Skip links

US Air Force’s new cyber, IT skill recruitment plan: Bring back warrant officer ranks

Skilled IT professionals considering a career change have a new option, as the US Air Force is reintroducing warrant officer ranks exclusively “within the cyber and information technology professions.” 

The new tech track was announced by Air Force Chief of Staff General David Allvin along with other plans [PDF] to better prepare the USAF, and the Space Force, to fend off advanced threats emerging from China and Russia. 

“Both China and Russia are actively developing and fielding more advanced capabilities designed to defeat U.S. power projection,” USAF Secretary Frank Kendall said of the move. “The need for modernization against capable, well-resourced strategic adversaries never stops.”

For those unfamiliar with the role of warrant officers in the US military, they rank above enlisted members, but below fully commissioned officers, and they serve a technical expertise role in the Army, Marine Corps, Navy and Coast Guard. Warrant officers rarely hold command positions, though some lead small detachments and teams of other specialists. 

The US Air Force inherited warrant officers from the US Army when the branches split in 1947, the last of whom retired in 1992. Though still legally allowed to appoint warrant officers, the rank has gone unused since. This week’s move reintroduces the rank in a limited capacity for the first time in more than 30 years in a bid to draw tech talent that’ll be paid better than an enlisted airmen without the added burden of broad command responsibility. 

“We know there are people who want to serve. They just want to code for their country. They would like to be network attack people and do that business,” Allvin said during a presentation Monday at the USAF Association’s annual warfare symposium. “Developing that warrant officer track for this narrow career field, we anticipate will drive that talent in and help us to keep that talent.” 

Along with reintroducing warrant officer ranks for IT and cyber professionals, the USAF also announced the expansion of technical career tracks for commissioned officers and the creation of new technical tracks for enlisted airmen as well. There’s no plan to introduce warrant officer ranks in the Space Force, we’re told.

Other tech-related changes announced at the warfare symposium include the elevation of the Air Force’s Cyber/information warfare group (currently the 16th Air Force) to a standalone service component command and the creation of an Information Dominance Systems Center within the Air Force Materiel Command. 

It’s not immediately clear when the USAF plans to implement these plans, or what specific IT and cyber roles the USAF sees for officers and enlisted airmen, so don’t head to the recruiting office quite yet. “Additional information and specifics will be available once implementation plans are developed,” a USAF representative told us. Those plans are in development now, an Air Force representative confirmed to The Register.

 If you’re not sure what the Air Force means by the broad “cyber” category, we’re told it includes security as well as “activities related to information technology, computer networks, offensive cyber operations, and overall operations in the digital domain.” 

Things should be coming together somewhat soon, if the Air Force Secretary’s take on the matter reflects the ground reality. 

“We are moving forward with a sense of urgency to ensure we are ready to deter, and if necessary, win,” said Kendall. “We are out of time.” ®