How Are US Armed Forces Closing the Cyber Skills Gap?

Faced with a cyber skills gap, the U.S. Navy is seeking to identify and recruit more cyber talent in its force. While the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) has been a staple of entry into the armed forces, the Navy is looking for ways to better assess the cyber proficiency of potential new recruits.

Why the focus on cyber proficiency? Because the armed forces have struggled to fill information security-related positions. The proposed Navy Cyber Aptitude and Talent Assessment, which could become a supplement to the ASVAB, would determine a candidate’s knack for cyberskills.

The Military Addresses the Skills Gap

This change comes at a time when other branches of the U.S. military have also sought to identify or reinforce the level of cyber knowledge of their personnel. In April 2015, the U.S. Army announced a plan to create a career track for civilians and to ramp up the staffing of the Cyber Branch 17 unit. Its goal was to reach numbers totaling as many as “355 officers, 205 warrant officers and 700 enlisted soldiers,” according to the Army Times.

As Lt. Gen. Edward C. Cardon, head of U.S. Army Cyber Command, explained, cyber education was a top priority for the military. “We’re exposing all officers to cybersecurity because this has to become part of the foundational education that we expect them to have,” he said.

The Air Force is also looking at improving the cyber proficiency of its force. In an opinion piece titled “Preparing for the Cyber Battleground of the Future,” author Chris Babcock, 2nd Lt. USAF, noted the stakes when it comes to cyber readiness: “All space operations currently performed by the U.S. military are cyberspace dependent.” He then outlined six recommendations to get ready for the cyber era: leverage big data for decision-making, provide mission-specific cyber training, provide additional specialized training for cyber operators, work to expand industry partnership opportunities, invest extensively in the cyber training corps and encourage new forms of education and training.

About the Navy’s Efforts

To mitigate the increased reliance on satellite technology for navigation, the U.S. Navy is taking steps to make sure it can continue operating even if GPS technology can’t be relied upon.

As reported in the Capital Gazette, the Navy has gone back to teaching navigation basics such as using the Sextant. As the article pointed out, the accuracy of the Sextant is only to within miles of your target location, while the GPS is within feet. However, the Navy sees this as a “solid backup form of navigation” should the GPS system become unreliable, The Telegraph reported.

But is it enough that the Navy, Air Force and Army are each improving the cyber readiness of their personnel? Not so for Andrew Rubin, CEO and founder of Illumio, who argued for the formation of a West Point for Cyber in an op-ed in Fortune. “We must create a government/military institution that is exclusively missioned to protect our data and safeguard the role it plays in our society,” he wrote.

Earlier in the piece, he noted, “Information technology is the civil engineering of the new American economy. Information is the fifth factor of production. It is inside every good and service we produce and consume; it is a component of our national defense. Increasingly, it is the new proving ground for warfare and economic espionage, and it requires bringing the same discipline of national security strategy and engineering ingenuity to protect it.”

As Rubin put it, “The stakes have never been higher for this issue.” The age of cyber is upon us all, and it behooves the U.S. military to ensure that its staff is fully versed in the intricacies of the cyber battlefield.

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Christophe Veltsos

InfoSec, Risk, and Privacy Strategist - Minnesota State University, Mankato

Chris Veltsos is a professor in the Department of Computer Information Science at Minnesota State University, Mankato where he regularly teaches Information Security and Information Warfare classes. Beyond the classroom, Chris is also very active in the security community, engaging with community groups and advising business leaders on how to best manage information security risks.