Bring High-Velocity Learning to Information Warfare

Lieutenant Commander C. Randolph Whipps, U.S. Navy

To become expert information warriors, IWC leaders also must demonstrate an advanced understanding of the cyber domain. Our officers should be required to pass the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) Network+ and Security+ exams by the same deadline set for them to earn their information warfare community pin, and those certifications should be formal discriminators for new accessions. The liberal arts are important, but information warfare demands significant technical knowledge.

N2s must have a detailed understanding of what their customer is going to do with the intelligence provided and what decision(s) it will inform. This understanding will lead to more focused collection and analysis, conserving resources and staff bandwidth, and improving timeliness. Understanding the commander’s decision cycle allows the intelligence team to provide not only what the commander thinks he wants, but also value-added products that he does not yet know he needs. Steve Jobs noted that “[customers] won't ask for things that they think are impossible. It sounds logical to ask customers what they want and then give it to them. But they rarely wind up getting what they really want that way.”

Navy IWC personnel have accumulated a wealth of irregular warfare experience in the past 15 years. Although deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan may have come at the expense of more traditional tours on numbered fleet staffs, the community should not discount irregular warfare experience. Three of the nations named in the CNO’s “Design” (China, Russia, and Iran) use irregular warfare as a primary line of operation to advance their interests in the maritime domain. Dr. Andrew S. Erickson at the Naval War College has written about China’s use of naval militia forces in conjunction with its conventional navy and coast guard to seize de facto control of international waters in violation of international law. Future U.S. Navy freedom-of-navigation exercises in the East and South China seas likely will be met with misleading narratives and harassment from China. The IWC needs to support Navy public affairs in formulating planned responses and inform staff judge advocates as they propose changes to and interpret international maritime law and rules of engagement. Likewise, the IWC should enable the U.S. Navy’s own irregular warfare efforts against peer competitors.

If strengthening our combat power at sea is the goal of the IWC, high-velocity learning is an important means to achieve it. To begin, the IWC needs a mandatory continuing education program for its officers. For other professionals, such as attorneys and physicians, currency in professional knowledge is maintained by participating in formal, dedicated training events, attending lectures by subject-matter experts, and completing journal-based activities. This concept is not new to those who hold civilian cybersecurity certifications. The Navy should demand its information warfare professionals maintain a similar edge. 

Even when information warfare professionals are deployed around the world, a minimum standard of continuing education is possible through journal-based continuing education. Similar to how physicians earn continuing medical education credits, a member of the IWC could earn credit by reading about and completing a test on the Chinese Navy. Members could receive additional credit for writing a journal article or an intelligence report.

There are several general Navy training requirements that can tighten the connection between the information warfare cadre and the rest of the Navy. First, IWC lieutenant commanders should be required to attend the Maritime Staff Operator Course at the Naval War College. This course prepares officers for duty in the numbered fleet maritime operations centers.  Regardless of an officer’s designator, it is must-have training for the operational level of war. Similarly, all IWC members—active-duty and reserve—should participate in periodic damage control and small arms training. This training will focus our people on the implications of intelligence failure and the harsh realities of combat at sea. Even when information warfare is at its best, naval combat is a lethal business—witness the sinking of the USS Yorktown (CV-5) during the Battle of Midway.

The U.S. Navy’s competitors have been gaining ground over the past decade. The CNO’s “Design” is a blueprint for keeping the Navy’s edge. The IWC is a key part of the “Design” and will remain so only if we become true cyber experts and embrace high velocity learning.


Commander Whipps is a naval intelligence officer and department head in his reserve unit.  He recently completed an active-duty tour as an assistant requirements officer with the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations Warfare Systems, Director of Air Warfare (OPNAV N98). He is a graduate of the Harvard Business School and Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service.



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