Cyber skillsHow the Military Might Expand Its Cyber Skills

By James Ryseff

Published 23 April 2021

As software has become an ever more integral part of life, national security experts have come to recognize that the U.S. military will need to improve its software fluency if it wants to remain dominant on the battlefields of the future.

As software has become an ever more integral part of life, national security experts have come to recognize that the U.S. military will need to improve its software fluency if it wants to remain dominant on the battlefields of the future. Already, one of the first priorities of the Biden administration has been to enhance its efforts to attract cyber, technology, and STEM knowledge into the national security workforce so it is prepared for the challenges of tomorrow. Yet merely attracting additional civilian technical experts may not be enough.

As history has demonstrated, military innovation during peacetime is most successful when senior military officers who have earned the respect of their peers recognize the potential for a major disruption in the way war is fought. In the past, these senior personnel have established new promotion pathways to cultivate younger officers more fluent in these new technologies, enabling them to fill roles critical to the evolution of novel weapon systems and military doctrines that depend upon the fresh advancements. Without this, innovators have struggled to be promoted over other officers who remain tied to the established way of doing things, and they have quickly left military service for alternative careers where their talents were better appreciated. If the U.S. military is to succeed at leveraging the full power of the cyber domain, it could strive to avoid this fate.

When considering how to infuse cyber skills into its officer corps, the Department of Defense (DoD) can draw from lessons learned the first time it extended combat into a new domain of warfare. The arrival of aircraft onto the battlefields of World War I confronted both the Army and the Navy with a significant disruption to their traditional ways of war. In each case, none of the senior commanders in the service had any practical experience with aviation. While some enthusiastic junior officers raved about how the airplane would dominate battlefields of the future, more conventional officers scoffed at the limited capabilities of aircraft and doubted that the technology would ever be as transformational as its advocates boasted. With limited budgets and a Congress demanding a peace dividend from the end of the Great War, each service faced difficult decisions about how to allocate its funding and officer billets. The two organizations ultimately took very different paths with opposite results.

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