Cover: Training Cyber Warriors

Training Cyber Warriors

What Can Be Learned from Defense Language Training?

Published Mar 16, 2015

by Jennifer J. Li, Lindsay Daugherty


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Research Questions

  1. What is the current state of the U.S. cyber defense workforce and training?
  2. What aspects of defense language training are viewed as successful, and which areas remain challenging?
  3. What key issues should be considered in planning training to expand the U.S. cyber defense workforce?
  4. What preliminary lessons can be drawn from U.S. defense language training?

As the importance of cyber operations in national security grows, the U.S. military's ability to ensure a robust cyber workforce becomes increasingly important in protecting the nation. A particular concern has been the growing need for cyber warriors: highly trained and specialized individuals who engage in offensive and defensive operations. The authors seek to help those planning future training for cyber warriors by highlighting what can be learned from another specialty: defense language. While there is no perfect analogy between cyber personnel and another segment of the national security workforce, a number of similarities exist between the need for language skills and cyber warrior expertise, including the need for a highly specialized skill that requires extensive training, the critical role of the skill in mission effectiveness, a need to quickly build capacity, and a potentially limited pipeline of qualified candidates. In this exploratory study, the authors examine what the military services and national security agencies have done to train linguists — personnel with skills in critical languages other than English — and the kinds of language training provided to build and maintain this segment of the workforce. They draw from published documents, research literature, and interviews of experts in both language and cyber. Among key findings, the authors find that shared definitions and metrics are an important first step, training must be closely aligned with mission needs, efforts should focus on building a strong pipeline of candidates, and training must be aligned with overall workforce management efforts.

Key Findings

Language Training Has Had Some Successes

  • The field has shared definitions and metrics around which training and workforce management are structured.
  • Training has been tailored to a variety of needs and levels.
  • Screening tools have been created to identify candidates who are more likely to succeed.
  • The range of training options generally meets the diverse needs of many stakeholders.

Language Training Also Continues to Face Challenges

  • The pipeline of skilled personnel is limited.
  • Training to high levels of proficiency is time consuming.
  • Institutions rarely share resources.
  • Most university-based language training is regarded as weak or lacking practical orientation.
  • Concerns remain about cost and return on investment.

The Authors Identified Preliminary Lessons from Language Training for Cyber Training

  • Shared definitions, training standards, and metrics are an important first step in ensuring efficient training and workforce management.
  • Close alignment with mission needs is important to effective training.
  • Training may benefit from a variety of training providers and delivery methods to enable responsiveness to diverse mission needs and diverse groups of trainees.
  • Training individuals from a zero skill level is costly and often inefficient, so building a strong pipeline of candidates may be beneficial.
  • Cyber training may benefit from the development of validated screening tools or processes that can be used across the field.
  • Alignment between workforce management priorities and training plans is important to ensure a return on the investment.

This research was conducted within the Forces and Resources Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

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