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Navy Brings Back Warrant Officer-1 Rank for Cyber Sailors

Sailors stand watch in the Fleet Operations Center at the headquarters of U.S. Fleet Cyber Command/U.S. 10th Fleet.

After a 44-year absence, the rank of warrant officer-1 will return to the Navy in 2019 for cyber specialists, a move signifying the great lengths the service must take to retain talent and fill leadership roles in an increasingly tight labor market.

The return of warrant officer-1 (W-1) — discontinued by the Navy in 1975 — is both a Navy bid to keep highly sought-after computer technicians and is indicative of the greater challenge facing the service as it seeks to meet growing recruiting and retention targets.

The Navy projects growing the number of all active duty sailors to nearly 344,800 within the next five years, a nearly 20,000 increase from the roughly 325,000 sailors now on active duty, according to its Fiscal Year 2019 budget request. But achieving this force level, and reaching longer-term goals to fill out a growing fleet-size will be difficult, as previously reported by USNI News.

A tight labor market means sailors can often find higher paying jobs outside the Navy, often doing the same type of work. With cyber specialists, the Navy found its ability to retain talent was especially difficult. The higher pay offered by private sector companies, often performing Navy contract, increasingly lures away sailors the Navy would eventually want to fill leadership roles, Vice Adm. Robert Burke, chief of Naval Personnel, told USNI News.

“We have kids come into the CT (cryptologic technician) program that come in with four-year degrees already,” Burke said.

The Navy’s problem is keeping these technicians and grooming them for leadership roles, Burke said. In the private sector, salaries for such cyber specialties as network and computer systems administrators, computer systems analysts, and information security analysts had median annual incomes of between $81,000 and $95,000 in 2017, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics.

Current pay for an E-5 with six years of service is $35,103, according to the Office of Personnel Management.

“We’re bringing in our own crypto technicians, we’re growing them, they get to E-5, E-6 (petty officer first class) and they get hired by all the defense contractors working for us. So, there’s no E-6’s around to go become eligible to be W-2s (warrant officer-2), so we’re opening it up to the E-5s to get them to stay Navy and become those managers,” Burke said.

This is at a time the Navy is paying greater attention to cyber vulnerabilities. After last summer’s deadly ship collisions involving two U.S. guided missile destroyers and two commercial ships, the Navy announced future collision investigations will include probing for evidence of cyber tampering. No evidence was found of cyber tampering during last summer’s investigations.

Only a small number of enlisted personnel will qualify for W-1, the pay still will not match what the private sector offers, and the Navy will still face tough recruiting and retention challenges. However, those sailors who do qualify for W-1 will be the ones the Navy hopes will consider remaining in the service longer because they rank offers something the private sector can’t as easily match — a quicker path to management positions.

Historically the Navy would select petty officer first class sailors to become chief warrant officer (W-2) to manage the growing cyber workforce. Yet to be considered for W-2, sailors must already have 13 years of service and these sailors reach retirement age quickly or find the lure of big private sector paydays too great, Burke said.

To qualify for consideration, sailors must at least be a petty officer second class (E-5), hold a cryptologic technician networks rating, and have between six and 12 years in service, the Navy announced.

Ideally, these sailors would promote through the ranks to become leaders in the cyber community. But many reach retirement age with their previous years in service. Allowing junior enlisted to promote to W-1, after as few as six years if they qualify, the Navy can potentially keep this expertise longer, Burke said.

“The W-1 gets them in earlier. They can go LDO (limited duty officer) or go regular commission program,” Burke said. “They’re not just managers, they become leaders.”

  • Junior

    I am in complete agreement with you shipmate. It would seem that our leadership in a desperate bid to compete with the private sector for retention of certain skill sets, are willing to compromise decades of custom and tradition in the ranks. A slippery slope if ever there was one.

  • What do you suggest as an alternative?

    • proudrino

      How many of these cyber specialists really need to be in uniform? To be sure, there is still a need for uniformed cyber specialists but I would start by looking at manpower needs in commands like 10th Fleet, staff them with civilians at market rate, and have a place for the Navy to retain the skills of departing sailors. Given the continuity of this approach, it makes more sense to me than to carve out a specialized paygrade to throw more money at E-5s contemplating separating from active duty.

      • Ed L

        Civilian specialists working with the military on government contract or as a GS are in a gray zone when it comes to military discipline. Saw that happen during the first gulf war. Civilians did the regular day work while we uniforms took a lot of the day workers and moved them to 12 hour shifts. Sure you can have civilian contactors but how reliable would they be. Would one or a few pull a Snowden?

        • John Holmes

          On the other hand, Remember CWO3 John Walker a spy on Active Duty who pulled a Snowden

          • Ed L

            Oh Boy! Do I remember. My new command was ticked off that I could not do CMS since I just did a tour as a CMS

          • Stephen

            Spies are recruited across the full spectrum of military & civilian ranks. Background checks & re-investigations are vital to maintain security. Compromised at any level is unacceptable. We have provided China with the best R&D program. The flow of industrial/proprietary/classified data across the Pacific is unbelievable!

        • wilkinak

          Remember Reality Winner & Brad Manning?

          Gov’t folks (military & civilian) aren’t all that great with classified stuff, even if they work with it all the time. They have different, laxer rules than contractors. I’ve seen them try shady stuff. More than once a regular file cabinet full of classified docs has been found when a govvie retired or died.

      • Duane

        We need the cyber capability in the fleet, deployed on warships. For that you need uniformed members.

        The CWO-1 might be marginally helpful, but top talents need to be degreed and commissioned officers. They are warfighters today in every sense of the word, just as are OODs and Div Officers.

        • Rocco

          Not in agreement with 2nd paragraph!! .. Your just speculating the talent of the CWO-1!!

          • Duane

            I make no comment on talent of those who are promoted to CWO1 beyond the fact that the pay at that tank is not remotely competitive with private sector pay. The Navy’s stated objective is to compete with private industry, so at best this move is only marginally helpful.

            A CWO1 makes roughly $18-20K a year less than an O2, both with 4 years experience. That’s a pretty big differential, and it only gets wider as service experience is accumulated and as one climbs the ranks in either category.

            Given that cyber is so important to 21st century warfare, making our degreed cyber experts commissioned officers seems both logical and fair.

  • PolicyWonk

    Rather than have a separate cyber outfits in the USN, Marines, USAF, Army, and USCG: these should be concentrated into a separate service branch to remove the obvious redundancies. The people who work in the cyber corps should be recruited from our nations best computer science schools, and/or find ways to attract top people from industry. Clearly, something needs to be done w/r/t dealing with the huge salary differences between the civilian and military, or we’ll always be behind the 8-ball (hint: sweeten the pot).

    Those with skills in the service branches should be able to transfer over to the cyber corps to act as liaison officers, which would help smooth over the cultural differences between the dweebs and military, enhance communications, and (in theory) get the job done.

    • Stephen

      I think you just described the NSA. We have populated signals collection with military personnel. An E-5 working with a GS-14, in fact, guiding the GS-14, finds out monthly pay is the civilian’s weekly pay…

      • PolicyWonk

        Kinda sorta, but my thought is a more directly military-oriented cyber corps, that should have a clear relationship with the NSA (for obvious reasons),

        • Stephen

          Ft Meade…

  • Vaughn Smith

    Agree. The Navy conducted a similar “test” of the CWO ranks a few years ago by accepting applicants for the airdale maintenance program and shut it down shortly afterwards. The Second Class Petty Officer, who was commissioned to CWO2 attended indoc with me.

  • proudrino

    This action doesn’t seem to be well thought out. The way I read this change, the Navy is going to create this odd duck “community” of W-1s for no other reason than it is a mechanism of throwing more money on a recruitment/retention problem for cyber specialists. It fundamentally goes against the grain to re-establish a paygrade for one skill set only. I’m not sure how these W-1s have any credibility in the Fleet. Surely there are better ways to address recruitment and retention challenges.

    • Ed L

      Make them helicopter pilots

  • Ed L

    Wonder how effective it would be for the Navy to offer Warrant commissions for helicopter pilots like the Army does with its High School to Flight School’,” held at Fort Rucker in Alabama, where the Army trains its pilot recruits And conducts its warrant officer school. The aviation program allows high school graduates to apply to become aviation warrant officers, a rank necessary to attend Army Aviation School.

  • Ed L

    During WW2 my Dad Upon completion of clerks school was made a staff sergeant. Since in civilian life he worked as a clerk for the company that built the pentagon and ordering supplies, managing worker schedules etc.

  • Marc

    I notice the reasons for the change the supporters use to justify the change are very slanted, and in some cases false, or the article author quoted bad information. Author stated, “Current pay for an E-5 with six years of service is $35,103, according to the Office of Personnel Management.” But the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) deals with Civil Servants, not the military!

    • wilkinak

      Never mind that it’s base pay & no one just gets base pay. Average E5 BAH w/dependents is almost $20K. That’s not counting sea pay, lack-of-nookie pay, etc.

  • publius_maximus_III

    Seems like most Warrant Officers will be mustangs, no? Just curious, will they receive a commission from Congress like higher ranking officers do, or just a “warrant”?

    • Stephen

      CWO-2s & above, are Commissioned. W-1 was a probationary rank. The Navy should adopt a similar structure to the Army’s Helicopter Warrant program. That gives an opening to talented junior Enlisted for select specialties. W-1 was offered to RNs & LPNs that had not attained BA/BS; again probationary, offering a Commission to O-2 once the BA/BS was completed.

  • Stephen

    Recognition of civilian/military expertise has driven enticements for rank-assignments. Medical Officers may receive direct commissions at the rank of Commander. Often educated on the government’s dime; some commissioned as O-1, never serving. Established in a medical specialty when Uncle Sam says, don’t you owe me some time? The former medical student negotiates for higher rank…

  • Byron

    Actually this might not be a bad idea. I knew many CWO’s when I was in the Navy and I was not that impressed. Many had developed bad habits and really did not behave or operate as normal officers. So to me it’s not that big of a deal to become a CWO. In my case I was at one point an E5 with a 4 year degree. I saw myself eventually going for a masters. Back then you needed to be E7 to apply for LDO or CWO. My path to commission was the OCS program. I made E6 in my 6th year in the Navy and got out. I had terrific training and experience in computers and electronics. I also had a degree.
    The corporate world was in love with what I had done in the Navy. I had 3 offers from Fortune 500 companies 6 months before I got out. Perhaps if I had a realistic shot at CWO at this juncture, I may have stayed in. I certainly could have held my own as an officer. In reality I knew much more than an O1 Ensign. Certainly the E5 will need some type of indoct program. Perhaps something like a mini OCS.
    So what did I turn down from the Navy for a corporate job? I had only been an E6 for a few months. I was offered two years shore duty and also a $40k bonus. I turned it down. Took a job as an account manager at a big corporation. About to retire as a VP in the Finance Department. They even paid for my MBA. I don’t regret leaving the Navy for the corporate world at all …

  • Ed L

    So true I remember being taught DOS by an 20 year old sailor when I was 30

  • ION

    I don’t know if you’re aware of the cyber state in the Navy. This is for a very specific job doing, in my opinion, the most technical job in the Navy. The school alone has atleast a 75% attrition rate. This is the Navy attempting to provide competitive pay to the civilian counterparts, while still retaining title 50/title 10 authorization.

  • I also think the US Military should make every allied health care a warrant officer from corpsman to respiratory therapist. At the same time, those who come in with technical or associate degrees should come in as a warrant officer.