Army to recruit next generation of cyber workers through new career field

Ronald Pontius, the deputy to the commander of Army Cyber Command, said over the next few years the Army will give cyber workers their own career field, prelimi...

The ad-hoc nature of how the Army develops, trains and sustains cybersecurity workers is ending. Over the next year or two, the Army will give cyber workers their own career field, preliminarily known as Career Field 17.

Ronald Pontius, the deputy to the commander of Army Cyber Command, said the professional cyber-trained forces in the Army will be about 5,000 to 6,000 soldiers strong.

“We are working on that now and more will emerge over the next few months. A lot of times these things take many years, but there is very strong leadership support to make this happen in the next year or two,” he said after a recent panel discussion sponsored by AFCEA D.C. “It’s being worked out of the Cyber Center of Excellence in Fort Gordon, Georgia. That’s a recent standup. The signal center of excellence that also has electronic warfare has been refashioned to be the Cyber Center of Excellence.”

Pontius said a professional cyber career field is the next evolution of a decision made two years ago by then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta for the services to have cyber mission forces.

“There are people being recruited and trained right now,” he said. “Each of the military services will do it in their own way. The Army is looking to train and sustain the really very high speed cyber operators from a range of defensive and offensive capabilities. It takes a lot of training and emphasis and they really need to be managed very carefully, and that’s what the Army is thinking.”

Courtesy of the Army

The Navy and Air Force have been out in front over the last few years. The Navy created its Information Dominance Corps and the Air Force created career paths for both officers and enlisted personnel, specifically intended to let cyber experts stay in the field throughout their military careers.

Pontius said he expects the Army’s new cyber career field to be a combination of new military occupational specialties (MOS) as well as soldiers coming over from the signals and military intelligence career fields.

“Moving forward, your cyber mission forces will have the core cyber guys, but will also have signal guys who really understand the network, and military intelligence guys who can bring intelligence support to it. So it will be a combined arms,” he said. “Initially, in manning the cyber mission forces, it’s drawing heavily on signals and military intelligence.”

Pontius said this new career field is the Army’s contribution to the larger U.S. Cyber Command and joint capability.

Along with a career field, the Army is considering developing cybersecurity acquisition expertise. Pontius said no decision has been made yet, but they are assessing what the best approach would be to address short- and long-term cyber acquisition needs.

“Particularly, what we do with Army Cyber Command is standing up as the operational sponsor and working hand-in-hand with the acquisition community,” he said. “The acquisition community really has the lead to figure that out. We, as the operational sponsor, need to say, ‘Here are our requirements,’ and work with them in a partnership way.”

Need for dedicated workforce growing

The Army’s need for a dedicated cyber workforce will increase as it moves more and more to Joint Regional Security Stacks (JRSS). In fact, the Army and Air Force reached initial operating capability for its first JRSS in the continental United States on Sept. 14 at Joint Base San Antonio.

Formerly known as Fort Sam Houston and Lackland Air Force Base, those neighboring Army and Air Force installations now are managed administratively as one joint base. Now, the security of their IT networks are too.

Pontius said the impact of the JRSS is hard to quantify yet, but he knows there will be network and cyber improvements.

“We can move away from this proliferation of all the individual security stacks and firewalls. That not only will give us greater effectiveness, but we will be able to really know what’s going on in our networks,” he said. “We are trying to do this as quickly as possible, but also in a way to learn. We are doing the Joint Base San Antonio first and then trying to learn from that as we are positioning the others to say how should we really employ this. The concept of operations and management pieces, all those are things we have to really think through because we are moving to a joint construct and what does that mean.”

Pontius said he expects the JRSS to give them better situational awareness and the ability to defend the networks more effectively.


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