The Navy needs cyber experts, and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday wants the service to test every incoming sailor for digital savvy.
The Navy is beefing up its cyber capabilities but needs more expertise in the ranks to improve these digital capabilities on an appropriate scale for the fleet. While the service continues recruiting new sailors with cyber skills, Gilday wants to cast a wider net for men and women who, with proper training, could excel in the digital realm.
“We took a look at an aptitude test that we piloted at (U.S.) 10th Fleet,” Gilday said at the U.S. Naval Institute’s recent 2019 Defense Forum Washington. “I just recently raised the question again whether or not we can use it service-wide, so that we’re not testing people for specific cyber skill sets but whether or not they have the aptitude.”
The cyber test helps the Navy assess if a sailor is a good match for the Navy’s cryptologic technician networks rating. Currently, the Navy’s cyber test is administered at some of the 65 joint U.S. Military Entrance Processing Command locations. Some commands test everyone; others only test future sailors who specify a desire to enter the cyber field, Navy spokesman Cmdr. Dave Hecht told USNI News.
Gilday wants to make the test program more coordinated and standardized across all entrance processing command locations. A model, he explained, is how the Navy tests sailors for foreign language aptitude. Sailors might not arrive in the service with foreign language fluency, but if the sailor scores high enough on an assessment, the Navy knows the sailor has a pretty good chance to learn the skill.
The Fiscal Year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act supports Gilday’s plan to expand the Navy’s efforts to identify cyber talent. The FY 2020 NDAA instructs the Pentagon to increase all facets of its digital expertise, including the recruitment and retention of civilian and military talent to design and operate digital capabilities.
“It shall be a policy of the Department of Defense to promote and maintain digital expertise and software development as core competencies of civilian and military workforces of the Department, and as a capability to support the National Defense Strategy,” the FY 2020 NDAA states.
The Navy already has taken steps to retain cyber talent. This year the service reintroduced the rank of warrant officer-1 (W-1) for cyber specialists after a 44-year absence. The Navy brought back W-1 because the service worried it was not able to retain highly trained enlisted cyber experts who were lured to more lucrative private-sector jobs.
With the cyber assessment, Gilday said the Navy is trying to accomplish the same thing it does with identifying language skills. A sailor doesn’t need to be fluent in cyber capabilities to enter the field. Instead, Gilday said the test will help the Navy answer a critical question, “Do we already have a talent resident force that we can leverage against these problems and not even know it?”