The Navy is embedding info-warfare chiefs in recruiting commands

The Navy is embedding info-warfare chiefs in recruiting commands

The Navy is boosting recruiting for information warfare and cyber operators nationwide in the wake of retention challenges, the Navy’s IW boss said. 

“We’re going to put six chiefs at six locations across the country to help us do targeted or focused information-warfare recruiting,” said Vice Adm. Kelly Aeschbach, commander of Naval Information Forces during an Service Spotlight interview with Defense One

“Separately on the training side, we have been trying to move training to the left, and ensuring that everybody is getting world-class training. And so for our interactive on-net operators—which are really our steepest requirement for our cyber sailors—we now have custody of most of the foundational training. And we introduced a mentoring approach that had us go from, frankly, a very high attrition rate to almost 100-percent success now in how we’re identifying the right sailors, mentoring them, and getting them through the training.” 

Aeschbach said the recruiting model that includes putting IW master chiefs and officers at recruiting commands has been extended to other roles in the cyber force as well, and has led to about a 20 percent bump in readiness for the course they’re fielding.

“We’re hopeful in the next two or three years we’ll see us entirely close that gap and readiness that we had previously been, probably rightly, criticized for.”

Last year, the Navy implemented new cyber designators—maritime cyber warfare officer and cyber warfare technician—under information warfare, starting the creation of the first class of maritime cyber warfare officers. And since then, the new categories have generated “tons of interest” from new sailors, she said. 

“We have almost 150 cyber warriors now in the officer ranks. And we actually built out a pretty good pyramid from ensign up to captain for the initial group,” she said. “The [enlisted] rating used to be part of cryptology. And our rating now really appreciates that there’s clarity that they are doing cyber operations. They are our preeminent sailors in that field. And so we’re seeing some improvement in retention…The challenge for us on the sailor side is just how do we continue to bring in the most adept, most agile young people to fill those positions.”

The Navy is building up its information warfare capabilities as a changing geopolitical climate—such as expanded force presence in the Red Sea—has increased the need for those skills. 

Following Hamas’ attack on Israel in October, Aeschbach said, the Navy had about “1,200 information warfighters assembled across two carrier strike groups and an amphibious ready group” led by three information warfare commanders. 

“They were connected to ashore infrastructure where we already have information warfighting capability present. And so if you can imagine, we have this group afloat who are doing all of the information related support, who can reach back to our fleet weather centers, reach back to our intelligence centers, reach back to our information operations commands, where we do signals intelligence and electronic warfare support, also reach back for cyber assistance. And then finally, the communications piece, which is all serviced by a global network of communications commands.”

Every day, there are approximately 20,000 information warfare professionals across the Navy working on missions, Aeschbach said. 

“That makes us unique as a mission set in that, because we bring so much capability from the shore side, we’re always in the fight, 24/7,” she said. “We have watch floors that were running, and we’re connected… to those forces that were forward in the Red Sea. And when they went to actually execute, they can’t succeed without that integrated approach.” 

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