Military Needs to ‘Get Cool’ to Attract Cyber Experts

The Pentagon may set up a "Digital ROTC" to attract cyber experts and also try harder to appear "cool" to a new generation of potential recruits. Photo: U.S. Army.The Pentagon may set up a "Digital ROTC" to attract cyber experts and also try harder to appear "cool" to a new generation of potential recruits. Photo: U.S. Army.

The military should consider setting up a “Digital ROTC” to attract cyber experts and also try harder to appear “cool” to a new generation of potential recruits, a defense panel said.

“You can’t just say come because we’re cool — you have to be cool” by offering enticing careers in cyber and technology, said astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Do that, “and you’ll get them, for sure,” Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York City, told the Defense Innovation Board.

Tyson spoke at the Pentagon at the board’s first public session earlier this week. The board was set up last March by Defense Secretary Ashton Carter to bring Silicon Valley expertise and new ways of addressing complex problems to the military.

Chaired by Alphabet Inc. Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, the board heard a number of preliminary recommendations, including one for a “Digital ROTC,” or Reserve Officer Training Corps.

Board member Marne Levine, chief operating officer of Instagram, said the Defense Department should consider offering tuition payments for students who commit to joining a “Digital ROTC” to pursue high-tech positions in the military. Students in those programs would focus on cyber operations and cyber defense.

The Digital ROTC would be one way for the Defense Department to compete with the private sector for cyber talent, Levine said. “We are blessed with an extraordinary pool of talent, but even we cannot meet all of the demands of technical expertise,” she said.

In July, Carter described the Defense Innovation Board as a tool to keep the Defense Department “imbued with a culture of innovation in people, organizations, operations, and technology, to support people who innovate — those creative figures in our department who are willing to try new things, fail fast, and iterate, and also to ensure that we’re always doing everything we can to stay ahead of potential adversaries.”

In addition to Schmidt, Levine and Tyson, board members include LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman; retired Navy Adm. William McRaven, University of Texas Chancellor and former commander of Special Operations Command; Aspen Institute President and Chief Executive Walter Isaacson; Amazon founder and Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos; and Code for America’s Founder and Executive Director Jennifer Pahlka.

Also on the board are Google Capital’s Vice President for Access Services Milo Medin; United Technologies Senior Vice President for Science and Technology J. Michael McQuade; Wharton School of Business Professor Dr. Adam Grant; California Institute of Technology Dynamical Systems Professor and Bioengineer Richard Murray; Harvard’s Robert Walmsley University Professor Cass Sunstein; computer theorist and co-founder of Applied Minds Danny Hillis; and Broad Institute President and Founding Director Eric Lander.

About the Author

Richard Sisk
Richard Sisk is a reporter for Military.com. He can be reached at richard.sisk@military.com.