Academic journal article Air & Space Power Journal

Selecting Qualified Airmen for the Cyber Mission Force: The Pitfalls of Hiring Operational "Analysts"

Academic journal article Air & Space Power Journal

Selecting Qualified Airmen for the Cyber Mission Force: The Pitfalls of Hiring Operational "Analysts"

Article excerpt

Setting the Stage

The Air Force, like each service, is charged with providing cyber operations and intelligence professionals for the Cyber Mission Force (CMF) being built by US Cyber Command over the last four years. The CMF build-plan calls for dozens of teams serving in offensive, defensive, and supporting roles. Inside the CMF, the combat mission teams are aligned to the combatant commands to serve the offensive cyber needs of the combatant commanders. US Cyber Command manages over a dozen national mission teams aligned to conduct a defend-the-nation mis- sion called the Cyber National Mission Force. Both the combat mission teams and the national mission teams also have support teams assigned to help with development and analysis. Finally, a large number of Red Team-like units called cyber protection teams are under operational control of the combatant commands and the Cyber National Mission Force for defensive purposes. Most of these teams are trained inside the National Security Agency (NSA) under its rules and high standards, using its capabilities.

From the NSA's birth, military intelligence, communications, and scientific units have provided personnel to supplement offices in support of the collection of signals intelligence and the requirements of information assurance. Over the past decade, the services-in varying forms-have also established cyber-focused units to supply qualified personnel to various cyber missions within the NSA. Thus, when the CMF began in 2012, needing over 60 people apiece to serve in national mission teams or combat mission teams, many of these service members found themselves realigned to a cyber team of one stripe or another. At the time, no ready source of individuals existed to meet the substantial manning needs of the new CMF, so converting the majority of service-billeted people and service civilians already embedded in the NSA made good sense.

After the in-place turnovers, the functional managers within the services faced the difficult prospect of hiring en masse a workforce of cyber professionals. It must have been hard for them to divine exactly what the CMF needed for obscure work roles that didn't exactly translate into many mapped military career paths. There were some exceptions because some services created career-code "shred-outs" (i.e., "markers" to track skills or experience) to specifically align people to the NSA's cyber work roles.

In the past, finding a handful of qualified service members per squadron or company for the NSA who possessed unique technical skills was totally feasible with the flexibility given to local training managers and superintendents. However, the CMF has dozens of sizeable teams, so the demand for these low-density, high-demand cyber, development, and intelligence skills went through the roof over the last four years. Whereas previously a unit may have been asked to provide only a handful of qualified service members, now it eventually had to supply dozens. (Furthermore, they will be permanently changing station every two-to-three years, so a dedicated pipeline will be necessary.) When the integration numbers within the NSA were lower, units had the luxury of farming out resumes and sending Airmen, Soldiers, and Marines to interview within the agency to find the right office. The advent of the CMF limited that freedom of placement because the teams had to meet readiness requirements set down in their manning layouts, which could not be altered (i.e., each team must be built exactly the same way). This inflexibility further increased throughput to specific NSA offices and now from specific military career codes. Consequently, how does the Air Force cope with these challenges and serve the needs of the CMF mandate to produce qualified cyber professionals?

The Air Force and possibly other services maybe exacerbating the difficulty of finding a greater quantity of qualified applicants for some CMF/NSA work roles by self-imposing self-limiting rules based on career codes (Air Force specialty codes [AFSC], military occupational specialties, and others). …

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