Archive for the 'Innovation' Category
This past week, Navy leaders called for sailors, civilians, and researchers to commit themselves to emphasizing and adopting robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) to solve warfighting challenges. In a memo to service chiefs, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus called for the DON to consider “how to adapt recent private sector advances in fields such as machine learning, natural language processing, ontological engineering, and automated planning for naval applications.”
Why do commercially developed AI and robotics offer such promise to the sea service? Are these advances decades away? And how can sailors in the fleet help drive the change Secretary Mabus is calling for? Let’s examine these questions further.
The Virtuous Technological Cycle: Faster and Cheaper Computing
Pop culture is familiar with the concept of Moore’s Law of Integrated Circuits. Simply put, this maxim states that computing power has tended to double every 18 months for the last several decades. This leads to steady advances processing power and resulting technical advances.
But Moore’s Law is not the end of the story. As speed and computing power have increased, the cost of these capabilities has decreased rapidly. Consider the cost required to execute a gigaflop, a standard measure of computing power. In 1984, it cost $42,780,000 in hardware to complete this task. By the year 2000, this figure had dropped to $1,300. Today, it costs less than eight cents in hardware to complete this task.
These factors create a virtuous cycle. More advances in power lead to more applications where a technology might be adapted. More applications lead to more demand, which in turn lead to larger numbers of chips being manufactured. More investments in manufacturing lead to more investment in research and therefore quicker development. The cycle feeds on itself.
As computing power becomes faster and cheaper, it allows scientists to harness machines to complete new and more challenging tasks. Artificial intelligence programs can sift through massive repositories of data to learn patterns they can then recognize. Software can be programmed to observe situations and “learn,” just as a human does from experience.
Consider the Berkeley Robot for the Elimination of Tedious Tasks, or BRETT, under development at UC Berkley. BRETT is programmed to utilize “deep learning” techniques to observe a problem, orient itself, and solve the issue. While it takes several hours to solve a simple task, with increases in computing power, its speed will grow. Just as a child’s simple brain grows into an elegant masterpiece, so too will such machine learning technology develop rapidly as computing power continues to race forward.
Adopting Rapid Technological Solutions: How to Outfit a Truck
In an article in Proceedings in 2012, CNO Jonathan Greenert wrote about budgetary and acquisitions challenges. Due to lengthy development of new platforms, Adm. Greenert suggested that rather than buying “luxury cars” with numerous built in features, the Navy ought to buy “trucks” that can carry modular payloads. Such open architecture systems can easily and rapidly adopt new sensors, weapons, and technology at relatively low cost.
This flexibility combined with rapidly advancing computing technologies makes the near future very bright. While DoD has been and remains at the forefront of research and development, there are many commercial entities building robots and AI products that have dual military uses. Tools like autonomous robots, facial recognition databases, and speech recognition and translation software have all been developed in the civilian sector and offer great promise in military applications. The speed of commercial innovation is regulated by market forces and Moore’s Law. The speed of our acquisitions system is regulated by a bloated process developed by legislators and implemented by managers with a vested interest in its perpetuation. Which system do you think is faster?
By adopting commercial technology in open architecture systems, the pace of adopting new capabilities can accelerate. Enhancements to ensure information assurance and security will be required. Acquisitions processes will have to be respected as well. But this will minimize costs as well as cut down on the multi-year interval between requirements for a weapons system being frozen, and initial operating capability milestones. Open architecture systems in the aviation, submarine, and surface forces that will enable these capabilities to quickly “plug and play,” with upgrades coming in months rather than years. This will bring new capabilities to match the pace of technological advances as closely as possible.
Imagining the (Not so Distant) Future
How realistic, though, is the introduction of machine learning and advanced artificial intelligence into military service? Certainly, the Navy has adopted systems like the X-47 Unmanned Combat Air System. But are these other technologies more pipedream than reality? Let’s conduct a thought experiment.
While writing, I imagined flying a mission in the near future in my most recent fleet aircraft, the P-8 maritime patrol aircraft. Such a jet would have an AI system that could analyze the ocean environment, predict the actions of a threat submarine, and recommend to its operators where to search. Acoustic operators using SSQ-125 multistatic sensors would be assisted by an AI system that used machine learning techniques to analyze reflections from underwater targets and provide its judgment whether the return was a submarine or a shipwreck. The aircraft would be equipped with an autonomous communications intelligence (COMINT) recording and translating system. This system would automatically record, translate, and transcribe chatter it received.
Sound like science fiction? If it does, the reader may be surprised to know that all these technologies either already exist in various forms, or are very close to reaching fruition. For over a decade, the MH-60R helicopter has boasted an advanced decision aid called the Acoustic Mission Planner (AMP). By analyzing the ocean, AMP can provide a crew with recommendations on where to employ sensors and search. Updated in real time, its algorithm provides a changing search plan as the hunt unfolds. Similar tools for fixed wing aircraft are being developed.
To detect quiet diesel submarines, the navy has turned to high-powered active sonars. These systems, in theory, are subject to high false alarm rates, and require operators to decipher the returns. The Naval Research Laboratory is developing machine learning software that observes how humans classify returns, and then mimics that behavior. Such “human mimetic” behavior can augment the performance of a less-experienced human operator or speed up classification by a seasoned aviator.
While automatic translation seems to be the realm of Star Trek, such technologies are becoming increasingly common, to the point where they are freely available through services such as Google Translate. Earlier this year, DARPA announced that speech identification and translation software could be available to intelligence analysts and combat troops as early as 2017. Such automated tech could remove the need to carry a linguist onboard, while providing the P-8 a new intelligence gathering capability with no additional manning.
Challenging the Warfighter
Adopting robots and AI systems will not just require warfighters and support personnel to consider how new technology can be employed. It will also require that we consider our relationship with these tools. Far from fearing this technology as a threat to us, or our eventual replacement, we should acknowledge that our role will shift and embrace that reality.
While machines increasingly take on monotonous or computationally intense tasks, we will take on the role of supervisor and analyst. For example, airline pilots frequently discuss their role as one of a “systems manager,” allowing the autopilot to conduct much of the physical task of flying while they observe system performance and make decisions regarding malfunctions, weather, and optimizing their route.
Joining the Conversation
New technologies and warfighting challenges will require solutions from all corners of the fleet. The Navy’s Office of Strategy and Innovation has recently launched a crowd-sourced website known as the Innovation Hatch. In the next month, leaders are challenging sailors fleet-wide to offer their ideas and thoughts on how advances in AI can solve problems they see every day on the deckplates.
The Naval Warfare Development Center has also recently launched a crowd-sourced website known as Navy Brightwork to harvest ideas from the fleet. Brightwork is more focused on warfighting applications and as such has both NIPRnet and SIPRnet portals.
It’s an exciting time both in the Navy as well as society at large as we watch technology grow and change around us. Tools that were rare just years ago are ubiquitous and cheap today. As advances in computing race forward, let us hope that sailors adopt the technology around us to seize the intellectual high ground and win the conflicts of tomorrow.
In 2013, an article explored the gulf between creativity and innovation within the U.S. Navy’s ranks. It defined creativity as “investing in our future” and innovation as “finding a new way to solve an identified problem.” Innovation takes place in the Fleet every day. When Sailors are given the room to think outside-the-box in order to solve problems encountered on the deck-plates, it positively flourishes. Now back at sea, I am pleased to see that “Sailorized Innovations” abound. A few months ago, we were faced with a problem exasperated by the cringe-worthy phrase, “This is how we have always done it.”
The ship was moving from the naval station to a civilian shipyard. The assigned berthing barge – where Sailors live and work during an industrial period – was to be placed astern, vice outboard, of the ship. This configuration would require a brow – a “gangplank” for non-Sailors – be run from the pier directly to the barge. To transit between the ship and the barge, a Sailor would have to use the pier. Thus, the ship would need to stand-up extra force protection watch standers to guard the barge. These new posts would add four-thousand man hours to the crew’s watch-standing load during its stay in the shipyard.
The goal was to negate the extra watch-standing requirements. While the command was told that every ship had used the configuration in question and managed to survive, the solution seemed quite obvious and easy to accomplish. If a brow could be rigged from the already-protected ship directly to the barge, the need to guard the barge would be erased. The answer seemed simple, but getting to “yes” was another story.
In the Navy, “the box” is frequently defined by Standard Operating Procedures – usually well-established, sometimes stained in blood, and all-too-often acting as blinders to the here-and-now. These can turn into the sworn-enemy of innovation. As Clayton Christensen suggests in his book of the same name, breaking down these confines and pushing the solution to the identified problem outside-the-box, or looking beyond today, is truly the Innovator’s Dilemma. How does one come up with a new way to solve a problem – innovate – if they are told that they “cannot get there from here?”
Successful innovation requires a questioning attitude. It requires positivity. It requires a clear goal and buy-in. And finally, it requires tenacity.
It is far easier to say “no” than it is to embrace, or even experiment with, change. This is especially true of people who do not have a vested interest in solving the identified problem; ironically, usually the same people who have the power to institute change. When you encounter a problem and are told to make-due, ask questions. Do not be bowled-over. Do not be bullied. A questioning attitude not only improves quality-of-life, but it has the potential to save a life. If presented with the cop-out, “This is how we have always done it,” ask “Why can’t we do it this way?” A questioning attitude will require others to engage in the problem and ultimately defend their position amidst your scrutiny.
Negativity is an anti-body to innovation. The concepts are mutually exclusive. The successful innovator must be positive. They must look for solutions, not problems. They must take set-backs in stride and always keep the good that can be done by their innovative spirit at the forefront of their mind. Maintaining a positive, forward-leaning attitude also has a measurable impact on relationships and networking. The keepers of the purse and the makers of the rules will always choose to work with the positive person over their negative counterpart. The innovator’s team will move mountains for a positive leader.
Possibly the roughest patch in the pursuit of innovation is that place where it intersects with creativity. Creativity involves coming up with a new idea – investing in our future – and normally does not address an identified problem. Creativity may also add more work for the end-user, hence the moniker, The Good Idea Fairy, used so frequently throughout the military. The Fairy comes out of nowhere, taps his wand, creates a new requirement where none was needed, and flies away as the troops struggle to implement his “gift.” Whereas creativity often occurs in a vacuum, successful innovation takes place in the moment and requires a clear goal. What are we trying to solve? This goal ensures that we focus our efforts and maximize the efficiency found in the eventual solution. For the innovator’s efforts to gain any traction, they must have buy-in – both from subordinates, who have the know-how, and from superiors, who provide top-cover and latitude, keeping the innovation-incubator safe from intrusion and exerting influence over outside entities.
Most importantly, the successful innovator must be tenacious. Few people are inclined to expend extra effort on another person’s behalf. When one attempts to solve an identified problem through innovation, they will more-than-likely be met with a resounding “no!” It is easy to give that answer – it requires half a breath and no brain power. The successful innovator – endeavoring to solve a problem – will hear that answer over and over again. Every new approach to the solution will result in more reasons why “it cannot be done.” Innovation is impossible if the innovator does not have the stomach for “no” and gives up in the face of adversity. This is where a questioning attitude, positivity, clear goals and buy-in really count, because with those tools in the innovator’s kit, the tenacious flame will remain eternal.
Meaningful innovation is rarely sexy. Though it was not flashy, the ship’s innovative solution – running a brow between the ship and the barge – was a non-starter with the shipyard. The ship was told that this configuration was not the way it was done. Though a seemingly benign situation, the ship’s leadership had their ideas cast aside. Yet, the commanding officer not only supported the plan developed by his innovators, he in fact directed it, knowing that it would be a major win for the crew and most importantly, would ensure their safety and that of their ship. Through willpower, tenacity, and a drop of common-sense, the ship was able to win the day. A brow was rigged from the ship directly to the barge and one team of watch standers was utilized. This configuration endured for 3 months and ultimately proved popular with both Sailors and the shipyard. It was a shining – if not a somewhat mundane – example of successful innovation.
So who cares? A brow was placed in a new spot instead of the usual spot. Big deal. The reason this matters is that our lower echelon units – in this case, our warships – are suffering under the crushing bureaucracy of higher headquarters and civilian support entities. As one colleague phrased it recently, every single waking moment at work seems as if there are a thousand flaming marbles raining from the overhead – ceiling – and letting one hit the deck will bring about the end of the world. All too often we are faced with minor challenges while our hands are tied behind our backs, our ankles are cuffed, our mouths are taped shut, and someone continually pokes us in the eyes. We must not settle for that. We must seek out the small victories. Our units, our equipment, and our people – not to mention the missions we exist to carry out – are far too important to live by the lowest common denominator. Diving in and having the moral fortitude to respectfully push-back and find innovative solutions to every-day problems, produces an exponential return on an investment of sweat-equity. Things are tough these days and throwing up our arms in exasperation is the easy answer; it is not, however, the right answer.
In this case, it was a “misplaced brow” that overcame one of the million “face-palm” situations we are presented with on a nearly-daily basis. This configuration did not save lives and it did not win a battle. It did make a positive impact, though, and as leaders, that should always be the goal. Be respectfully stubborn, innovate as if you are trying to find your way out of a scene in Inception, and keep the fire in your belly burning as you stare down Goliath with steely-eyed determination. Our service and our nation will be put to the test again soon enough. Missiles will fly, explosions will roar, and victory will rely on leaders at all levels who can think for themselves when the lights are out and chaos is everywhere. Train like you fight – do not wait for lives to be on the line – innovate today.
Innovation is the buzzword of the day in naval circles. On the heels of Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus’ “Task Force Innovation,” even Senator John McCain is calling out for innovation in the armed forces. The latter recently signaled the alarm bell in Wired magazine, paraphrasing a famous campaign line by stating, “the Pentagon confronts an emerging innovation gap.”
These leaders often cite the example of Silicon Valley, the mecca of small start-up companies and modern American entrepreneurism. The thinking goes that, if only our services could exude more “disruptive thinking,” or acquire systems faster, or flatten organizational structures—then we will achieve success.
Yet the US Navy is not a small start-up. And while many of our Sailors and Marines have great ideas that will impact technology and Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTP) across the range of military operations, there is an insidious creep arising amid the growing “innovation gap:” central planning.
Successful innovation in the Navy has no program office, no resource sponsor. Yet as Congress and leaders begin to demand or expect it, we are in danger of morphing the ingenuity of individuals into “capital-I Innovation.” One can imagine a fate not too dissimilar to that of acquisition versus Acquisition.
Since his speech at the Sea Air Space conference in April, SECNAV has been regularly posting memoranda on his Navy.mil website. Each document contains background information on a particular area—robotics, for example—and then a list of “shall” accomplish requirements for the Chief of Naval Operations and Commandant of the Marine Corps, all to be completed by a specified date.
Make no mistake: this is an important advancement for our Navy. Introducing an element of outside-the-box thinking from on high is part of what our service needs.
But “shall” actions with a defined deadline miss the point of innovation. In fact, the concept of innovation itself stands at odds with the increasingly managerial, assembly-line service we live in. True innovation has no timeline; good ideas and products are tied to neither the Fleet Readiness Training Plan (FRTP) nor the Joint Capabilities Integration Development System (JCIDS). Few people, if any, whether they were in Silicon Valley or their parents’ garage, ever woke up and said, “By tomorrow, I am going to come up with a revolutionary idea.”
Instead of attempting to mandate innovation with deadlines and taskers, Senator McCain and Secretary Mabus should be leading discussions in three important areas:
First, how does the Navy deal with questions? SECNAV is already talking about this, but it is important to have a larger discussion on the topic. Failure to attain qualifications and expertise in rate or platform can still be unacceptable, but what about the few who show up to quarters with ideas on how to make their small corner of the Navy better, more efficient? What about the folks who constructively ask, “Why are we doing it this way?” We should expect excellence in systems and tactics, while also having the capacity to challenge our people to suggest and implement improvements in those systems and tactics. Connecting like-minded service members and making more centers for experimentation available are part of the solution, but so is leadership—from the LPO and Department Head level and beyond— that looks at its “quirky” sailors less as nuisances and more as potential assets.
Second, how does the Navy deal with failure? Operational Risk Management, or ORM, is championed around the Fleet and seems to be a mainstay in everything from work center training to holiday safety briefs. But what do we do with officers or enlisted sailors who have the right intentions and either attempt to push their platforms too far or have a momentary lapse in judgment? Our current zero-defect mentality belies our naval history: Admiral Nimitz, one of our most storied heroes of WWII, ran his first ship aground as a young lieutenant. He was allowed to continue his service, and a court-martial declared that “he is a good officer and will probably take more care in the future.” Have our platforms become so expensive, and has our fear of public relations become so pervasive, that we would fire today’s sailors in a similar predicament? What does that say about the leadership we are actually cultivating? Not all failure is catastrophic or should be treated as such.
Third, what do we do with innovative service members? Can a tinker-sailor-leader-innovator become a commanding officer of a ship, submarine, or aviation squadron if she accepts shore tour orders to a billet in ONR or the Pentagon? What if she delivers benefits to Navy platforms or TTPs while she is in this “non-production billet?” This will speak more to interested sailors—and to coaxing a groundswell of innovation—than dictates from above.
Senator McCain is right in his op-ed: our services need acquisition reform. This is a large part of the solution towards adapting to the pace of technological change.
But the greatest advancement that the Senator or Secretary Mabus could make is to view the current innovation movement not as a program of record or urgent operational need (UON), but rather as a core operating concept. We want a service that is more lethal, agile, and responsive without shelling over outrageous sums to defense contractors. Sailors and civilians, whether they are in the Fleet or in the Pentagon, are capable of outstanding innovation to that end. They need the inspiration to try, make mistakes, and carry on without fear for their jobs or their fitness reports.
This requires no act of Congress and should not be passed down through memoranda. Rather, it is a discussion to have and a change in thinking required both in the halls of the Capitol Building and throughout the Fleet. We must move from a service dictated by metrics and managers to a team inspired by leaders. This is the paradigm shift required for our Navy to move forward in this century.
Please join us on Sunday, 14 June 2015 at 5pm (1700)(EDT) for Midrats Episode 284: 200th Anniversary of Waterloo with John Kuehn:
18 June will be the 200th Anniversary of the battle of Waterloo, fought in present-day Belgium. Just in time, a regular guest to Midrats, John Kuehn, has his latest book out, Napoleonic Warfare: The Operational Art of the Great Campaigns where he covers the operational level analysis of European warfare from 1792 to 1815, including the tactics, operations, and strategy of major conflicts of the time.
More than just a description of set piece battle, there is a discussion of naval warfare, maneuver warfare, compound warfare, and counterinsurgency.
We’ve got him for the full hour … we should be able to get to most of it.
Dr. John T. Kuehn is the General William Stofft Chair for Historical Research at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. He retired from the U.S. Navy 2004 at the rank of commander after 23 years of service as a naval flight officer in EP-3s and ES-3s. He authored Agents of Innovation (2008) and co-authored Eyewitness Pacific Theater (2008) with D.M. Giangreco, as well as numerous articles and editorials and was awarded a Moncado Prize from the Society for Military History in 2011.
His previous book was, A military History of Japan: From the Age of the Samurai to the 21st Century.
Yet, despite a review of Power Transition Theory examining why these states might come to blows, Ghost Fleet’s expedition into the near future primarily focuses on how such a great power conflict might be fought. Singer and Cole are at their best in teasing out the interplay between potential advances in emerging technologies – backed by impressive end-noting – rather than isolating the implications of a single capability. These range from Big Data and unmanned systems to additive manufacturing and augmented reality. The authors’ depictions of cutting-edge Chinese developments picking apart current U.S. weapons systems might make for queasy reading among some in the military. In this way it effectively serves to warn against complacency in presuming American technological superiority in conflict. But it bears remembering that success in employing the new capabilities detailed in Ghost Fleet, as in life, requires a level of creativity available (and not guaranteed) to both sides.
Singer and Cole also explore how the supposed American Way of War of grinding attrition, popularized by the eponymous 1973 Russell Weigley book, might fare in an age of offensive space and cyber weapons. In doing so they create intriguing portraits of empowered individuals (both socio-economically and skills-wise), expats, and a globalized defense industrial base on a war footing. Some of the most memorable scenes come from the juxtaposition of new capabilities with old operational concepts (occasionally set to the strains of Alice Cooper). Singer and Cole also ably confront readers with a reversal in the traditional role of U.S. forces in an insurgency and the ethical decisions it demands of them.
Ghost Fleet may be the authors’ first novel, but it’s not their first foray into helping tell a story. Singer has consulted on such projects as Activision’s “Call of Duty” video game franchise and honed his prose in such works as Wired for War, an earlier book on the future of robotics warfare. Cole meanwhile has been engaged in the development of insights on warfare by facilitating near-future science fiction writing at the Atlantic Council’s “Art of Future Warfare Project” (full disclosure: I had the opportunity to publish a short story of my own there). These experiences have paid off in a very enjoyable page-turner.
This is not to say Ghost Fleet is without flaws. One of the novel’s driving emotional stories, an estranged father-son relationship, never quite rings true. With an expansive and fast-moving narrative, a character here and subplot there trail off without satisfactory conclusion. Lastly, while the authors investigate many impacts of a war’s fallout on the U.S. Navy, including the resurrection of the ships of the book’s title and a call-up of retirees, they missed an opportunity to look at the complications a mobilization of existing Navy Reservists might cause. But such a minor sin of omission doesn’t detract from the overall merits of the work. Whether on a commute to the Pentagon or relaxing on a beach in the Hawaii Special Administrative Zone, readers will find Ghost Fleet a highly enjoyable, at times uncomfortable, and always thought-provoking read.
*It should be noted Singer and Cole don’t tie those nation’s current regimes to their countries’ futures, and in doing so remind readers that what would follow a collapse of the Chinese Communist Party is not necessarily more amenable to U.S. or Western interests.
Water, PKP, CO2, Halon, and AFFF are what we use to extinguish fire (I didn’t miss one, did I?). AFFF shouldn’t really count as it’s own method, since water is still the medium in which AFFF is applied.
A clear eyed view of using water to extinguish flame on a ship floating in water–or a submarine suspended in water–is rather perplexing and counterintuitive, practicality notwithstanding. Especially in regards to the reality that air pressure can now be utilized to extinguish flames.
Reports of using sound waves to extinguish flames date back to 2004, when the University of West Georgia demonstrated
the banality of Nickelback the ability of low frequencies to extinguish a candle. In turn, by 2011/12 DARPA then further demonstrated the capability. DARPA’s demonstrator appears large and impractical for real-world applications, but clearly and audibly shows fire being extinguished by nothing more than moving air in a specific way (specific Sound Pressure Level and frequencies).
In the last year, two engineering students from George Mason University built upon work done by other researchers and DARPA, and built a handheld technology demonstrator that is capable of putting out small fires.
There’s still a lot of testing that needs to be done–this technology has to be falsified to establish the limits of what types of casualties are capable of being combated. But, the benefits of this technology fill a few niches that existing technologies do not.
Foremost in my mind is the potential application of this technology in submarines. The closed atmosphere seems poorly suited for introducing particulates like PKP, and unbreathable CO2. Submarines are suspended far below the surface making the notion of affecting the buoyancy by fighting fire with water border on a crazy but necessary evil.
Viet and Seth, the inventors of the handheld device in the above video seem to have produced their prototype for $600. Which should be a small enough price point to allow some real experimentation. We could procure 10-15 of these extinguishers, give them to the DC-men at the Naval Training Centers, and tell them to falsify this technology. We’d ask them to establish what we can and cannot do with this technology, how it could augment our existing fire fighting capabilities, and how the technology should evolve from this demonstrator to a tool ready for the Fleet. Additionally, building an array of transducers into the overhead of an engine room could provide a wide-area suppression system similar to the AFFF systems already installed.
No de-watering after securing from a casualty. No wiping CO2 ‘flakes’ off electrical equipment. Theoretically, the only thing on the MRC for this unit would be checking the battery charge level and the material condition of the transducer. There are significant benefits to adopting this rapidly maturing technology, and I believe it behooves us as a Navy to explore this technology and adopt it.
Even while stepping gingerly past the usual swamps of interservice rivalry, for most of those who have had to work with “them,” it is very clear that there is a large difference in culture between the US Air Force and the Navy-Marine Corps team.
Very different – and in important ways not good.
One of the areas of difference is in their culture’s tolerance of dissent.
While not as open as a spoken-word poetry slam, when compared to the other services, the maritime services are rather open minded and resilient to off-message discussion.
Perhaps we can trace it back to the traditions Admirals Mahan and Sims built on, improved – and eloquently brought to the front from the Revolt of the Admirals to VADM Tom Connolly. It is hard to say, but any time spent in the joint environment you can see the difference.
The events in the last few months have brought out two great examples that would be difficult to see happening in such an open way in the maritime services.
Maj. Gen. James Post, vice commander of Air Combat Command, is accused of telling officers that they are prohibited from discussing with Congress efforts to retire the A-10 attack jet, which many lawmakers would like to keep in service.
“Anyone who is passing information to Congress about A-10 capabilities is committing treason,” Post reportedly said, according to a post by blogger Tony Carr on his John Q. Public website. “If anyone accuses me of saying this, I will deny it.”
Well, Post got fired for his efforts.
More recently, we had this from retired USAF General Roger Brady;
But this is not about free speech. It is about good order and discipline. The Air Force secretary and chief of Staff, in consultation with senior commanders, determine what force structure priorities should be. After considerable discussion, with strong, sometimes opposing opinions being expressed, the secretary and chief forward a recommendation through the Defense Department to the president and ultimately to Congress. Among these senior leaders are combat veterans with close air support expertise, some with considerable A-10 experience. The decisions they make are based on their mission experience and an awareness of the many other mission obligations the service has.
The views of airmen in the field are neither unknown to nor taken lightly by senior leaders. But, these airmen have neither the responsibility nor the perspective required to determine how best to meet the Air Force’s myriad global missions within the resources available. The ethos of military professionals requires that senior leaders make decisions and give direction that is legal, moral and ethical. Individuals of lesser rank and responsibility are obliged to support those decisions, or depart service.
Those who decide to take their opposing views directly to Congress are not whistle-blowers — priorities are matters of judgment and there is no scandal here. Nor are they traitors — they are within their legal rights. They are simply insubordinate — they have denied the authority of their senior leadership.
A valid perspective, perhaps for a retired Soviet Air Force General – but perhaps a little off for one from a representative republic of a free people.
Though that attitude does exist in many places in our Navy towards any off-talking points discussion – it is usually done in quiet way among safe ears. Not in our Air Force though, no. It seems to be comfortable to come out in clear view of all.
That difference in culture can be found in glaring relief in the broader marketplace of ideas. It has long been a staple from the beginnings of new media over a decade ago that the USAF seemed to have a light footprint and not too full of boat rockers. That is getting better.
It is no mistake that Tony Carr’s blog “John Q. Public” has been at the front of both of these events and others on the USAF side of the house – he is one of the few contrary voices out there from that side of the Pentagon – and he is getting good traction as result. He is serving a very underserved market … and the quality of his goods is feeding the demand even more.
As I have seen in comments as of late – I wish this insight was originally mine – there may be something to consider about one potential source of the USAF vs. USN/USMC culture difference. The USAF does not have its version of the US Naval Institute and Proceedings.
Let’s look at the mission of USNI again;
To provide an independent forum for those who dare to read, think, speak, and write in order to advance the professional, literary, and scientific understanding of sea power and other issues critical to national defense.
I think that is something the USAF could dearly use.
As imperfect as it is in execution and perhaps even support – this is something we should all step back now and then and ponder the 2nd and 3rd order effects that the Institute has on our larger culture, and the health of its collective professional intellect.
Do we have our Posts and Bradys? Sure … but they don’t feel supported by a general culture or empowered by their sense of intellectual entitlement to come out in the open and say it.
Looking at the pushback this year – maybe the USAF is headed our way in this respect. Good.
It isn’t just good – the USAF deserves better than this “shut up and color” type of leadership. Those leading the USAF at the highest levels were mid-grade officers in DESERT STORM. In that conflict, one of their leaders was General Charles Horner, USAF (Ret.).
Like many of his generation of military officers, his views were formed by what he saw in the Vietnam War. He and his peers knew what they didn’t want to be when it was their turn.
In Eric Schlosser book, Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety, the author gives a snapshot of where the USAF leadership was in 1991 from Horner’s view, looking back to the General Officers leading the USAF in Vietnam;
I didn’t hate them because they were dumb, I didn’t hate them because they had spilled our blood for nothing, I hated them because of their arrogance… because they had convinced themselves that they actually knew what they were doing and that we were too minor to understand the “Big Picture.” I hated my own generals, because they covered up their own gutless inability to stand up to the political masters in Washington … (I would) never again be a part of something so insane and foolish.
Has the center mass of USAF drifted this far away again? Again in an arrogance not willing to consider the views of their company and field grade officers?
Culture is never a fixed thing, but there can be parts of a culture that can be a damping rod to provide constancy through change. Thinking about our sister service’s battle with the free exchange of ideas and open discourse, at least for me, gives me a greater appreciation of our Institute and its mission.
Along those lines … take a break from reading and hit the keyboard. Someone’s tree needs shaking, and USNI is always looking for writers.
To: Admiral X, CINCSTUFF
From: LTJG Kat Dransfield
BCC: North Korea, Iran, Google, Russia, Boris in Belarus
Fw: Fw: Fw: Fw: Subj: Decisions, Secrecy and Sclerosis: Why Email Is the Single Greatest Threat to National Security
Today, information is all around us. The proliferation of digital technologies and resultant data explosion does not simply affirm the efficacy of digital systems over their analog predecessors like letters, the telegraph, and carrier pigeons. Rather, the data revolution mandates a shift towards a world permeated and enabled by data in a whole new way. This requires a mindset shift that will have significant consequences, many of which are not readily apparent even to experts. From the emergence of digital currencies such as bitcoins, to personal technologies like Fit Bit, the intimate fusion of the digital with our physical and social experiences is an increasingly salient aspect of culture. We have a level of connection to data the like of which historically has been reserved for spouses and significant others.
Data and the digital world are nearly ubiquitous in the military and broader society. With so much data now readily available, data and the digital world have fundamentally altered and enhanced how humans arrive at evidence-based decisions. To adapt to this, conventional military decision-making models and technological practices should have been re-examined to leverage the untapped military potential hidden within our data stores. Although the growth in complexity and quantity of data analytic packages and modeling platforms HAS altered decision models in realms as disparate as weight management and finance, the Navy faces a glaring deficiency in this arena.
As large amounts of digital data have increasingly become the basis of decisions today (including those of potential military adversaries), many of our naval decision-making processes and framework have remained in the 19th century. For the most part, advanced Navy systems for managing, synthesizing, and sharing data have failed to materialize. This problem does not simply manifest itself in the realm of supercomputers and high-end weapons and analysis development. It is all-encompassing, the most corrosive example of which is the foundation of our military communication: email.
To: Admiral X, CINCSTUFF
From: LTJG Kat Dransfield
CC: North Korea, Iran, Google, Russia
Fw: Fw: Fw: Subj: Just Because it’s Digital Doesn’t Make It Better
Email simply took an ancient model of communication — the sending and receiving of written word–and digitized it. While the physical act of transmission is far more efficient, the human, cognitive limitations on reading and processing speed remain. We have failed to develop the technologies needed to augment the human brain and actually use email traffic in its totality. There is an easy analogy: imagine if you received 200 letters in your mailbox every day. In its current form, that is all email is. We have created an environment where millions of “letters” are generated without parallel capacity to make use of the information they contain. This doesn’t even begin to deal with the problems created by forwarding – imagine if those letters had stapled to the bottom a copy of every preceding letter, which you would need to read through in order to understand what the original letter was about!
Everyone with a .mil address knows the trials and tribulations of operating within the email construct, especially when utilizing an IT infrastructure that is inadequate, outdated, and scandalously overpriced due to the inherent deficiencies of our acquisition strategy. Many of us receive hundreds of emails a day, most of which we will frankly delete at the expense of some critical information they may contain. For the emails we do choose to read, the legibility of email traffic is compromised by the ratio of actionable information to extraneous routing data. We spend more time reading “looping in Tim’s” than tending to the “meat” of our emails.
As processors, human brains are poorly designed to collate and apply analytic rigor to the amount and format of information in our inboxes–this is why we can never quite seem to get caught up on email. The way the human psyche evolved renders humans attentive to environmental anomalies but very bad at focusing on environments that don’t stimulate the “threat detection” portions of our brains (ex. parsing emails that all look largely the same). In other words, we get distracted easily, like when we put this youtube video right in the middle of this article.
Fortunately, there are some examples of best practices we can turn to remedy our information dilemna. Financial statements used to be nearly meaningless to a broad set of the population. However, when free easy to use budgeting tools like Mint were developed, the ability to visually understand through graphs and trend summaries transformed the way many people think about saving and spending money. If Mint is an example of making large datasets meaningful and the catalyst for behavior change, then Microsoft Outlook is the opposite–equivalent to reading all of our financial statements and purchase transcripts without any frame of reference to understand what it all means.
The continued reliance on email as the cornerstone of our not only our business processes but many of our actual warfighting processes therefore renders the Navy organization hopelessly inefficient, vulnerable to security compromises, and frustrating to operate in. The time expenses, shortcomings in data presentation, and lack of analytic capacity in the email construct ensure blind, non-data-driven decision-making. The lack of enterprise-wide, algorithm-driven governance of data sharing and retrieval means protocol implementation is informed by culture rather than system design. As a result, information sharing etiquette is poorly enforced by end users who are expected to navigate the abject complexity of web traffic–locating, identifying, sharing, and safeguarding information without the assistance of modern tools. And ironically, when email fails to produce needed critical information, we naturally seek to correct the information deficit by sending more emails–adding noise to the already impossibly complex and overburdened data management construct. The over-cultivation of information makes information worthless.
To: Admiral X, CINCSTUFF
From: LTJG Kat Dransfield
CC: North Korea, Iran, Google
Fw: Fw: Subj: Some thoughts about thinking differently
While we tend to think of email as a business instrument and not a warfighting tool, every warfighting outcome refers back to this communication medium in various degrees. One alternative to the current email construct would be for the Navy to eliminate email entirely and introduce a cloud-based information retrieval system. Imagine a Navy where instead of having to ask Bob to ask Sally to ask Fred for a particular piece of information (who may ultimately opt not to share it), the data object of interest could simply be queried via a Navy-wide search engine, then integrated into a more meaningful picture. For example, current year equipment casualties could be instantaneously generated alongside relevant trend data. The time savings and decision enhancement acquired by installing such a system would be astronomical.
To: Admiral X, CINCSTUFF
From: LTJG Kat Dransfield
CC: North Korea, Iran
Fw: Subj: Secrecy and Sclerosis: Maybe we like it this way
However, even if the shortcomings of the acquisition system could be overcome to make such a cloud solution a reality, it is unlikely to be implemented. To start, the fact that naval personnel have continued to tolerate the email construct this long belies reason. Imagine if you didn’t empty your physical mailbox in over a year. After a series of notices from your post office and a few angry neighbors, legal action might be warranted owing to the growing piles of (sensitive) information. Yet it is also exposed to the elements, degrading and disappearing. Juxtapose this example with the email environment, where the descriptive and injunctive norms of our Navy validate this behavior. We must ask ourselves why.
The fact that we as an institution continue the use an email system that is openly acknowledged to be terribly designed and marginally effective is underpinned by a more deeply rooted problem that email has continued to facilitate; secrets remain the organization’s authoritative currency. From our budgeting process to our conversations with detailers, power in the Navy organization is extracted from our capacity to control the dissemination and transparency of information. Enacting a cloud-based system that allowed users to query for any piece of information would threaten this culture of secrecy calcified by our continued use of 19th and 20th century information exchange models. For example, making information related to a program-of-record readily available would completely dismantle the Navy’s current methods of defending its budget. . The current method is stating in a unified manner across the leadership that that every program is equally vital and equally successful becomes impossible if information on those programs is readily available. Similarly, the military’s rank structure is reinforced by a practice of knowledge hoarding (“I out-rank you, therefore I get to be the exclusive owner of this information and you have to beg for it”) that breaks down if access in a cloud-based system is relatively free and open. These are just two of many ways in which the precession of secrecy would be fundamentally disrupted by efficient communication mechanisms.
To: Admiral X, CINCSTUFF
From: LTJG Kat Dransfield
CC: North Korea
Subj: Secrecy and Sclerosis: Why Email is the Single Greatest Threat to National Security
Therefore, ensuring our information management practices allow the Navy to remain a relevant instrument of national power depends on more than the adoption of new hard and software–it requires coming to terms with the very real socio-cultural barriers that prevent us from using information appropriately and effectively. Email as a communication medium is no longer relevant given the growth and availability of powerful analytic and collaboration tools. And if we do not find ways of making our culture and business models more receptive to the use of these tools, we will quickly find ourselves outmatched by our most agile and innovative adversaries. These adversaries will outpace us in decision-making and have better situational awareness. They will also have the tools and analytic capacity to exploit the currently untapped data flowing over our own relatively insecure networks (the more data we produce in the form of useless emails, the more opportunities there are for exploitation). If the US Navy is to remain the preeminent naval force in the future, it must restructure its processes and identity around something other than secrecy. Until we can effectively exploit our own data, we will lag our adversaries in the information space.
The Institute is pleased to have the guidance of a select panel of Navy Officers who believe this destination can continue to host the most important lines of thought concerning naval policy and the nation’s defense. LTJG Chris O’Keefe and a network of junior naval officers have agreed to assemble content for the USNI Blog, focusing specifically on key issues that they describe below in their inaugural post.
They are not strangers to the forum, and already have an impressive resume of posts and articles. They continue a fine tradition of important discussions on the USNI Blog led by a strong network of key Navy figures including guest bloggers from the naval blogging community, who were responsible for guiding the USNI Blog to three consecutive years of being named “Best Navy Blog” sponsored by Military.com and USAA. Our founding guest bloggers will continue to contribute as they desire.
Mary D. Ripley | Director of Digital Content
Bill Miller | Publisher
Since 2008, the Naval Institute’s blog has served as a key forum for thinkers and naval leaders to collaborate, argue, think, and write. The blog, with its essentially unlimited audience and condensed production timeline, helps ensure the Institute continues to play a vital role in shaping the dialogues that will shape the Navy of the 21st century and beyond. It is important therefore to periodically step back and ensure that the blog’s content sufficiently captures the critical discussions taking place throughout the Fleet. A small group of junior naval thinkers is working to facilitate this, and we would like you to join our ranks through thinking and writing.
Looking forward, we’ve identified conversations in the naval sphere that we believe are not getting enough attention, and that are ripe for dynamic debate. The four identified areas are:
-The navy and cyber
-Future war fighting
-Revitalizing practical professional notes
One of the flagship platforms for naval discourse is Proceedings. However, the capacity of the magazine is finite, and there are many discussions that simply may not meet the threshold for publication in a particular issue. The blog team is coordinating with the Proceedings editorial staff to develop a framework for two-way content flow between the magazine and the blog. A rising tide raises all ships, and just because an article doesn’t find the right home in the magazine does not mean that it is not a valid discussion piece meriting dissemination. Therefore, beginning shortly, authors who submit to Proceedings whose articles are not accepted for publication will be invited to submit to the blog team for editorial assistance and publication. At the same time, blog authors whose pieces are well received will be invited to contribute a larger, more comprehensive piece to Proceedings Magazine. Our essay contest winners will also begin to have entries published on the blog, and we will eventually sponsor online-only essay contests. Combined with other events, we hope broaden naval discussion by encouraging more people to write, speak out, and be heard.
The online blogging forum presents unique technological affordances compared to traditional mediums. In thinking about the implications of the blog’s digital existence, we were forced to reflect on how the digital has altered the form and practice of naval discourse more broadly. By extension, we were prompted to contemplate how the digital space has fundamentally altered naval disciplines. Therefore, as our first effort, we will be launching a conversation starting May 3rd about the Navy and cyber, and how this discussion should be framed and shaped.
Why May 3rd? On that date in 1997 IBM’s Deep Blue began a 6 game re-match with chess champion Garry Kasparov. Although Kasparov won this match, an apparent bug in Deep Blue caused it to make a move that puzzled Kasparov. American statistician Nate Silver believes that “Kasparov had concluded that the counterintuitive play must be a sign of superior intelligence. He had never considered that it was simply a bug.” His confidence shaken, Kasparov would go on to lose the series, marking the first time under tournament conditions a computer had defeated a reigning world chess champion.
Deep Blue’s name is particularly appropriate for conversation about the Navy’s cyber domain, and this comes on the heels of the launch of the concept of all-domain access within the new maritime strategy. We already have a few articles ready in rough draft form, and have been in conversations with leaders at all levels in the naval cyber realm. We invite you to submit an article between 800 and 1000 words that would help shape the conversation on how we integrate the navy and the cyber domain.
In the next week we will announcing our revised blog submission policies and instructions on how to submit posts for publication. Whether you are a member of the nation’s Naval service, or an armchair admiral, the groundswell of naval thought is palpable, and we hope you will put pen to paper or open your laptop to join it.
Chris O’Keefe is an active duty naval officer who spends much of his spare time working to foster professional naval discourse by helping and encouraging current and future thinkers and writers.
By Mark Tempest
Please join us at 5pm EDT on 19 April 2015 as we return live, after a two week hiatus, for Midrats Episode 276: “21st Century Ellis”
The next book from USNI’s 21st Century Foundations series is 21st Century Ellis: Operational Art and Strategic Prophecy for the Modern Era, edited by Capt. B.A. Friedman, USMC.
This book covers the work of Lt. Col. “Pete” Ellis, USMC who in 1921 predicted the coming war with Japan.
Included in this collection are some of his articles on counterinsurgency and conventional war based on his experiences in WWI and the Philippines.
Capt. Friedman will be with us for the full hour to discuss this and more.
Capt. B.A. Friedman is a field artillery officer in the United States Marine Corps currently stationed at Camp Lejeune, NC. He is pursuing a master’s degree in national security and strategic studies through the Naval War College.