Airman Tyler Shipley, a cyber systems operations specialist with the 121st Air Refueling Wing, works on a computer at Rickenbacker Air National Guard Base in Columbus, Ohio, on April 7, 2024.

Airman Tyler Shipley, a cyber systems operations specialist with the 121st Air Refueling Wing, works on a computer at Rickenbacker Air National Guard Base in Columbus, Ohio, on April 7, 2024. (Ivy Thomas/U.S. Air National Guard)

The Air Force is reinstating its long-dormant warrant officer corps and looking for airmen to specialize in information technology and cyberspace as the U.S. confronts China’s rising military might.

The service announced Thursday that it is accepting applications through May 31 for airmen interested in becoming warrant officers in the IT and cyber career fields.

Up to 60 candidates will be selected this summer, the Air Force said in a news release Thursday.

“These warrant officers will be responsible for orchestrating, managing, and integrating cyberspace technical capabilities, delivering critical technical recommendations across various military and inter-agency platforms,” the release states.

They will integrate cyberspace capabilities into the Air Force’s combat functions, according to the release.

Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall announced plans to reintroduce warrant officers to the service in February during the Air and Space Forces Association’s 2024 Warfare Symposium in Colorado.

The symposium’s theme, “Preparing for Great Power Conflict,” reflected the Pentagon’s shift in strategy toward a possible military confrontation with China as the size and ambitions of its military continue to grow.

“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 at the symposium.

“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,” he said.

The Air Force dissolved its warrant officer corps in 1958 after it created the ranks of senior master sergeant and chief master sergeant, the news release states. They took on the specific technical duties of warrant officers but were never fully relieved of other duty requirements.

The reintroduction of warrant officers represents “a strategic shift towards bolstering technical proficiency and operational effectiveness,” according to the release.

Applications are open to active duty, Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve service members holding the rank of at least staff sergeant and having one year of active federal service.

Applicants must meet specific experience and proficiency requirements for each specialty.

Two specialty codes were created for the IT and cyber roles.

The first, 17W – Warfighter Communications & IT Systems Operations, designates expertise in “planning, deployment, employment, and securing of enterprise and warfighter communication systems,” the news release states.

The second is 17Y – Cyber Effects & Warfare Operations and denotes airmen who are subject matter experts on “offensive and defensive cyber operations assets and personnel,” the news release states.

A selection board will identify top candidates in late June, and selected airmen will be notified in late July. Training is slated to begin late this year or early 2025 at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala.

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

“As we navigate the complexities of Great Power Competition, our ability to adapt and innovate hinges on the expertise of our Airmen,” he said.

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Wyatt Olson is based in the Honolulu bureau, where he has reported on military and security issues in the Indo-Pacific since 2014. He was Stars and Stripes’ roving Pacific reporter from 2011-2013 while based in Tokyo. He was a freelance writer and journalism teacher in China from 2006-2009.

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