Archive for the 'Innovation' Category
Please join us at 5pm (Eastern) on 11 Oct 15 for Midrats Episode 301: Confessions of a Major Program Manager, w/ CAPT Mark Vandroff, USN:
One man’s chore is another man’s hobby. Another man’s dread, is the other’s fantasy. Such, in a fashion, is Program Management in the Navy.
To be a good one, step one is to be self-aware. From his latest article in USNI’s Proceedings, Confessions of a Major Program Manager, Captain Mark Vandroff, USN just lays it out; “Face it: Everyone hates MPMs. For the budget-conscious officials in the Pentagon, our products are never cheap enough. For technologists both inside and outside the Department of Defense who want military progress to be state of the art, our products are never fielded fast enough. For the fleet users and their advocates, products could always be more capable, usable, or maintainable. Industry gets upset when we treat the taxpayers’ money like it is worth saving rather than help Wall Street with its next earnings report. Our uniformed brothers and sisters, support scientists, contractors, and comptrollers all loathe us—and if
you aren’t in one of those groups, you probably quit reading already.”
Coming back to Midrats, we will have the author on for the full hour to discuss the dark art of the program manager, what it takes to be one, and why at the end of the day someone would – really – come to love it all.
Let the defense innovators among us take a moment for introspection and self-awareness. We are charged with institutionalizing and structuring ideas like “innovation” and “disruption” which are themselves often ad hoc and unpredictable; we gather in working groups, task forces, and cells to legitimize new ideas. So as we foster creativity and rapid implementation, let us ask: How long can the innovators really keep innovating before they fall into a rut?
Who among us really know when to walk away?
What are the ways that we find and develop the next generation of disruptive thinkers, and then step out of their way?
How can we prevent the game-changers from being assimilated into more traditional hierarchies and ways of thinking?
Do these tendencies towards complacency extrapolate to entire organizations, agencies, and corporate cultures?
Do innovative organizations have a shelf life?
If so, does that mean they should also have an expiration date?
Can we work within a structure and create something meaningful, with our full commitment and intention, while knowing from the very beginning that it cannot and should not last forever, at least if we really want to continue to innovate?
As a parent, I worry about the world my kids are growing up in. While this is common to every generation, something about the nonstop, 24-hours-a-day, multi-dimensional, fast-paced, saved-forever-on-the-internet environment today is unnerving. I’m not talking about Elvis shaking his hips, Madonna singing about virgins (or not), or bra burning. I am talking about the nonstop barrage of the online world, the increased dependence on electronics and social media, identity theft, privacy, and the fact that any mistakes my kids make along the way will be saved…forever.
Well, to combat these fears (no pun intended), over the winter, my husband and I started talking about all of the things we want our kids to learn that can’t be taught at school. How to navigate off of a map and terrain, for example. How public transportation works and how to use it wisely. How to be found if you’re lost or concealed if you don’t want to be found. How to survive the Zombie apocalypse. How to function without—heaven forbid—American Girl dolls or a water source. How to push yourself physically and how to push through your fears. How to lead and work well with others. How to have the confidence to stare down a problem and tackle it. While some of these items can be taught in the ins and outs of a daily suburban life, others are not easily woven into the schedule of school, soccer, work, dog walking, piano lessons, and Scouts. And given the challenges facing our country today, these lessons are certainly needed. So how to teach them?
We realized that we learned much of this at USNA, as junior Marines, and throughout our USMC careers. So after some thought, we decided to give our oldest child a Marine Corps Leadership 101 week. TBS-for-kids, perhaps, minus the warfighting aspect and heavy on the critical thinking
To make it memorable, we surveyed neighbors and friends and found a pool of kids and their parents happy to participate. Camp Haynie was born. Armed with eight girls and boys, some local contacts, maps, a rough plan, flexibility, and a strong sense of humor, we tried to teach the kids as much as we could in one week.
Day One was Urban Survival Day: among many events, we did Basic First Aid, map reading (something lost on kids who depend entirely on digital maps and GPS), held a ridiculously intense team competition, and oversaw a city-wide hunt using public transportation and their brains alone. No electronics. With an elaborate point system, brain power, and some fitness thrown in, Day One was a hit.
Days Two and Four were Woodland Survival I and II. We taught Orienteering, fed them MREs (huge hit), learned about water, fire, and shelter needs, threw in some leadership challenges, and they learned to camouflage. We finished with a scenario requiring them to apply First Aid principles, cobble together a recovery plan, and trek some distance through the woods as a group. Again, no electronics. The kids ate the scenario up—they loved it.
Day Three was a Ropes/Challenge Course. Think of a version of the Fire Team Reaction Course for 10-year-olds, complete with detailed scenarios, physical challenges, and the need for personalities to come out and work together. This was phenomenal, and I want to go back. This was also the day that the group fully gelled together, which Course administrators pointed out.
Day Five was a bonus day (keeping it secret for future camps).
So what did we learn? We learned that getting kids outside and letting them get dirty was—no surprise—a huge hit. We learned that they love MREs, no shock there either. But after watching families pour dollars and dollars into crazy camps that teach Minecraft, gymnastics, horseback riding, underwater basket-weaving, and so many odd subjects that I’ve lost count, we were unprepared for the kids’ reactions to our camp: they were crazy about it. They loved it. Each one of them told us that it was the best part of his or her summer, many sent thank-you notes after the fact, and we still get hugs and comments today from them all. The feedback was and still is overwhelming.
It took us time to figure out exactly what the kids liked most, besides the getting-dirty, MRE-eating nature of it all, but it turned out that the biggest hits were the challenges that we gave the group, instructing them to “just work together and figure it out.” The scenarios, the brainpower requirements, the physical obstacles, these were all favorites: they relished the chance to face a complex, multi-dimensional problem, wrap their brains around it, and work together to find an answer. While Boy Scouts (and to a lesser extent, Girl Scouts) do this in varied ways, this was 1) in a co-ed environment, and 2) incorporated aspects of survival not readily employed by the Scouts, in a very hands-on way. They had free rein to use their brains and make mistakes in challenging and foreign environments, something less available to many kids today. It was simple, basic, and involved high amounts of trust and confidence-building. They learned to trust themselves, trust each other, and—above all—to think critically in unfamiliar situations.
Best of all: we started the week with four boys and four girls, all at an age where boys and girls are very aware of social differences and the pressures from friends and society to act in certain ways. These eight were no different; they quickly tried to separate themselves into two separate groups. But by Tuesday afternoon, we had one large group of eight kids who worked together, laughed together, and were learning new things about each other. They each saw that similarities, intelligence, and strength are found in surprising places, a lesson that will pay off as they mature. Whether conscious of this lesson or not, it is a hopeful development.
Given the complexity of the challenges our country and our military will face in the future and the questions that exist about the next generation’s ability to handle it all, we need kids who learn to think critically and who are able to work together on a deeper level. This was just one week, but it was a step nonetheless, and the response gave us both hope for the future. Now, we have to decide where to take it next.
The laws and norms surrounding the movement of economic goods across geopolitical boundaries are well-defined. By contrast, the ability to create and manipulate information has become ubiquitous and robust legal frameworks governing how state actors, individuals, and institutions interact with the information ecosystem do not yet exist. This creates risk and opportunity for state and non-state actors looking to devise new information manipulation tactics and make claims on this evolving space. Information control has always been a key component of strategy; however the current speed of evolution provides an advantage to potential disruptors, who do not have sunk costs in existing expensive processes and techniques. Whereas during the medieval period, a limited number of literate clergy had the ability to control the information space (which was explicitly linked to the capacity to wage war), today both state and non-state actors, no matter how marginal, have the ability to contribute to the information battlespace. Even a single, well-placed YouTube video, such as the beheading videos released by ISIL can influence military response.
Information is a non-rivalrous commodity, which should fundamentally change military investment profiles. In FY10, the United States spent $160B for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, compared to CIA estimates of Al Qaeda’s 2010 operating budget of $30M. Despite 5,000 times more investment by the US, Al Qaeda continued to expand its influence throughout the region with involvement in Yemen, Russia, Syria, and by facilitating the eventual destabilization of Iraq. In the information age, spending and traditional military definitions of success no longer correlate with stable end states. It is more difficult to characterize 21st century conflicts in terms of definitive winners and losers than traditional industrial conflicts. It follows that post-industrial, digital-age conflicts will be characterized by informational pluralism, and that single source-point information control is no longer viable for military organizations.
The Department of the Navy’s (DON’s) information construct is currently divided along two objectives. One objective is to disseminate propaganda about the DON’s agenda and operations to a small circle of military-industrial and congressional elites who can afford 4-digit subscriptions to defense publications. The approach is not only fundamentally undemocratic, but also flawed in its assumption that “authoritative information” flowing out of the Navy information channels actually holds value in the information economy. The Navy information organization relies on humans to do the searching, processing, and dissemination of information, while most private-sector organizations, rely on advanced algorithms to fulfill these functions. Relying on humans results in slower processing speeds, increased error rates, and the bias that occurs from having associative, rather than random access, memory. Humans are subject to confirmation bias and will continually reinforce existing hypotheses with new information, rather than allowing the data itself to guide conclusions. In a world where decisions are made based on multiple sources, curated by digital systems, human-centric, centralized information systems are decreasingly relevant.
The second objective is to manipulate the information space as it is perceived by our adversaries, via network operations and psychological operations, for example. However, the efficacy of this construct is challenged by adversaries, many of whom recognize that they can achieve strategic objectives at minimal cost by creating a multiplicity of equally viable perceptions within the information space. While the US Navy continues to rely on an outdated approach to information, countries such as Russia and China understand how to apply pressure to their adversaries by insidiously manipulating information through a broad range of channels. This is evident in Russia’s substantial investments not only in internal propaganda machines such as RussiaTV, but more disturbingly Washington D.C. think tanks and London banking. Similarly, China’s ability to map connections and place pressure on individuals through data gathered in the OPM breach clearly indicates how information is valued in the Chinese defense paradigm.
The primary goal of the current battlespace information agenda is to have real-time ‘perfect’ information that is consistent from the tactical to the strategic level—the battlefield equivalent of the Waze app for traffic or Uber for transportation services. These capabilities are being developed using today’s information paradigms and technology, although they are unlikely to be operational for several years. However, with minimal investment, unsophisticated actors have the ability to disrupt this approach by making it impossible to distinguish real from fabricated threats. This is comparable to populating the Uber app with fake cars, eliminating users’ ability to distinguish between real and avatar drivers and therefore efficiently travel between points. The Russians demonstrated this approach in 2014 when they flooded social media channels with false reports of a chemical spill in Centerville, Louisiana. Optimizing the battlefield information ecosystem for real-time, perfect information piped through singular channels creates tremendous vulnerabilities when the potential for information oversaturation by an adversary is high.
Often times, DON assessments of novel approaches to the legal uses of information and weaponization (notably the use of disinformation) devolve into rights-based arguments focused narrowly on injunctive norms and “ethical” applications of information within defined legal realms such as intellectual property and privacy. While important, these conversations amongst military and political leadership often contribute little in terms of practical solutions and tend to overlook evolving challenges within the information space. The DON has been efficient in developing sweeping statements about the “importance of information” that never get adopted locally, while our adversaries continue to experiment with novel approaches in the information space. The military is the catastrophic backstop for the United States, and as adversaries invest aggressively and disruptively to control this evolving space, the DON will undoubtedly have a role to play in informing future frameworks and tactics.
In order to influence the information space, the DON must make investments in global cultural understanding. Cultural proficiency within the information space is not only paramount to generating information that produces the desired effects, but also critical to the DON’s ability to effectively mine the data of our adversaries. Effective use of information requires first-hand knowledge and cannot be outsourced to the intelligence community or communicated through powerpoint briefs. It requires understanding consumption habits, means of ingestion, and technical and semantic characteristics of information in a particular context. Close collaboration and immersion is necessary to understand subtle cultural constructs and the DON must grow this expertise or develop partnerships to provide the depth and breadth of cultural understanding across the DON needed to function in the information age.
Secondly, perhaps the greatest threat the DON faces is having its information ecosystem saturated with disinformation, or false positives. This mandates the use of advanced algorithms to parse the information ecosystem efficiently. Complex models and algorithms are often more art than science and heavily influenced by their creators. This capability must be developed organically, allowed to grow, and continually adapted by experts and integrators. This is a way of thinking that has become a core capability in an information world that resides in a small subset of synthesizers. It is non-transferable, cannot be trained, and cannot be outsourced. The DON must invest in finding and cultivating this unique set of talents. The US Navy must acknowledge its role and invest accordingly or it will find itself increasingly unable to compete on the information battlefield.
Coming from the private sector I was struck by the conspicuous lack of female voices participating in SECNAV’s Taskforce Innovation (TFI). Women currently constitute less than 10% of The Hatch innovation crowdsourcing community and innovation organizations like the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell (CRIC) have been overwhelmingly male. The women involved in TFI have provided a disproportionately large contribution in terms of content, commitment, and ability to catalyze larger networks, highlighting the need to cultivate more women innovators. The value of women innovators has been demonstrated in the private sector, where according to a Kauffman Foundation report women technology entrepreneurs achieve a 35 percent better return on investment than male counterparts.
Both in the private sector and the military women have worked to be recognized for their skillsets alone, often by attempting to remove gender from the equation. The Department of the Navy (DON) diversity agenda has largely focused on eliminating differences in perception and opportunity between the genders, such as opening all operation billets and gender-neutral uniforms. The DON may have moved beyond the active intent to exclude or discriminate, but cultural norms still prevent women from fully contributing to activities that take them off the prescribed path.
Scarce numbers increase visibility and scrutiny, and humans are less likely to try things when there is a potential of being threatened. As Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant pointed out in a Jan 2015 New York Times op-ed, when male executives speak up, they receive 10% higher competence ratings; when female executives do the same, their ratings from their peers are 14% lower. In male dominated fields men and women are held to a different standard when it comes to proving initial competence. Men are assumed competent at the core functions until proven otherwise, whereas women are forced to spend time proving core competence prior to being allowed to push boundaries. One private sector manifestation of this is the fact that women are often excluded from positions on technology boards because they lack STEM backgrounds, however a significant proportion of the male board members of technology companies also lack STEM backgrounds, but are assumed to be competent.
Innovation requires the ability to question norms, synthesize different views, and collaborate to develop unique and powerful solutions. Diversity is the DNA of innovation, but the current DON focus on diversity is simply about bringing women to the table, not providing the environment to ensure they are included in the conversation. Inclusion is about ensuring diverse voices are heard, recognized, and rewarded. Below are three suggestions for more fully incorporating women innovators throughout the DON.
An often cited Hewlett-Packard internal report found men apply for jobs when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women will not apply until they meet 100% of them. The fact that women make up less than 1% of writers at the Naval Institute Blog is likely an artifact of this fact. Women are less likely to present ideas in progress in a male dominated environment. Encouraging women to innovate requires creating safe space to develop ideas and experiment. Additionally, creating a sense of community where women can talk openly and take risks without being judged prematurely is critical. Women specific initiatives, such as discussion groups and women in writing week, can create the sense of community and the critical mass necessary to push women innovators into taking risk.
Research also shows that when women come to the table the ideas are more likely to be more developed comprehensive solutions. Innovation programs need to ensure they are not primed to give more consideration to ideas that are brought to the table first.
Support the First Followers:
Derek Shivers gave a TED talk on how the first followers are critical to starting a movement and transforming a lone nut into a leader. In a hierarchical organization followers are generally those that have less authority and influence than their superiors. They may try and get along to preserve career or simply because it is the path of least resistance. Leadership in the innovation space is being the lone nut, a place women are often uncomfortable in that role due to the reasons discussed in this blog post. Good followers are the key to driving innovation. They empower people, remove obstacles, and catalyze implementation. They support good leaders and are willing to actively oppose bad leadership. Valuing, actively encouraging, and rewarding first followers are critical to the success of any innovation agenda and give those outside of the cultural majority a place to engage, refine ideas, and if desired step into leadership positions.
As an organization the DON spends a significant amount of the manpower effort getting the workforce to a minimum acceptable standard. This was critical in an industrial era military when force structures were optimized for homogeneity and interchangeability. However, research suggests that the most successful individuals capitalize on their innate dominant talents and develop those strengths by adding skills and knowledge. Rethinking who and how people come together to collaborate and solve problems is critical to avoiding group-think, a condition which has created past national security failures. Innovation requires intentionally cultivating views that are outside the cultural norms.
In order to be an innovative organization, the DON needs to embrace the fact that individuals have different strengths and weaknesses and that a model based on interchangeability is not tenable in today’s world. There are biological distinctions between the genders, it is a fact, and not something organizational conversation should shy away from. Scientific breakthroughs occur in teams with more women because of increased creativity and fresh approaches and according to research published in Science increasing the collective social sensitivity by adding women increased the collective intelligence of teams. Creating a culture that values individuals and emphasizes organizational constructs that maximize cognitive diversity will allow the DON to maximize the innovative potential of its workforce irrespective of gender.
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of the Department of the Navy.
As part of Women in Writing Week, we recognize one of the first female role models in the Navy: Rear Admiral Grace Hopper. Here she is on The David Letterman Show, at age 80:
Colonel John Boyd (USAF) developed a decision cycle concept called the OODA (Observe, Orient, Decide and Act) Loop. He applied the concept at the strategic level in military operations, but it can also be applied to our current and future warfighting efforts, what we design, build, budget for, and use in pursuit of our national objectives – today and in the future. If we consider Col. Boyd’s concept in relation to those warfighting efforts, then today we must begrudgingly admit that our adversary’s decision cycle operates more quickly than our own OODA Loop. Technology, particularly use of information technology systems (including the internet), has moved so quickly the past few decades that our enemies can design, steal or borrow new ideas for weapons or equipment, share information and quickly move out well in advance of our ability to counter those ideas. Yet we remain mired in the same processes used to design, build, budget and produce those items our military needs, more or less unchanged, since the 1960s.
Today to provide the warfighter a new weapon, ship, or airplane, we begin inside a bureaucratic process that requires an analysis of the gaps, alternatives, various capability documents, review upon review by a number of well-meaning organizations, etc… That is just to come to an agreement on what must go out to industry for their ideas, proposals and estimates. Items must be competed – sometimes even when it is already known what company can build to the need quickest and at the best price. And then there’s the funding question.
Creating a finished budget literally takes two years or more. Once the decision is made that we need to buy item X at price Y, it has to be put into the Department’s Budget. It takes almost a year for a service to build a budget, allow senior leaders the opportunity to review, debate and determine priority, and ultimately, decide if an item should be funded or not. Then begins the process of defending the service’s priorities starting inside the Pentagon and ending on Capitol Hill a year (or so) later. If approved inside the National Defense Authorization, and Defense Appropriation Acts (it is worth noting that today, a non-decisional Continuing Resolution is the norm), then we can finally spend money on a contract for a new warfighting capability. In summary, if we decide we need to produce a new, non-complex weapon, it takes a minimum of three or four years to actually deliver that weapon to the field.
We have begun to change – small but necessary steps, are being made. There is an Urgent Operational Needs process that allows the warfighter to quickly request a new capability, if the request meets certain policy criteria. A group of senior decision makers meets every two weeks to ensure urgent warfighter needs are being met as quickly as possible. They work together to push through the bureaucracy, even working outside the Department of Defense – with the Department of State and leadership on Capitol Hill. There have been successes. However, at the same time we make these small but important steps towards flexibility, we continue to struggle with new policy constraints or modifications to current requirements in existing systems.
If we are to remain the preeminent military force in the world we must continue to change. We must build a process that results in capability fielded quickly, vice capability fielded much slower – with minimal risk. Rather than have a series of consecutive leadership reviews on proposals (and the capability and/or funding required), each of which takes many months and can only move forward to the next step sequentially after each leader approves, we need to have single meetings of the right leaders to take in information, ask questions and make decisions – in a timely manner. We need the ability to spend money on new efforts today – not two years from now after we’ve built a budget, reviewed and defended it against any one of hundreds of reviewers who might disagree. We need flexibility to change programs as they move forward – when they hit a snag we must be able to quickly modify our plans, or if required – terminate our efforts and re-allocate the monies towards other needs. Naysayers will say a new process with speed in mind will lead to waste. The reality is that without a new process with speed in mind, we will fall further behind our growing number of challengers.
Do not misunderstand this to be a criticism of those that run or are involved in these current processes. Everyday there are tens of thousands of great Americans that work towards building the best and most capable Navy of the future. They toil under policies and laws currently in place and they do outstanding work. But we have to change the way we are doing the Navy’s business if we hope to continue to be the best. We have to tighten our own OODA Loop to decide and act far more quickly so that the enemy can’t get inside it, cannot work around it – or use our own process against us. Bottom line – we must change.
Today is also the start of “Women in Writing” Week at the Blog. Many of the authors that follow, from now until September 2nd, are either first-time writers, new to the blogging world, or writing on issues they are passionate about.
The idea to have this week came after I culled through all of the blog posts here one day, to get a sense of where we were, where we are, and where we’re going. What Mary Ripley began inauspiciously nearly 7 years ago has blossomed into an online forum that continues the proud traditions of the Naval Institute.
Yet as I read post after post, one thing was missing: the voice of female authors. In more than 500 posts, fewer than 10 were written by active duty or reserve female officers, and none were written by enlisted females. According to CDR Salamander recently, perhaps this is because “they do not feel that their point of view…would be ‘politically acceptable,’ and from their perspective, the cost/benefit ratio just [does] not make it worth it.”
If this is so, let us make this place one where all can come and constructively contribute without retribution. And let us stand up for one another when that retribution attempts to rear its ugly head. As the same CDR wrote at USNI Blog’s humble beginning, “Creative friction is good. A questioning mindset is good. Diversity of thought is good….and a little moxie doesn’t hurt.”
The timing of this “Week” is fortuitous, too, as major “firsts” throughout the military have brought the issue of patriotic women serving their country to the forefront. The first enlisted women submariners are beginning their training, and will report to their boats next year. And of course, the first two women graduated from the Army’s prestigious Ranger School last week.
But as we move past these firsts, we must ask ourselves an important question: “When is ‘celebrating’ women not all that good for women?”
In an article published last week at the Washington Post, Gina Glanz remarks that, “Something tagged exclusively for or about women is all too often a revenue generating strategy alongside a way to deflect criticism about the lack of attention to women and an opportunity for the powers-that-be to say, ‘look what we do for women.’ Unfortunately, often, what they ‘do’ is not much.”
Glanz goes on to recommend that when women are asked to be singled out—or “siloed”—for being women, they should just say no.
And that was a strong sentiment as we stumped for articles for this week. Women’s issues are Navy issues; pay, benefits, uniforms, deployment schedules, meeting—and defining—standards, doing more with less – these are issues that we all grapple with. Knee-jerk categorization of some issues as “female” and some as “male” cheapens the contributions of all Sailors and Marines.
What will follow during this week is writing by both women and men on daily life in the Navy, role models and mentors, uniform policy, retention and leadership, command, innovation, and hope for the future. These are not male issues nor are they female issues. They are Navy issues.
Will this be USNI Blog’s only “Women in Writing” Week? Should it be? Perhaps.
Someone once spoke of a dream, where we consider all human beings equally based on the content of their hearts. Today, we must similarly strive to be a service where all who are willing are considered equally on the content of their performance and their character. This space exists for us to write about it, and to come together as both “writers” and “doers.”
CDR Salamander asks, “Do we want writers, or only writing that is within certain defined boundaries?” The legacy of the Naval Institute has been constructive writing and debate on any topic. Let the existence of this week—anathema to some—be a signal that we welcome all voices and we will, as a community, stand up for all those willing to speak. We welcome all women and men to contribute equally—and often!—to the Naval Institute Blog.
We are part of the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell, a group of junior personnel charged to bring rapid prototypes and emerging technology to the fleet. Part of the job is acting as agents for innovation, and as a result, we meet with organizations in the civilian world and government who are pushing boundaries, building new tools, and making the tech of tomorrow a reality today. When we visit new companies and organizations, we try to capture the principles and characteristics that make them effective.
On our most recent trip we visited Scaled Composites, a small aerospace engineering company based in Mojave, California that produces custom aircraft from concept to flight. Our key takeaway was that the company’s value proposition is built on a passion for aviation, and using bold materials and groundbreaking design engineering to overcome technical challenges. This has been the company’s passion since the beginning, resulting in a number of innovative projects, including winning the $10 million Ansari X-Prize in 2004 for a suborbital space flight in SpaceShipOne, the first privately built manned spacecraft. We liked that they do not limit themselves to traditional aircraft designs and construction techniques, as shown by one of their ongoing projects, the StratoLauncher. Designed to launch a payload into low earth orbit with more flexibility than traditional launch systems StratoLauncher will be the biggest airplane ever built.
From the beginning, it was clear that we were dealing with something different. We met the President of the company, Kevin Mickey, early on a workday, and most of us didn’t realize who we were talking to, until he passed out his business card and showed us a company overview slideshow with his title on it. The contrast to our own naval culture was readily apparent. There was no entourage, no aide or executive assistant hovering around to serve his every need, and he insisted on talking on a first name basis, making us feel completely at home.
After an hour-long discussion on the company, its mission and culture, and how they are pushing the limits of aircraft material and design, we toured the factory floor and saw their unique corporate culture in action. The company’s corporate values showed through, from Kevin knowing his employees by first name and greeting every one we passed, to the close working relationships and collaboration we saw between the shop workers and engineers. This was clearly a company that places its people first, in pursuit of solving big technical challenges.
Walking the floor and observing the manufacturing process, the group asked whether given the name, the company and its employees had a special passion for building with composites. Surprisingly, the answer was no. The materials used by Scaled Composites are actually conventional in the world of composite engineering. The company uses composites for the simple reason that building with them is the quickest pathway from design to flight, and allows rapid progress in short timelines.
Mojave is a desolate place. The town is dry, windswept, and has a population of fewer than 4,000. Scaled Composites attracts employees by giving them interesting problems to solve, and keeps them by continuing to challenge them with rewarding projects. Of the 550 employees in the company, over 60% are pilots themselves, and work on aircraft as a hobby. After building and fling aircraft all day, it is very common for employees to then go home and continue building and flying their own personal projects. Project teams are purpose-built around customer problems, and deliberately small and collaborative. There is a large amount of latitude for individual employees, based on a trust that they are trying their best to work for the company and to deliver a high quality product for the customer.
The company’s management exists to keep barriers away from the employees on the factory floor doing the actual work of the company, and serving the needs of its people, in order to put out a better product, more quickly. An interesting concept we discussed was the idea of the company being successful because of all the things it is not doing. This includes eliminating unnecessary process and oversight, preventing too much of an employee’s time from being spent in meetings, and undue reporting requirements to the corporate management. They quickly get rid of anything that gets in the way of employees designing and building aircraft.
In discussing oversight, questions of risk tolerance and failure came up. Kevin related that in building inventive aircraft and in providing latitude to engineers and floor workers, failure does occur. But what differentiates them from traditional development processes in, say, the government, is that they focus not on elimination of failure, but rather on ensuring they fail early in a project, and for the right reasons. An honest mistake is not punished, with the idea that an employee who makes a mistake for the right reasons is actually very unlikely to fail that way again. Negligence can’t be tolerated, but whole-scale risk aversion is toxic for a group. A key reminder for us was that if progress is going to be made, a healthy culture of risk tolerance is critical. At Scaled Composites, the atmosphere is anything but “zero defect.”
Overall, what lessons did we learn, and how can we in the Navy and Marine Corps apply them? This is an interesting question, since Scaled Composites is a for-profit company, with a mission of financial gain through deliverance of the best product it can. Meanwhile the military exists to win our nation’s wars, without a commercial profit motive. But there is one overriding commonality we observed: in both of these seemingly disparate missions, the people should come first. If you encourage a culture that questions boundaries, provides an intellectual challenge, is willing to reward boldness and even encourages failure in the pursuit of overcoming challenges, you attract and develop the kinds of people who dare to fail and drive outsized success when they win. This culture develops boldness, creativity and audacity that lead to considering more and bigger ideas, and cultivates people willing to try these ideas. As a result of this focus on people, Scaled Composites has been able to deliver a consistently high level of quality and breadth of products. For a military organization, a focus on people will result in enlisted and officers who aren’t afraid to act boldly and accept risk in accomplishing a mission. This will enable the capability and capacity to ensure we are building combat-ready forces in peacetime in order to win decisively in times of conflict.
In the military, we put our people first. Said another way, our people are the most important tool for winning wars, ideas are next, and the technology we use serves both. This is an oft-repeated paradigm, and while we aren’t perfect in following it, it has been proven true time and time again, throughout history. We must ensure we keep this focus. Wars are won by commanders with the vision and boldness to make hard decisions, and by Sailors, Airmen, Soldiers and Marines with the courage to carry those actions out. This paradigm is hardly unique to the military however, and we can learn much from people and organizations outside the DoD who share this commitment. In Scaled Composites, we saw just that. The company’s bold vision, failure tolerant and risk accepting culture attracts, and more importantly, develops and retains the type of employees who are comfortable with risk. Inculcated in a “dream big” culture, employees are encouraged to think boldly and pursue radical ideas. From this milieu of people and ideas, new technologies and airplanes are born, with many failures, but with enough successes that the company remains on the leading edge of the aeronautical field. The big successes that have put the company on the map, such as introducing manned spaceflight to the private market, are a testament to the philosophy of supporting and challenging their people. Scaled Composites is a model that is hard to ignore, and a valuable example to the Navy.
Last month, the People’s Liberation Army Navy held its first drill simulating the resupply of missiles in a combat environment. Live-fire exercises featured the firing of missiles and torpedoes, followed by maritime missile combat resupply. In addition to developing advanced new anti-ship missiles, the PLAN has also commissioned a new maritime logistics vessel. The PLAN is equipping its forces, and now rehearsing, for complex logistical coordination for sustained combat operations. At-sea replenishment of stores and fuel is routine for the United States. However, for all of its power projection capability, the Navy does not practice ordnance resupply. Given the increasing capabilities of the PLAN, and the imperative of Sea Basing, the US Navy must replenish this skillset.
Distributed Lethality calls for the surface fleet to go on the offensive. Ships and Surface Action Groups (SAG) should operate forward, seize the initiative, confuse the adversary through battlespace complexity, and strike targets both at sea and ashore. But to carry out this strategy, surface ships face a critical limitation: munitions capacity. The primary weapons of large surface combatants like the ARLEIGH BURKE Class DDG and the TICONDEROGA Class Cruiser include the STANDARD missile, Tomahawk, Vertically Launched Anti-Submarine Rocket (VLA), and the Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile (ESSM). Those missiles are launched from the Vertical Launching System (VLS). Cruisers have 122 cells, Flight I and II DDGs have 90, and Flight IIA DDG have 96.
The specific quantities of each weapon loaded into VLS cells vary depending on mission and combat system configuration. Fully loaded, the large surface combatants pack quite a wallop, and are capable of destroying a broad array of aircraft, missiles, defended land targets and enemy warships. What they lack is magazine depth. 90 to 122 VLS cells is not enough. In the face of the sophisticated weapons that the PLAN has deployed to execute it anti-access strategy, one could easily conceive of scenarios where both the strike and defensive weapons’ cells on USN ships are quickly depleted. A day or two of combat operations may require several anti-aircraft weapons to be used against anti-ship cruise missiles and Tomahawks to be fired at targets ashore. After such operations, U.S. ships would have to travel hundreds, or possibly even thousands, of miles to a facility with weapons, equipment and people to re-arm. This takes our large surface combatants out of the fight for days, thus forcing the CSG and SAG to pull back, out of range of land-based opposing forces. That spells tactical victory for anti-access strategy.
Defeating the anti-access strategy may not require breaking into the defended bastion, destroying opposing forces, and commanding the seas right up to their shores. It could mean defending a regional status quo by preventing an anti-access actor from disrupting shipping, making claims on disputed territory, or invading another sovereign state. In many cases, the United States is the anti-access state. Today, credible military capability and capacity to impose localized sea control could make an aggressive violation of status quo undesirable. Maintaining credible presence is a multi-faceted problem that touches everything: procurement, maintenance, manpower, and supply-chain. In order to counter these anti-access strategies, we must keep our major surface combatants on station with full combat capability through forward replenishment of weapons.
Unloading spent canisters, loading new weapons, and unloading weapons from damaged units will be critical to maintaining presence and keeping the pressure on adversaries in their anti-access bastions. Unfortunately, reloading VLS at-sea isn’t incorporated into the Navy’s logistical DNA in the same way refueling is. Reloading VLS cells in today’s status quo demands an industrially robust port facility with heavy equipment, trained rigging crews, and a large munitions storage facility. It is not uncommon to damage equipment, and people have been seriously injured during VLS loading and unloading evolutions. Experts at the Naval Weapons Stations and some Naval Support Facilities use cranes to unload spent canisters, move gas management system equipment, and place loaded canisters in cells. Can the Navy achieve similar results, sending ships back into action with fresh ammo, from more forward but less capable locations?
To begin with, “at-sea reloading” is a misleading term. Swinging VLS canisters over the lifelines in comparable fashion to how it is accomplished at Seal Beach Weapons Station is not acceptable for Replenishment at Sea (RAS) at 13 knots. Since reloading during RAS is unachievable, I propose “forward” reloading, in a protected lagoon or calm harbor closer to the action. While out of the way locations may lack modern industrial equipment, many locations, with additional mobile support, could be used to reload magazines closer to the action.
A great deal of research and planning went into supporting supply chain management like this from 1897-1945, when Officers at Naval War College and OPNAV examined how to sail to victory against the Japanese Navy. Possible base locations were evaluated based on criteria such as ship capacity, number of entry passes, entry draft, and submarine protection to support operations in the Pacific Theater. Key requirements such as having a large lagoon and deep drafts were easily met. The Navy may be able to use islands and atolls that failed to satisfy the early 20th Century requirements for forward operating for VLS reloading. Availability of numerous forward locations prevents bottlenecks, and reduces the vulnerability to enemy disruption. It is important to explore the feasibility of forward locations for VLS reloading. Crisis or time of war makes rapid munitions replenishment critical. A strategy that accepts greater risk will need to be employed. A pier that lacks every convenience except navigational draft, a calm anchorage, or even the lee of a volcanic formation far out at sea may be sufficient for VLS reloading. We should plan for using these feasible locations for VLS reloading before a crisis emerges.
Tomahawks, SM-3 and SM-6 missile canisters are over 20 feet long, weigh thousands of pounds, and are filled with fuel and explosives. They’re hard to pick up, and you certainly can’t risk dropping them. What will ships need to do to execute a transfer away from the robust facilities that normally conduct these operations?
Cruisers and Flight I and II Destroyers previously used a VLS strike-down crane that occupied space for 3 VLS cells. These had been certified to reload SM-2 missiles and Vertically Launched Anti-Submarine Rockets (VLA). Maintenance burden and crew training requirements, combined with the inability to reload some of the larger weapons in the inventory, led to the strike-down crane’s exclusion from Flight IIA Destroyers. The cranes have since been permanently laid up or completely removed from VLS systems.[i] Simply replacing those cranes is not a solution since they would require extensive redesign and engineering to load Tomahawk, SM-3, and SM-6 missiles. Rather than adding equipment to the CG and DDGs, the Navy could explore options to deliver the necessary equipment to the ship in conjunction with the missile transfer.
The size of the missiles and the distances replenishing units must cover preclude airborne delivery. The existing fleet of replenishment ships is a natural options for VLS rearming. For instance, The Mobile Landing Platform (MLP) has an open deck with ample room for containers and handling gear. Combined with low freeboard, and excellent low-speed maneuvering characteristics, it appears to be a useful platform for skin-to-skin mooring and weapons transfer. The MLP lacks dedicated magazine space and ordnance handling equipment, so development of ordnance storage containers and associated safety equipment would be necessary.
The T-AKE dry cargo and ammunition ship has ample ordnance storage capacity, however a high freeboard and large midship superstructure increases the risk of damaging mast electronics on the receiving ship during transfer operations. Moreover, though the T-AKE does have a crane, neither it nor the receiving ship has a crane capable of safely swinging VLS canisters across to set into VLS cells.
VLS reloading in sea states 1-2 is a critical requirement. During a routine RAS evolution, relative motion can exceed several feet, but during VLS reloading, the relative motion between delivery and receiving ships cannot exceed 6 inches. It will be necessary to maintain complete control of the missiles during transfer, not simply gauge the motion and use judgment to set it into place safely. Current research indicates that a specialized crane with a stabilizing system would be the best way to not only transfer missiles from one ship to the other, but to prepare the cells for ordnance. A crane with a stabilization system is the only way to ensure gas management equipment can be safely and securely placed, and that damage to cell openings and door mechanisms can be avoided while inserting loaded missile canisters into VLS cells.
While the stabilized crane helps, the best way to ensure the weapons are safely lowered into place is with a positive-control system, secured to the ship. Navies that operate the MK 41 system have experimented with developmental systems to perform this task. Prior to lifting canisters, the delivering ship would hoist a loading device and set it atop the launcher. This device would be used to pull canisters up from the cells, then lay them flat, parallel to the deck. The missiles would be secured to the crane and released from the loading device for transfer to the replenishment ship. Then, replacement missiles would be craned back to the CG or DDG, secured in place on the loading mechanism, then raised vertically for loading into the VLS.
The use of a stabilized crane and secure loading system would ensure the careful control and transfer of missiles between ships, and is essential for VLS reloading in forward areas.
A final key consideration for VLS reloading that could consume another paper by itself is ensuring enough ordnance is on hand to support ongoing operations. Requirements emerge from data models, and missiles are procured and maintained based on assumptions of potential combat regions and the threats that could be encountered there. As a conflict evolves, ships will request the missiles they need based on their combat usage, or the missions to which they’ll next be assigned. Careful tracking of what is being fired and what is being reloaded will be necessary to ensure Combatant Commanders know their inventories so that they may transfer ordnance or ships from one region to another to support combat requirements.
The speed that ordnance information must travel will increase dramatically relative to the current peacetime information deliver rate. Exercises and war gaming of these scenarios will undoubtedly prepare for the people and ordnance tracking systems for wartime speed and complexity. Weapons stations will be issuing weapons to replenishment ships, DDGs and CGs will be demanding reload, damaged vessels will need to transfer weapons to combat ready ships, and the entire system must be tuned to put the right missiles on the right ships and in the correct cells. In total, it will be a fast-paced, hectic process likely involving significant improvisation. Keeping count, maintaining order, and reloading VLS cells must be practiced, and there is more to the weapons supply chain than just cranes and rigging gear. The difference between the right munitions at the right time and a miscalculation or misplacement could be a crew watching the screen helplessly for a couple of terrifying minutes until an anti-ship missile reaches CIWS range because STANDARD missiles were not available for reload.
Forward VLS reloading: It can be done
Technologies to facilitate forward reloading of VLS are mature, but the Navy has no stated requirement for integration, testing, and certification of specific equipment needed to support it. Funding for further development of the at-sea (or forward) reloading capability will be a hard sell in the current budget environment, and because the current peacetime status quo is satisfactory.
The proliferation of guided anti-ship weapons, and the rise of PLAN anti-access strategy have driven the US Surface Navy to adopt a Distributed Lethality mindset. To keep more warships on station for as long as possible, losing a DDG in the midst of combat to conduct a multi-day transit just for rearming is not acceptable. To paraphrase Eisenhower: plans are worthless, but planning is everything. Funding for final implementation of forward reloading systems may not seem worth the expense today, but it is critical to supporting Distributed Lethality warfighting. Forward reloading of VLS cells is a technical, operational, and supply chain challenge, and it must remain a priority for research & development, war gaming, and strategic planning processes for it to ever be employed successfully in wartime.
 Ben Blanchard, “China Navy Holds First Missile Combat Resupply Drill,” Reuters, July 2, 2015, http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/07/02/us-china-defence-drill-idUSKCN0PC19H20150702
 Mike Yeo, “China Commissions First MLP-Like Logistics Ship, Headed for South Sea Fleet” USNI News, July 14, 2015, http://news.usni.org/2015/07/14/chinas-commissions-first-mlp-like-logistics-ship-headed-for-south-sea-fleet
 Vice Admiral Thomas Rowden, Rear Admiral Peter Gumataotao, Rear Admiral Peter Fanta, “Distributed Lethality,” United States Naval Institute Proceedings (1/2015), http://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/2015-01/distributed-lethality
 Rowden, Gumataotao, and Fanta.
 Miller, Edward S. War Plan Orange: The U.S. Strategy to Defeat Japan, 1897-1945. Naval Institute Press, 1991.
[i] Before decrying the removal of the knuckle crane for criminal shortsightedness, consider the implications of keeping those cranes in place. Cranes, like pallet conveyers and elevators, require considerable effort for upkeep. They also require manning consideration to include operation and maintenance classroom training for sailors, not to mention repetition of use to ensure that crews keep perishable skills sharp. It’s also ordnance handling equipment, which involves another level of inspections and certification. These are matters of personnel safety, where errors can cost lives. We can’t simply ditch the inspections and certifications of gear and the training and qualification of people because they sound like extra red tape. Rules that govern the operation and upkeep of these systems are written in blood. Occasionally, we are reminded that life at sea is dangerous, and we do not like to be reminded in peace time. Pile that onto manpower reductions, in-rate and professional training, and watch standing, and you may notice that sailors on afloat units are busy. In an era of fiscal austerity and manpower reduction, maintaining expensive gear and skills fell off the table. Something had to lose. This lost.