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Naval Studies Program Pits NPS Student Expertise Against Navy’s Challenges

Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) student Lt. Jerry Wyrick, pictured among the stacks in NPS’ Dudley Knox Library, is one of several students taking advantage of Naval Studies Program funding to perform detailed analyses on behalf of Navy leaders. Wyrick is developing a training program to provide a focused, cyber operations training in a fraction of the normal training time.

The Office of the Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV) has turned to the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) and its core of operationally-experienced students and expert faculty to directly address some of the most challenging questions facing the sea services today under the umbrella of the Naval Studies program.

According to NPS leadership, the program “is intended to facilitate rapid studies designed to meet the real-time, research requirements of the Navy’s operational codes,” said NPS Dean of Research Dr. Jeff Paduan. “These studies will provide our sponsors with alternative solutions and several possible courses of action.”

Paduan notes that while NPS has been conducting advanced naval research for decades, the prestigious institution can also answer the needs of Navy leaders interested in finding detailed answers to more immediate, short-term concerns.

“We are working to educate the operational code leaders about what we are capable of here at NPS and working with the codes in the Pentagon to find matches between operational needs and our capabilities,” said Paduan.

The program aims to make NPS students available to Navy leaders as the students apply their NPS education and operational experience to pressing naval challenges. Program organizers hope to accomplish this though the alignment of applied naval studies requirements, student-led research, and the interdisciplinary expertise of NPS faculty.

“What I think is exciting is that this program will allow students and faculty to rotate through operational problems and learn what is important to the Navy. In turn, the program gives us the opportunity to showcase some of our abilities and to highlight the value that we bring,” said Paduan.

NPS Associate Professor retired Army Col. Alejandro “Andy” Hernandez serves as the Naval Studies Program project manager at NPS.

“NPS studies and analysis activities will serve as a focal point, stimulus, and major source of strategic, tactical, and operational thought within the Navy communities,” said Hernandez.

“These studies serve as a means for naval resource sponsors and budget submission offices to have analysis and decision-support studies conducted using the applied, soft and hard sciences. Studies completed at NPS will help to solve diverse and complex resource allocation and strategic issues facing the Navy today, and those that analysts have envisioned for the future,” Hernandez continued.  

Program organizers are now laying the groundwork necessary to facilitate interaction between naval codes and NPS students.

“Next year we hope to incorporate some sort of requirements fair – a workshop where sponsors from the various operational codes can present their problems and meet with students interested in working on specific problems,” said Paduan.

But while the Naval Studies Program is still in its infancy, several, program-sponsored studies are already underway at NPS. In fact, a combined total of 76 Marine Corps and Navy studies will be in full swing by December.

NPS student, Lt. Jerry Wyrick, is conducting a study that is indicative of the type of research that the Naval Studies Program was developed to address.

While working in the naval intelligence field, he and his colleagues were forced to make some difficult choices. The Information Dominance Officers (IDO) that were coming to his office required training, but under current manning and fiscal constraints, attending a typical 18-month cyber information dominance program was not an option.

Recognizing the need for a fiscally-sound, short-term training solution, Wyrick is using Naval Studies Program funds to develop a course that will answer the cyber community’s basic training needs.

“There are a lot of joint and extended computer science programs out there, but all of them are a minimum of 18 months long. We do not have the manning, resources or time to put everyone through a traditional cyber studies program,” said Wyrick. “Currently, many of our information dominance officers are reporting for duty without any formal cyber training at all.”

Wyrick’s proposed solution is to develop a 4-6 week training program. He acknowledges that it is not a perfect solution, but his training program will attempt to balance cyber training needs against the push to put cyberwarriors to work in the very near term.

“Upon graduation, course participants will be able to do entry level programming. If you understand the logic of programming and what your system is capable of, you will be able to gain the skillsets necessary to understand the capabilities that exist,” said Wyrick.

Wyrick is working with Senior Lecturer John “JD” Fulp from the NPS Department of Computer Science on the project.

“I don't think anyone realistically thinks we can replace an 18-month program with a 4-6 week course. [But] some education will always trump none,” said Fulp. “You may prefer that all of your riflemen attend advanced sniper school. However, that is not economically, nor operationally, feasible. Nonetheless, there are a lot of very important and effective ‘basic marksmanship’ skills you can impart to every rifleman, and such training can be delivered in less time.

“Cyber is ultimately about attacking, defending and exploiting what humans have automated,” Fulp continued. “Cyber soldiers need to be comfortable ‘thinking close to the machine,’ understanding how an automated machine thinks at the protocol level, and then able to attack the adversaries' systems, while protecting our own systems,” continued Fulp.

Wyrick and Fulp’s work represents just one example of work funded through the Naval Studies Program funded work, but it is indicative of what Paudan and Hernandez believe can be accomplished by matching the needs of senior Navy leaders to those of students and faculty that share both the expertise and the operational experience necessary to find navy solutions for naval problems.

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