SAN DIEGO – A Navy pilot program is testing the role of information warfare sailors and officers aboard submarines, the commander of Naval Information Forces announced Wednesday.
Two submarines – USS New Mexico (SSN-779) and USS Washington (SSN-787) – each have an information warfare junior officer and three sailors, Vice Adm. Kelly Aeschbach said during a talk at WEST 2023, hosted by the U.S. Naval Institute and AFCEA.
The submarine pilot started last year, Aeschbach told reporters after her discussion. Of the two junior officers, one was a cryptologist and one was an information professional, Aeschbach said.
The three sailor ratings on each submarine are a cryptologic technicians technical, a cryptologic technicians maintenance and intelligence specialist, she said.
So far the feedback from the pilot has been good, Aeschbach said. In addition to sailors bringing their knowledge to the submarine, the information warfare officer is able to oversee the information warfare efforts already on the vessel.
“So the results have been very positive … it’s really, the only limitation is just going to be resourcing new officer billets,” she said. “I think it’s going to be the biggest challenge.”
The thought is to start out with billets on submarines and eventually grow to every submarine, Aeschbach said.
The submarine pilot is just one change Aeschbach is overseeing since she took over Naval Information Forces in May 2021. The vice admiral is also overseeing the creation of a cyber designator.
Aeschbach is waiting on more details on how many sailors and officers would be required. The first step is to draft requirements for the billets and determine a career path for the sailors.
There should be between 200 and 300 billets, the vice admiral said. In the late summer to early fall timeframe, Naval Information Forces will do a call for officers already serving to apply to get into the cyber designator. After that, Aeschbach and her team will look at how to bring in new officers who commission from the Naval Academy or through ROTC.
“I have a lot of junior officers who are really excited about the chance to serve solely in cyber and really focus on that specialty,” she said. “So I think we actually might be overwhelmed with applicants later this year from across the Navy, who are interested in serving in that role.”
When creating the designator, Naval Information Forces needs to be careful not to hurt the other cyber areas, such as the National Security Agency, Aeschbach said.
“And so we will have to be careful about how many cryptologists, how many information professionals, are allowed to transfer over to the cyber designator, but I do think for cryptologists in particular, where the dominant number of these billets, cyber billets, will come from, I really think if you’re a pure cryptologist that this is really going to actually enhance our performance in those mission areas,” she said.
There is already a cyber rating, the vice admiral said. It’s just not clear because of its name – cryptologic technician network, which is part of the cryptologic series.
Under Congressional guidance, the cryptologic technician network will be taken out of the cryptologic series and a new cyber rating will be created, Aeschbach said. A name has not yet been decided but it will include cyber.
“And so we’ll have a family now of cyber designators like we do for intelligence, where we have officers and intelligence specialists,” she said.
There will also be more training involved. When the Navy stood up its cyber mission force, it was good at staffing it, but the sea service did not establish a foundational training infrastructure to allow for sailors to have the right training as roles matured, she said.
Under the new cyber designator, there will be more dwell time for sailors so that the cyber units do not lose institutional knowledge as people’s tours come to an end after two or three years in a position, the vice admiral said.
“So we are doing some things a little bit differently in terms of our normal detailing and assignment model where we have come up with – we call it returning our closed loop detailing – but we’re allowing folks now to stay inside the cyber mission force in order to really maximize the investment we make and allow them to be as exceptional as they can be,” she said.