Air Force opens applications for warrant officer jobs in cyber, IT

by Vern Evans

This story was updated April 25 at 4:18 p.m. to include a statement from Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall.

The Air Force on Thursday opened applications to join its first active duty warrant officer corps in nearly 45 years as the service seeks to ramp up its technical and operational expertise in cyber and information technology operations.

The new program will train a first cohort of up to 60 airmen as subject matter experts who will advise leaders and staff on technical needs while mentoring others.

They’ll staff two new career fields: warfighter communications and IT systems operations (17W), which will plan for, deploy and secure communication systems; and cyber effects and warfare operations (17Y), which will play a similar role in cyber operations, including across the military and interagency platforms.

News that the service was planning to bring back warrant officers surfaced earlier this year. Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall formally announced plans for the new roles in February as part of a sweeping set of initiatives to boost military readiness and outpace China and other adversaries in future conflicts.

“We need operational units with all the capabilities they need to deter and compete with our pacing challenges and ready to enter a conflict on short or no notice,” Kendall said. “In those units we need the right mix of skills necessary for high end combat and to ensure technological superiority, particularly in information technology and cyber.”

By reintroducing warrant officers into its cyber and IT workforces, the Air Force said in a release, it hopes to address critical operational needs while retaining “highly perishable skills” in specialties for which the service has struggled to compete with the private sector, like defensive cyber operations.

“The reintroduction of the warrant officer career path reflects the Air Force’s commitment to expanding and retaining technical excellence, essential for maintaining a strategic advantage in an era defined by great power competition,” Chief of Staff Gen. David Allvin said. “By investing in talent management programs that preserve proficiency and competence in our perishable and highly technical skills, the Air Force aims to ensure its readiness to stay ahead of rapidly advancing threats and safeguard national security interests effectively.”

Used across the Army, Marine Corps and Navy, warrant officers rank between commissioned officers and the enlisted corps and are highly trained technical experts who specialize in a single field, like intelligence or maintenance.

The Air Force phased out warrant officers in 1959 after the establishment of the senior master sergeant and chief master sergeant ranks (E-8 and E-9). Warrant officer jobs were deemed too inflexible to meet the Air Force’s personnel needs, according to the Warrant Officer Historical Association.

Those senior noncommissioned officers took on the technical duties of warrant officers as well as other work duties, like those necessary for advancement. New warrant officers will be able to focus more deeply on their specialties, an Air Force official said Thursday.

The service had considered relaunching the rank at other points in recent years, including as an option to reverse a pilot shortage, but decided that the move could prove too costly without boosting retention. Air Force officials have said they may add warrant officers into other career fields as well.

Applications for the cyber and IT warrant officer jobs are open to all airmen across the active duty force, Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard who hold the rank of staff sergeant (E-5) or higher.

Those looking to join the communications and IT systems field must have served in a related role, like managing voice and data networks, for at least two years, and have reached a certain level of Defense Department-approved certification in information assurance, the service said.

Candidates for the cyber effects and warfare operations jobs must have “senior-level proficiency in a U.S. Cyber Command work roles” or the National Security Agency equivalent; hold certain technical certifications or have three years’ experience in system-level programming, the Air Force said.

Airmen can find specific application requirements in MyPers and apply through MyFFS.

The window to apply closes May 31, and a selection board will meet in late June to identify top candidates. Those selected will be notified in late July and will attend a new Warrant Officer Training School at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, by early next year. The first cohort will be split into two classes of 30.

Newly minted warrant officers will then be reassigned to operational units across the Air Force. The service doesn’t have a specific goal for the number of people it will send to each career field.

They will be paid in accordance with the Pentagon’s current pay scale, which starts at around $3,700 per month for a W-1 with two years of service or less.

“These are highly in-demand, and also extremely perishable, skills in today’s rapidly evolving landscape,” Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force David Flosi said in a statement.

“As we navigate the complexities of great power competition, our ability to adapt and innovate hinges on the expertise of our airmen,” Flosi said. “Using our airmen’s full potential is not just a strategic advantage; it’s a necessity for our Air Force’s readiness and effectiveness in the face of a challenging strategic environment.”

Courtney Mabeus-Brown is the senior reporter at Air Force Times. She is an award-winning journalist who previously covered the military for Navy Times and The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va., where she first set foot on an aircraft carrier. Her work has also appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Foreign Policy and more.

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