with the military's current approach to workforce development, Rogers acknowledged. "We can't keep relying on five- to ten-year development cycles in terms of manpower," he said.

That will require a radical departure from the military's usual approach to recruiting—particularly since few people who already have the skills the DOD wants would be drawn to the typical military recruitment cycle. People who are usually drawn to the military would require years of training to meet the services' needs. But Rogers was insistent that, whatever the solution, it wouldn't be a separate "cyber force," because the military needs personnel who had the context of the overall mission. Only people embedded in the military would have that.

Except that this sentiment is belied by some of the proposed changes to recruitment currently be considered by the DoD. The headline-grabber of these proposals is the one that would allow new recruits for CYBERCOM to skip basic training altogether.

One of the possible solutions that the DOD has looked at is bringing people with experience and skills essential to offensive and defensive cyber operations into the service "laterally." That means giving them ranks (and pay grades) commensurate to their skills and entirely bypassing the normal recruitment and advancement process.

Even the Marine Corps, which has long required all marines to go through the same basic rifleman training, is considering changes. The potential changes include allowing people with sought-after skills to enter the Corps directly as noncommissioned officers and skip boot camp.

There is some precedent for this, though that precedent doesn't translate particularly well. The Ars post refers to how the Marines have allowed recruits for the Marine Corps Band to join with this kind of lateral entry, where recruits simply audition for the band as opposed to going through basic training. But that sort of lateral entry is worlds away from having active soldiers in the ranks that are actively engaged in what the DoD claims is a pivotal battlefield as opposed to playing Hail to the Chief in the Rose Garden. The dropping of basic training would need to be coupled with a relaxed education requirement, as many of the most talented individuals in technology can often boast an almost clean slate of educational achievement, while still being the best at what they do.

Regardless, we talk all the time about how technology drives change and innovation. It seems even the military branches are not immune from this.

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