WASHINGTON ― As the military struggles to recruit more skilled cyber employees, the Army has been experimenting with a novel solution: growing battlefield coders from the untapped talent within its ranks.

Soldiers with the Army Software Factory, based at Austin Community College in Texas, showcased at the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual meeting several applications they developed. But the real point, they said, is to develop software making professionals.

“Where should the Army be investing talent when it comes to the choice between truck driver or software developer or platform engineer. You’ve got such amazing talent in the Army that’s mislabeled, that’s underutilized,” the program’s co-director, Lt. Col. Vito Errico, said Monday at the conference.

In August, the Department of Defense Inspector General found that the department lacks a clear picture of its cyber workforce needs. The Army was the only component with an automated quality assurance process to track its cyber workforce.

The idea behind the Army Software Factory is to generate teams to prototype, develop and morph applications for operational networks on the battlefield. On display Monday were applications to better connect soldiers to job openings within the Army, manage preventative maintenance and organize an Army squad’s tasks and scheduling.

New cohorts of 25 soldiers will cycle in every six months (the first started in January) and after another five months, teach successive cohorts. In the first phase, they’re paired with Silicon Valley experts to learn how to act as a product team, prototype solutions and ― using feedback from fellow soldiers ― build for production.

“There are a variety of [military occupational specialties], a variety of ranks. We don’t really care what rank you are and where you went to grad school,” Errico said. “The idea is to put rank aside and promote ideas.”

For now, the program is a pilot under the auspices of Army Futures Command, and it remains to be seen exactly how it will influence future talent management policy and whether it will be scaled up.

“A lot of people recognize the Army doesn’t want to make this type of investment and lose these kinds of soldiers, and so the thought is how do we best do that long-term,” Errico said.

Joe Gould is the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He served previously as Congress reporter.

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