Deployment to the Cyber Warfare Battlefield

Don Tennant

Two of the most critical issues facing the U.S. military right now are the need to retain its highly trained personnel, and the need to address our country's vulnerability on the cyber warfare front. So what if we were to approach those two problems by using them to help solve each other?


I can think of no better example of the retention problem than the case of my own son, who earlier this year resigned from the U.S. Navy to take a job with IBM. He graduated with a degree in computer science from the U.S. Naval Academy in 2003, ranked ninth in his class of more than 1,000 midshipmen with a 4.0 grade point average. That performance earned him a scholarship to Cambridge University in the United Kingdom, where he excelled in completing a master's degree in computer science. To say that he was one of the Navy's best isn't just the rambling of a proud papa-he served with distinction on two deployments to the Middle East, and was awarded the Navy Commendation Medal.


Unfortunately for the Navy, my son resigned just about as soon as he was entitled to do so. The reason: The only options the Navy gave him entailed future deployments that would mean many more months away from his family. With strength and dedication to duty, he endured missing the birth of his first child, but he wasn't going to miss another one. So today, IBM and its clients, not the Navy and the citizens it serves, are the ones benefiting from his capabilities.


Meanwhile, the cyber warfare threat against our country is escalating by the day. A story I wrote on the topic last year was only one of many that have documented the seriousness of the threat. Here's an excerpt:

"Laws of war would forbid targeting purely civilian infrastructure," [says] Steven Chabinsky, senior cyberadvisor to the director of national intelligence. "But terrorists, of course, don't limit themselves by the Geneva Conventions." While Chabinsky declined to be specific because of concerns about compromising intelligence-gathering methods, he affirmed that the U.S. has identified "a number of sophisticated nation-state actors who we believe have the capability to bring down portions of our critical infrastructure." Although terrorists may not be capable of attacking our critical infrastructure themselves, "it's less clear whether they could find a hired gun to do so," Chabinsky says. "Obviously, terrorist groups have the intent to harm us, are aware of the potential impact of a successful cyberattack and would find the ability to attack us from a distance quite appealing."

Now, in light of that threat, suppose the U.S. military enticed its most talented computer experts to extend their service by guaranteeing that they wouldn't be deployed overseas for months on end, but rather would serve at home on a virtual overseas battlefield to counter the cyber warfare threat. The good news is that steps are being taken that could lead to exactly that.


Military Times reported yesterday that the U.S. Marine Corps plans to introduce a new cyber warfare career path that would allow Marines to serve for the length of their commitment without being deployed overseas. Lt. Gen. George Flynn, deputy commandant for combat development and integration, explained it to a House Armed Services Committee panel this way:

"One thing that we have to take a look at is, once you get somebody schooled in this area and they become an effective operator, they need to stay in it. And so we're going to have to take a look at career progression [in which it] isn't going to be acceptable to somebody not to have to go out of occupational specialty assignment to get promoted," Flynn said. "This may be the case where, once you're in cyber, you never leave the cyber, something like we do with some of our special operations units."


Although Flynn had few specifics for what Marine officials could be cooking up, he did mention that cyber-Marines could have longer enlistments, of which about two years would be spent just in training, and there may be special bonuses or other lures to keep them in the force.


Flynn and the top cyberwarfare commanders of the other three services, who appeared with him, acknowledged the military will not be able to compete with the private sector in paying top dollar for cyber experts. But, they said, they're confident they can recruit specialists with the promise of high-quality training and their pitch of joining the few and the proud.

The sooner this program is realized, the better for our country, especially if it's expanded to entice personnel who are computer experts, but whose initial service wasn't cyber-warfare-related, to remain in military service.

Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Oct 12, 2010 11:43 AM Reader Reader  says:

Don , I have no problem with your son success and indeed I do admire his achievements.

Cyber attacking on the US is very serious and I feel sorry for the country future because now a day not much kid interests in the field anymore due to lots of layoff and unemployment in the field. I won't blame those kids at all, If I am starting my career over again, Computer Science is not a choice for me because it is not a stable career at all. Dude !! I do get layoff often , within 15 years of my career, I got layoff twice by outsourcing and one time replaced by a Guest worker. Looking back there are lots of friends of mine got layoff and some is still running around looking new jobs, some quit the field, some is still surviving and some works for Abama (unemployment checks). What a horrible career ..

I would predict that sad days are coming soon. Without talent, I am not surprised our enemies will figure out better way to destroy our network and disrupt our life or could even kill our own people by attacking our computer networks. We need to rethink a better way to encourage our kids to come back to the field. I remember during the Dot Com boom, computer enrollment at our schools and universities went up to the roof. I can'T believe within 10 years frame, some schools and university considers to close down the major due to low number of enrollment. Dude !! this is very serious issue. Some how we have to realize how important to have core talents to help out Cyber warefare otherwise we will toasted

Oct 13, 2010 2:53 AM Drunken Economist Drunken Economist  says:

Hmm, lessee: 99.99999999999999999% of Enterprise and Govt are on Windows, which has the attack surface of the entire state of Montana. As are our so-called 'allies' the Indians. Access control lists? What are those? Even basic userspace permission structure? Ditto.

The Chinese shifted almost TOTALLY over to Red Flag Linux, a variant of CentOS. They have organized (in the country) botnets just like we used to do with Seti@Home before our telcos & ISPs started pulling shenanighans with Net Neurality. The Chinese have Unix/Linux chops, almost NO ONE (outside the NSA) in the USA does. Oh, there were some greybeards, they've been replaced. By offshore assets sped thru clearance checks and MSFT Windows.

Apple uses an AT&T variant of POSIX compliant Unix in OSX, and a light version in the iOS devices, so there's MUCH LESS attack surface if any (only via chroot jailbreak) but the yobs in the military, government, and enterprise (still) consider Macs 'toys'... even tho' MSFT outsourced to India & China and there's LOTS of tech leakage going on there, Apple did not.

And you see where we are. Reap what you sow. Sad days are indeed coming, and they could have been prevented YEARS ago, by keeping tech that America invented alive.. which can (now) only be found in the halls of Apple and Google.

Oct 13, 2010 10:17 AM Don Tennant Don Tennant  says: in response to Reader

As you can see, I changed the name under which you posted your comment because it violated our obscenity polilcy. If you comment in the future, do not use an obscene pseudonym.

Oct 14, 2010 2:06 AM Solutions Provider Solutions Provider  says:

Just hire a bunch of Indian guest workers to run the entire US security network.  Problem solved. 

Oct 17, 2010 12:33 PM Beef Stew Beef Stew  says: in response to Solutions Provider

Yeah we did, our American CEOs did great good job, they went out hired the best and brightest H-1B bomber named "Faisal Shahzad" . We need to hire more best and brightest H-1B to work for our national security. Good bye all the local talents we don't need them ain't that right Mr. Don Tenant !!!


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