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Homepage / Fast jet pilot to cyberspace operations

Fast jet pilot to cyberspace operations


We recently caught up with Cyberspace Operations MSc graduate Pete Cooper to find out about his views on the course and what he’s been up to since graduating.

What attracted you to studying at Cranfield?

The Cyberspace Operations MSc at Cranfield is the only course of its type in the country and deals with many of the challenges the UK and other nations are currently facing in the digital information domain.

Before I started flying, I had always had a passion for technology and my previous experience as a fast jet pilot flying Tornado aircraft in the RAF gave me a good insight into getting different domains and nations to work together on challenging operations. I then took up a post as one of the first cyber operations officers in the MoD and used my previous experience to help drive and mature how the UK approached the challenges and opportunities of the cyber domain.

The great thing about the MSc course is that when you are working hard at the forefront of a new challenge, it can be hard to get into the headspace to really think through the problems and potential solutions. The course was unique in that I could apply insight from the day job into it and vice versa; it also allowed me to really deep-dive on the more strategic challenges and have a real impact in the real world, sometimes hard to do from pure academia.

My passion for flying meant that I never went to university but in the military you never stop learning or being challenged. I did wonder whether my lack of pure academic background might make doing a master’s level course difficult for me but the course directors were great at pointing out the value of my practical experience with the academic study and put me at ease.

How did you complete the course?

I completed the programme part-time over three years. The course is delivered via blended learning, with a mixture of residential and online teaching, and assessment is through coursework, group practicals, presentations and an individual dissertation.

What were the other students on your course like?

All of the students on the programme were UK military or other government personnel but we also shared modules with students from other programmes, so there was a good degree of diversity and viewpoints. All of us had a decent amount of practical experience in digital and cyber operations within a defence, industry or security context. Having diversity like this is essential as good cyber security demands understanding challenges from multiple viewpoints; the perspective of the attacker is as essential as the perspective of the defender, the perspective of a senior executive is as essential as the network analyst, and understanding how they fit into a bigger system is what master’s level study gives you.

And your teachers?

As quite a niche area, finding teaching staff for the programme must have been a challenge but the course organisers reach out well across industry and government, and the learning environment at Shrivenham was both relaxed and focused. An interesting spin on my learning experience was that I also taught on the course as a guest lecturer (and have also been back since finishing the course!), sharing some of my real-world experience in the classroom.

Do you have any advice for people currently in the armed forces and thinking about pursuing academic studies?

When you serve in the armed forces there might be a temptation to plan things around certain tours or put things off until later in life, from my experience there is never a perfect time. Yes, the amount of work you need to fit in around work and family life is challenging but my advice to people thinking of enrolling on a course is just to go for it.

Coming from a military career and being a Cranfield student at the Defence Academy is a great opportunity to study in a place that understands the background you’re coming from.

What have you been up to since leaving Cranfield?

I left the military as I finished my course and since then have been working as an independent cyber security advisor with a range of organisations. This has seen me engage with organisations ranging from the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation to government departments internationally, start-ups and Middle East clients. I was also honoured that the Atlantic Council made me a non-resident Senior Fellow within their Cyber Statecraft Initiative. That role involves various projects, the most recent being authoring a report titled Finding Lift, Minimizing Drag, which took a global view of the cyber security challenges facing the aviation industry. As an 80-page report it was a challenge to research, plan, structure and write but the organisational skills I learnt at Cranfield were critical in being able to put it together.

Apart from all of that I also started up and led the UK’s first cyber security and policy competition (Cyber 9/12 UK) in conjunction with the Atlantic Council and some great sponsors such as Nominet, BT, KPMG and Lloyds. It can be easy to see the need for technical cyber security skills, but we need cyber policy and strategy skills as well, and this is currently an area which is under considered, with no pipeline for those with such skills. I saw the competition as a way to spark national discussion about such skills and we took over BT Tower for two days in February and had student teams from all over the country, the MoD and law enforcement. The teams took on the role of advisors to the National Security Council during an escalating cyber-attack against the UK and all did really well. We are currently building the plans for next year and with all the interest we may have to go much, much bigger!

Feature image credit: MoD/Crown copyright 2015

James Hill

Written By: Cranfield University

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