Flying machines. People jumping from flying machines. Pilotless flying machines. Each advance in the defense industry, just before its time, would have been considered a ridiculous idea in bad science fiction, and yet here we are, working as pilots, paratroopers, and drone operators. When government and industry stumble over something they like, overnight, it seems, they hire veritable—and sometimes literal—armies to turn plans into action. That’s as true in 2016 as it was in 2015. Here are the six hottest defense jobs this year that didn’t exist last year (or at least, weren’t very common).
1. War Robot Engineer
War has been around for a while. Robots have been around for a while. It was only a matter of time before someone thought of combining the two. One problem soldiers in the field have long wrestled with is the weight of the gear necessary to do their jobs. Fifty pounds of equipment in a rucksack is common, but that weight can sometimes exceed 100 pounds. The men carrying such gear are made of iron, but over time, the load can wear down even the strongest warrior, to say nothing of the resultant damage to knees and backs that plague the halls of VA hospitals.
The good news is that robots are improving at an astonishing—almost frightening—rate, and robotic pack mules are reaching a point where they can carry the weight, literally, for platoons in the field. They’re not there yet, though, and last month the Marine Corps passed on adopting robot mules for missions, calling them too loud to be effective in the field. War robot engineers haven’t given up on the concept, though, and neither has the Corps, which called the mules a “waypoint along a path of discovery and development.” Clearance-holding computer scientists and mechanical engineers are in demand to help the military reach the next waypoint, and eventually, the destination.
2. Underwater Drone Designer
Unmanned aerial vehicles have proven themselves invaluable in the grim aftermath of the Global War on Terror—a way for politicians to have it both ways: to fight a war without losing service members. The Navy has begun testing underwater drones for the same purpose: security and reconnaissance. Last year it tested the GhostSwimmer, an underwater drone that looks and swims like a big fish. According to the Navy, the 5-foot, 100-pound robot can do its job at any depth between 1 and 300 feet. Companies like Northrup Grumman are actively hiring engineers and designers to create our future armada of submersible robots, and to conceive of the undersea wars they will be fighting.
3. Officer or Enlisted Pilot for a Massive New Drone Fleet
OK, this one isn’t exactly a new job, but the scale to which the Air Force seems ready to take unmanned aircraft is unlike anything ever attempted. Earlier this month, the U.S. Air Force announced plans to double its number of drone pilots, increasing the size of the overall drone program by up to 3,500 airmen. That’s just the start of the changes afoot. Last month, the Air Force also announced that enlisted airmen would be allowed to fly Global Hawk spy drones—a once unthinkable concession by a rigidly officer-pilots-only organization. Meanwhile, Air Combat Command is also considering adding a new wing to improve mission organization and readiness; adding new units at bases here and abroad; and improving the overall drone career field promotion rates. How important is the drone fleet to the U.S. Air Force? Some have begun to question the future of piloted aircraft. The Economist has gone so far as to declare the beleaguered F-35 “the last manned fighter.”
4. 3D Designer and Printing Expert
Only “bitcoin” rivaled “3D-printing” for the most overused catch-all tech phrase of the last 5 years. (If ever someone finds a way to 3D print a bitcoin, a singularity will occur and the universe will implode upon itself.) Today, 3D printers are those things at Best Buy that look neat, but have zero applicability to your life. (“I could 3D print a keychain! Or a cup! Or… I guess I could just buy those things.”) But in government and industry, 3D printing is serious business. Astronauts have one on the International Space Station. (The first actual Star Trek replicator!) The European Space Agency wants to send one to the moon to print out a base before colonists arrive. (Really.) 3D printing also has—as you might have guessed—national security applications. Intelligence and military teams overseas can download geospatial data, send it to a 3D printer in the next room, and have perfect models of terrain for planning. Military-grade drones can be 3D printed anywhere. As you might expect, job opportunities for 3D modelers with security clearances are growing.
5. Special Forces (if you’re a woman)
Last year, all jobs in the U.S. military were made available to women. U.S. Special Operations Command requested a delay in opening its doors, however, and that request was granted with a caveat: The command has until April 1, 2016 to get its house in order and prepare for female applicants. April is fast approaching. The first woman has already completed Ranger school. It’s only a matter of time before the same can be said for SEALs and Special Forces.
6. Battlefield Smartphone App Developer
Your job will be to design a killer app. No, literally. A killer app. Here are a few app ideas the Department of Defense has in mind for battlefield mobile devices: an app for viewing real-time video received from deployed mini-drones. A heads-up-display app to be used on “augmented reality” goggles. (Think Google Glass, for war.) Apps for real-time intelligence sharing. Apps for controlling robots that find or disarm explosives, including the chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear varieties. Apps that can practically turn any infantryman into a sniper. Apps to help battlefield medics get emergency, real-time consults with surgeons around the world. These aren’t even farfetched ideas; each of them are in testing or presently deployed. The smartphone revolution will soon do for the battlefield what it’s done for our lives back home. The kinds of developer jobs being advertised seem to change weekly, to say nothing of yearly, and the most exciting ideas are yet to come. Someone has to write those apps, though, and if the hundreds of iOS and Android developer jobs listed at ClearanceJobs are any indicator, that someone could be you.