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National Cyber Force Introduces Bursaries to Address the ‘Digital Talent Battle’

General Jim Hockenhull, head of Strategic Command, described Britain as being involved in an “ongoing cyber Olympics” against its digital adversaries.

LONDON—The head of the Armed Forces’ Strategic Command, General Jim Hockenhull, has announced 100 new digital bursaries as Britain seeks to recruit some of the best young brains in the country to work on the National Cyber Force (NCF).

Announcing the pilot project at the DSEI defence exhibition in London on Tuesday, Gen. Hockenhull said the Ministry of Defence suffered six million cyber attacks last year and he said the armed forces needed to win the “battle for digital talent.”

Gen. Hockenhull said: “Digital and technical skills are at the core of everything we do. Attracting the right talent into defence is critical for our operational capability.”

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He said: “There are incredible people across the UK who can make an extraordinary contribution to UK national security. This exciting digital bursary programme is a crucial step in identifying and fostering this talent.”

Last month it was reported the British Army was struggling to recruit cyber security experts.

Richard Holroyd, managing director of defence and security at Capita, which handles recruitment for the armed forces, told the Telegraph: “You’re saying to people with an interest in it, come and be a cyber specialist in the Armed Forces, but Raytheon is saying come and be a cyber specialist, BT are saying come and be a cyber specialist. So in those spaces, you’re competing. In a labour market with full employment it’s a tough, tough play.”

The Strategic Command will provide successful applicants for the new bursaries programme with “financial support, a high-performance laptop, and a broad range of mentoring and development opportunities.”

Creating ‘Talent Pipeline’

The 100 who are chosen in the first cohort—who will be between 16 and 18—will attend one of four educational institutions in Lancashire, in order to develop a “talent pipeline” for the NCF, which is about to move into new headquarters in Samlesbury, near Preston.

The NCF carries out daily cyber operations to, “protect against threats to the UK, further the UK’s foreign policy, support military operations, and prevent serious crime.”

General Jim Hockenhull announces the digital bursaries at the DSEI defence exhibition at ExCel in Custom House, London, on Sep. 12, 2023. (Chris Summers/The Epoch Times)
General Jim Hockenhull announces the digital bursaries at the DSEI defence exhibition at ExCel in Custom House, London, on Sep. 12, 2023. (Chris Summers/The Epoch Times)

Britain is the third most popular target for cyber attacks, behind only the United States and Ukraine.

While the source of those attacks is often impossible to trace, Russia, China and Iran are believed to be responsible for the majority.

Britain Engaged in ‘Cyber Olympics’ With Adversaries

Gen. Hockenhull described it as an “ongoing cyber Olympics” and said: “I want to attract a new type of military workforce. Many of these people will only work for the military or the civil service for a number of years before going into the private sector, but I hope they will serve in the army reserve.”

He also suggested cyber specialists might be paid according to their skills, rather than their armed forces ranks.

Welcoming the new digital bursaries, the leader of Lancashire County Council, Phillippa Williamson, said: “We know there are many talented young people in the county and these bursaries will give 100 of them a huge helping hand to develop a career in defence.”

“This comes at a really exciting time for us, as we prepare to welcome the National Cyber Force to Samlesbury and the Lancashire skills and employment hub works to help develop more opportunities for people to develop their digital and technical skills,” she added.

Capita, which has a ten-year contract to recruit for the army, was criticised by Conservative MP Mark Francois last week. He said their performance had been

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