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Thirty-six mids from the Class of 2016 will major in cyber operations this fall — the first time the Naval Academy is offering the option.
Cyber is becoming critical to the mission, so much so that Academic Dean Andrew Phillips puts it on par with the Navy’s four other fighting domains: land, sea, air and space.
“We wanted to give the opportunity for a small group of individuals to choose this as a specialty area, even if they choose not to pursue it in the fleet,” Phillips said.
Also new this fall: All second class midshipmen, regardless of major, will be required to take two cyber courses, in addition to the two courses already required for plebe year.
“Every officer in the fleet is going to be challenged at some point in their career where they have to say to themselves, ‘What do I know about cyber defense?’” Phillips said. “They won’t turn strictly to the person in the Information Dominance Corps — they’ll be able to fall back on their in-depth knowledge.”
Midshipman 3rd Class Molly McNamara, one of the first mids to declare a cyber major, signed up without knowing what to expect.
“Because this is a new major, I’m really interested to see what we’ll do,” she said.
The major will be two-thirds technical skills, such as defending against cyberattacks, and one-third nontechnical knowledge, such as the ethics, law and policy of cyberwarfare, Phillips said. There will be 15 courses required for the major.
McNamara declared the major after completion of the two core cyber courses in her plebe year.
“I immediately fell in love with [the subject] and found myself always doing my cyber homework first,” she said.
The core courses, which have been requisites for two years, ensure all future officers have at least a passing knowledge of cyberwarfare.
New cyber building
Practicing cyber ops will also require a more secure building in which to study. In late 2012, the academy announced plans for a new cyber building on campus that will have increased security and radio frequency protection for its perimeter walls.
Having that kind of facility on campus will not only expand what mids can talk about in the classroom, but will also allow for more speakers to give lectures, said Capt. Paul Tortora, deputy director for the academy’s Center for Cyber Security Studies.
The academy’s new cyberbuilding is scheduled to be complete in 2018, Phillips said.
Cyber is an emerging career field in the fleet. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert told Congress earlier this year that the service is looking to boost its cyber force by about 1,000 by fiscal 2016.
One option for graduating mids is to go into the surface warfare Information Dominance Corps, where a newly commissioned ensign will spend two years at a surface ship, then join the IDC, Tortora said. There are typically between one and five openings in each surface warfare community every year.
Another option is to join the fleet as a restricted line officer. In the Class of 2013, fewer than 10 students took this route to an information specialty.
However, Phillips stressed that even those not in the cyber community will make good use of the skills taught in the major. He compared it to those who major in a foreign language — even if the midshipman doesn’t become a foreign affairs officer, he said, the language will still be of use in the field.
McNamara is hoping to service-select submarines, then move into the information warfare or information dominance community. She said she selected cyber because she thought it would play an important role in the future of the Navy.
“It’s our duty to try and pick something [for a major] that we’ll be good at and be able to help the citizens of the country who are essentially paying for us to go to school,” she said.