Archive for the 'Uncategorized' Category

Much was made this week of the North Dakota employing a submarine launched drone (here, herehere , etc). Yes, “underwater DRONES[!!!]” as the Daily Mail exclaimed.

OK, great, what does that mean though? What value are we adding to a boat? Well, the North Dakota employed a REMUS 600, which is an autonomous underwater vehicle capable of achieving depths of over 4,900ft, speeds up to 4kts, and a battery life of up to 24 hours. It’s a little over 10ft long with an inertial navigation system and a lithium battery powering it all.

REMUS UUVSo what could you possibly do with this thing? How about finding the resting place for a WWII TBF Avenger and her crew? Here, a team from the Bent Prop Project and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography used a REMUS with an add-on side-scan sonar to localize a crash site and find the plane and her crew. Around 6:00 you can catch the REMUS in action.

I know we’re still rolling out Virginia class boats, but it’s not hard to envision the future SSNs acting as a mothership for drones.

Naval warfare, at the lowest level, revolves around destroying something before it can destroy you (an observation more akin to an utterance of John Madden than Sun Tzu, I know). So as result, we talk about warfare a lot in terms of ranges. How close can I get before something detects me? How far away can I detect it? At what range can I shoot it? When can it shoot me? The race to shoot the furthest led to the development of weapons systems (Phoenix air-to-air missile and Trident missile) before we built the platform to shoot it.

And while we often describe the range of a nuclear-powered submarine as unlimited, that doesn’t mean we can go just anywhere in the ocean. We’re constrained by water depths, and the minimum operating depth of a small, submarine-launched unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV/drones) would likely be shallower than the launching platform.

We’re expanding the area of where a submarine can make life miserable for the enemy. Check out that video again. Do you think we could put a submarine there to accomplish that task? We’ve now demonstrated that a submarine launched drone might able to access that territory. That’s why we should be excited about “DRONES.”



Mary Witkowski originally wrote this column for Motherly, a new digital community for Millennial mothers. It is cross-posted here with her permission.

emadeleineAAs an active duty military mother, I jumped for joy when I read the Navy’s new maternity leave policy giving women up to 18 weeks of paid leave after having a baby. I believe that this is a huge step in the right direction for the Navy in its quest for becoming a more competitive employer, and to retain top talent. But I don’t believe it will attract more women to stay because women aren’t leaving the military due to short maternity leave. It’s the pre-ordained military schedule that can make Navy life and motherhood so hard to balance.

My husband and I both graduated from the Naval Academy and both currently serve in the fleet. After several years working alongside many talented and ambitious female sailors who also hope to become mothers, I believe it’s crucial for the military to find new and creative ways to retain the women it has trained and developed.

As it stands today, mixing Navy life with motherhood is daunting. Take for example, the career path of a Surface Warfare Officer (SWO) (read: ship driver).

In Navy life, sailors go through multi-year periods where they deploy frequently and are away for six-month to year-long blocks at a time. Then, there are other periods when you are stationed stateside during a “shore tour.” These schedules are set in stone by the military, and make women and men go through complex calculations to decide if and when the timing will be right to have a baby.

The first shore tour is a really a female sailor’s first opportunity to start a family. This gives her three years to get pregnant, take her maternity leave, and enjoy quality time with her family. As someone currently in this position, I can say it’s pretty great! But, not all couples are ready or able to have a baby early in this window, and as your naval career progresses, it’s harder and harder to decide when to make time for baby.

The breaking point for me was when I began to realize what lies ahead for our family if things don’t change. The Navy requires you to fill out a Family Care Plan upon having a child, which assigns someone to look after your child when you and your spouse both have to go out to sea at the same time. It’s this factor, not the Navy’s maternity leave policy that forced the question “is my desire to serve the country worth spending these large chunks of time away from my daughter?”

For me, the cost outweighed the benefit. I still plan to work full time when I leave the military, but while my Mom may help out with my daughter on some work trips, she won’t be raising my child for six months while my husband and I are at sea. And, as I shop for a job in the public sector, it isn’t the maternity policy at Google that’s attracting me, or the free lunches, but instead, the feasibility of raising a family throughout a career. I’m looking for a future employer that can accommodate the reality that women have children, and that Millennials, in our increasingly digital age, want greater flexibility over where and when they do their jobs.

It’s a hard problem that the Navy faces, because the mission always has to come first, and sea and shore time should be equally shared across the force. I still think there are significant ways that the Navy can improve female retention:

1. Create a More Balanced Deployment Cycle. The submarine force has been able to maintain a six-month deployment timeline, whereas ships such as Aircraft Carriers and Ballistic Missile Defense Ships have lengthened their average time at sea to over nine months. This problem has reverberated deeper than female retention and is a major fleet problem. Reducing the amount of sea time will allow Navy families to increase their resilience.

2. Make the Career Path Tailorable. The way the Surface Warfare career path is right now, sea and shore time is grouped into three-four year blocks. Allowing more flexibility within this construct would allow individuals to create a career that works for them.

3. Expand the Navy’s Career Intermission Pilot Program (CIPP). Naval personnel can currently apply to take up to three years off in order to pursue civilian opportunities or start a family. Through this program you retain full health benefits as well as a monthly stipend and in return owe the Navy two months for every one month you take off. This program fits some situations and I believe it’s a step in the right direction, but the Navy should explore other options as well, such as the ability to transfer in and out of the reserves (maybe allowing personnel to take a longer hiatus), or the option to leave without pay and return without an added obligation.

4. Continue to Improve as a Family-Friendly Culture. Increased maternity leave and TRICARE adding coverage of breast pumps are positive steps in creating a more family-friendly culture within the Navy, but there’s more to be done. Personally, I had to voice my right to have a pumping space multiple times before I was finally presented the solution of an equipment storage closet; which I gladly accepted over the women’s restroom. In healthcare, many fertility treatment programs are only available to TRICARE beneficiaries and not the sponsor, which can be a problem if women wait until completing their sea time before starting a family.

5. Explore More Flexible Work Options. While stationed on a ship or submarine or dealing with classified material, sailors clearly need to be on a military installation, but there are many positions where a physical presence isn’t required. Increased opportunities for telework and flexible scheduling would allow families to create a routine that allows them to be successful in both their work and personal lives.

To stop the flow of talented women out of the Navy, we must stay focused on why these women are leaving. Only then will the military be able to retain the intelligent, motivated, and experienced women that are helping it to thrive.



Please join us on 7 June 15 at 5pm (EST) for Episode 283: The Foreign and Defense Policy Terrain :

As the world has set its own course as we have been planning other things, some believe that the 2016 election will be more focused on foreign policy and defense issues that any of the candidates thought would be the case at the end of last year.

What will be the above-the-fold topics? The baseline was set by the ’16 budget battle last year and the winding down and a post-mortem on the sequestration gambit of the last couple of years.

As proxies in the emerging discussion, to join the old bulls on the Hill, are there emerging new leaders on defense issues elected in the ’14 cycle?

Where do declared or expected candidates for President for both parties stand on policy and present operations?

To discuss this and more in the foreign policy and defense arena will be returning guest, Mackenzie Eaglen,

Mackenzie is a resident fellow in the Marilyn Ware Center for Security Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, where she works on defense strategy, defense budgets, and military readiness.

She has worked on defense issues in the House of Representatives and Senate and at the Pentagon in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and on the Joint Staff. In 2014, Eaglen served as a staff member of the congressionally mandated National Defense Panel, a bipartisan, blue-ribbon commission established to assess US defense interests and strategic objectives. This followed Eaglen’s previous work as a staff member for the 2010 congressionally mandated bipartisan Quadrennial Defense Review Independent Panel, also established to assess the Pentagon’s major defense strategy. A prolific writer on defense-related issues, she has also testified before Congress.


She has an M.A. from the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University and a B.A. from Mercer University.

Join us live if you can (or pick the show up later) by clicking here. The show will also be available later on our iTunes page here.



9780544142848_p0_v4_s260x420

Ghost Fleet. P.W. Singer & August Cole, (2015). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. New York, NY: 416 pp. $28.00.

An editorial in China’s Global Times reportedly said that if the U.S. position is that China must halt its reclamation activities in the South China Sea “then a U.S.-China war is inevitable.” Meanwhile the United States has signaled its willingness to move up the escalation ladder in defense of its position with Freedom of Navigation transits and P-8 flights. Elsewhere, Russia’s rulers seem bent on military adventurism along its borderlands. With such a real-life backdrop readers could be forgiven for fixating on the geopolitical backstory of Ghost Fleet, P.W. Singer and August Cole’s self-described new “novel of the next world war.” After all, the writer/academic/think-tanker/consultant duo chose to portray the three powers* as the plot’s antagonists – opening with a P-8 flight above a Chinese position.

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.

 

 



The fifth season of the HBO hit-series Game of Thrones is here! I’m excited, as are millions of die-hard fans across the country. To prepare for the imminent launch, I re-watched all four of the previous seasons, episode by episode. In that first season, an interesting event takes place, where a young man, Jon Snow, is given his duty assignment. He is about to take an oath to serve for life in the Night’s Watch. He has prepared for years to be a Ranger – a fighter and swordsman. Instead he is assigned as a Steward. Jon Snow is crushed. He hasn’t taken the oath of service yet, and he contemplates leaving the Night’s Watch to avoid a life of inglorious servitude as a steward. His friend Sam convinces him to stay, reminding him that service is about more than his own selfish desires. Jon Snow takes the oath later in the episode.

Graduation OathIt brought me back to my own service selection. I dreamed for years and years of becoming a Marine Corps Officer. At the Naval Academy that fateful day in November of 2009, I received troubling news – I had been selected to become a Surface Warfare Officer. Over the years since I have often been asked if I wanted to become a SWO. My standard reply is that it was one of my top six choices. The humor gets me through the moment, and the conversation moves on.

I’m working now at the Academy, preparing to take over as a company officer this summer, just in time for the Plebe Class of 2019 to arrive for I-Day. I am a proud Surface Warfare Officer and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I have been to more overseas ports than I can count over two deployments, have navigated tens of thousands of miles at sea, and served with some of the bravest, smartest and most loyal Sailors the world has ever seen.

Much of the conversation within the walls of the Academy frequently turns to an age-old symptom of the institution – cynicism within the Brigade. Midshipmen sometimes complain that they aren’t treated like future naval officers and that they aren’t doing real work to prepare themselves to become the leaders of those fine Sailors and Marines. “I’m going to fly jets, why do I need to learn about buoy systems in the Western Rivers” is just one example. In teaching leadership on the yard, we strive for every class to fight that mentality, to prove to these young Midshipmen that their training is exceptional and that they will be well prepared to lead upon commissioning. Sometimes I fear that we aren’t doing enough, that the Midshipmen are right, and that we are sending our future junior officers to the fleet without the preparation needed to fulfill their duties. For the graduating Midshipmen, winter is coming, and many aren’t ready to handle a sword.

I don’t know entirely where the cynicism comes from, but I have a theory. Everything for these Midshipmen centers around one key event – service selection. Competition is fierce within the Brigade. Classmates vie for position and jossle for rank as if they were in Westeros, the fictional land of Game of Thrones. There are only so many slots for SEALs, Marines, Submariners, Aviators, and today even SWOs. Midshipmen study diligently to get good grades, so that their order of merit is high enough to get the service selection they want. Many spend more effort on good grades to earn that service selection, but in doing so disregard the very skill sets required to be successful naval officers – pro-knowledge is an afterthought and weighted minimally when compared to calculus and chemistry. The drive for service assignment goes beyond academics, of course. They perform with vigor on the PT fields to notch themselves up for the same purpose. Those wanting Marines join the Semper Fi Society, those seeking to become SEALs test themselves and compete against their classmates in arduous screeners.

That day in November, the Firsties learn their fates. Most are overjoyed – a good thing, no doubt. A few feel despair. These are the ones we should worry about. These are the examples that feed the cynicism – working hard may not be enough. These are the few who enter the fleet sullen, downcast and doubtful. These are the ones most unprepared for their future roles, having spent all of their efforts learning about fire team movements and squad assaults instead of honing their shiphandling skills on the YPs. These are the few who, in my opinion, are the least likely to commit themselves to a full career of service and will leave at the earliest opportunity.

Even those who earn their top choice are too hastily prepared for the training to be effective, meaning that the Chief’s Mess, Department Heads, and Commanding Officers are burdened with teaching junior officers skillsets and professional knowledge they should have mastered at the Naval Academy. The unit leadership should be focused on advanced training – on defeating multiple threats simultaneously, mastering complex engineering systems and conditioning our new Ensigns and Second Lieutenants to become outstanding naval leaders. Instead, they are too busy teaching standard commands, basic maintenance protocols and general military socialization.

What if we changed something? What if we moved service selection to the end of Youngster (sophomore) year? By that time, Midshipmen will have been able to establish their grades, competed in screeners, etc., at least enough for the Academy to choose wisely between them. We could move PROTRAMID, a fleet-wide round-robin experience to expose the Midshipmen to the various communities to the end of Plebe year, just like the NROTC currently does, to allow our new Youngsters the opportunity to see what fits them best. Most Plebes know what they want to service select before they climb Herndon, while the rest of the class would have another year to weigh the decision.

This change has several notable benefits. First, it eliminates competition amongst classmates during their junior and senior years, allowing for greater opportunity to hone leadership and professional skills in Bancroft. Second, it provides two full years, instead of a meager four months, for Midshipmen to hone their practical skills, affording them the chance to excel in tactical and technical competence from day one in the fleet. Marine selectees will have two years to practice ground tactics. Aviators have two years to pass IFS, easing the burden on Pensacola and the subsequent stashing of officers on the Yard until flight school begins. SWOs can master navigation and shiphandling before setting foot on the bridge of a destroyer. Third, if we rearrange the course loads, we can eliminate the cynicism that arises from taking courses that Midshipmen see as irrelevant, such as Marine wannabes having to struggle through seamanship and navigation courses. Fourth, and possibly most importantly, it allows Midshipmen a choice. They now know what they will be doing for their careers and if those few who don’t earn what they want choose to leave before signing their commitment papers the next Fall, the fleet will benefit from a drop in uncommitted and unenthusiastic naval officers. If a Midshipman is so disappointed in his or her service assignment, he or she doesn’t have to come back to poison the well back in Bancroft, or worse yet, carry that attitude into the fleet. Furthermore, by encouraging choice, we disrupt cynicism about being treated like children – a Midshipmen knows full-well what he or she is getting into when they sign on the line which is dotted.

Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus recently spoke to the brigade about a number of institutional changes aimed at improving talent management and retention. He mentioned that the Academy is already moving towards a system that seeks to match talent to title and is less dependent on class rank. He and his staff clearly understand that change is needed, not only for its effect on the yard but also downrange in the fleet. This proposal provides an avenue for that change, even if it is one of many. In combat, a coordinated simultaneous time-on-top attack is always preferred to a slew of single efforts and I believe that changing the timeframe for service selection is a key weapon in the fight against complacency and cynicism to ensure we maintain the highest level of combat readiness throughout the fleet. Even if our ships rust and our airframes crack, our people must remain sharp and steadfast.

Choice is nobody’s enemy. While I don’t have the same flowing locks and sword skills as Jon Snow, I empathize with his decision. I didn’t want to be a SWO, at least not initially, but my call to service outweighed my selfishness. I figured that if I was going to be a SWO, I would try my damndest to excel at it. Under this proposed change, there will still be plenty of disappointed Midshipmen who put their country before themselves and will accept what they earned with grace and humility. They will remember that service and leadership are what count, not the uniform they wear or the devices on their chest.



We are often quick to judge, in forums such as this. When one makes a mistake, exhibits an error in judgment, or nonsensically hews to an outdated tradition, we tend to skewer that person and then enunciate all of the ways it should have been done. We are amateur critics in a profession of arms.

secnav_response_photoBut these forums can also be places where we give thanks. And today, we give hearty thanks to the many hundreds of officers and enlisted whose efforts resulted in Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus’s speech at the United States Naval Academy on Wednesday. For the first time in years, the US Navy is instituting sweeping changes to reform the way we manage talent and retain our people.

For those unfamiliar, some of these policy shifts include:

-A market-based system for service selection and billets
-Expand the Command Advancement Program by replacing it with the Meritorious Advancement Program
-End GMT requirements via NKO; leave training to CO discretion
-Increase civilian graduate school and industry opportunities
-Replace promotion zones with weighted milestone achievements
-Eliminate year groups for officer management and promotion
-Changes to the PFA, including how we determine acceptable body composition
-FITREP changes for performance
-24-hour access to fitness facilities
-Increase hours at child care facilities
-Improve the co-location policy

To be sure, these efforts will not be without critics; some of them require the acquiescence of Congress. These efforts will not be without some confusion, as sailors attempt to get used to a new way of advancing or running the PRT. And these efforts will not be without calamity, as a few bad apples often find the way to take advantage of new benefits they haven’t earned.

But the actions of Secretary Mabus are a clear signal to the ranks: when he says “we’re listening,” it is not simple lip service. And that is refreshing.

So, thank you, Secretary Mabus, and all the countless individuals who have written about, debated, briefed, and taken action on the issues of talent management. While there is still much more work to do and a long way to go, this leadership has proven that, of all the services, the Navy is the best place to work and to serve.

Continue to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more.



As an employee of the Defense Department I am required to complete an (ever-increasing) menu of annual training requirements on subjects ranging from Personally Identifiable Information (PII) to Active Shooter Response. These are usually PowerPoint Presentations I view while sitting at my desk. Occasionally, however, employees are required to attend an All-Hands presentation. Such was the case recently, for training on Preventing Sexual Assault. The Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO) responsible for oversight of the United States Department of Defense sexual assault policy gave the presentation. SAPRO’S responsibility is to work with the military services and civilian community to develop and implement innovative prevention and response programs.

Requiring employees to attend an in-person presentation designates that leadership considers sexual assault a serious problem needing to be addressed. No one doubts that commitment.

The presenter used a slide that placed ‘sexual assault’ activity on a “Continuum of Harm” ranging from (covert) sexism, to (overt) sexual harassment and sexual assault.

But the word “covert” connotes surreptitious or undercover when often that’s not the case. The sociological literature calls it gender harassment (constant and insidious putting down of people by gender). For consideration here, a better descriptor than “covert” is simply “tacit.”

Slide1

Sexism or gender discrimination is now known to occur from a form of prejudice based on a person’s sex or gender. While it affects both men and women, it is primarily understood to impact female populations to a higher degree than male populations. Research has shown there is a link between tacit and overt activities on the Spectrum of Harm denoted in the all hands training presentation. Sexism can escalate into the overt arena.

It can start, for example, with a lone female colleague’s comments being regularly ignored at meetings. If ignoring her is acceptable, she inherently becomes a second-class citizen, and someone might then decide to throw a snide comment her way. Getting away with a snide comment or two can encourage that to become a regular, though subtle, practice, which creates the perception that the female is a fair-game, penalty-free target. If an aggressor then runs into her or finds her in the right, or wrong, situation, or circumstances, escalation can occur.

What is completely missing in Sexual Assault Prevention training a discussion of the cause and effect trajectory that exists between the continuums tacit components and its violent component in the form of a physical assault on the overt end.

Admirably, the military has taken a number of measures in recent years to address the overt issues. But tacit issues are far less likely to be addressed, sometimes even recognized, in any non-heterogeneous organizational environment. As long as there is a high degree of homogeneity, sexism will more likely be seen as a penalty free bias and a minority population viewed as second-class citizens. Expending efforts primarily in preventing overt activities is a necessary but not the all-inclusive manner of countering sexual assault. Tacit sexism must be addressed as well.

Few women leave an organization because they have overheard a sexist joke or comment, or even one overt incident unless severe. Far more are more likely to leave due to death-of-a-thousand-cuts sexism experienced over time, consisting of being ignored, subtly denigrated, judged differently than their peers, having to repeatedly prove their competency, and having it repeatedly demonstrated to them that leadership is willing to tolerate those slights.

Few women are willing to go forward to leadership with issues or complaints regarding sexism because they have personally seen those who do become dubbed “a problem” while the individuals complained about thrive – often even promoted to higher positions. These actions on behalf of those in positions of authority signal a high tolerance of acceptance. If tacit sexism is organizationally tolerated, that can also send a signal to men that perhaps it’s okay to go further.

Women are also acutely aware, again often through experience, that sexism-related hostile work environment complaints filed with authorities such as the Inspector General are pursued only if there was repeated, witnessed, excessive verbal abuse or physical touching involved. The assumption seems to be if an overt action occurs, it’s a problem; anything less is just a criticism, or worse, whining.

Death-by-a-thousand-cuts experiences degrade women’s trust in an organization, negatively effecting retention. Consequently as well, women who do not trust their organization to take sexism seriously, at any level, become less likely to report sexual assault if it occurs.

Addressing tacit sexism requires changing organizational culture, admittedly among the hardest changes to make in an organization. It cannot be done through a PowerPoint presentation, even in an All-Hands meeting. It requires leadership to demonstrate it is serious about change, in this case meaning what it will tolerate. It requires a change in organizational culture.

The Naval War College senior leadership course includes a case study on former IBM CEO Lou Gerstner, who changed the organizational culture of IBM and so saved the company. Gerstner says he changed the organizational processes used to achieve the organization goals — including communication, hiring, retention, salary and advancement — and the culture changed accordingly. Perhaps most importantly and relevant, he also tells the story of having to fire his top sales person because the individual was unable to adapt to the culture change. Doing that, he said, signaled to the rest of the thousands of IBM employees that he was serious.

While the military has clearly signaled it is committed to addressing overt sexism, regrettably the same has not been true regarding tacit sexism. And as long as tacit sexism is tolerated, problems will persist across the spectrum on the Continuum of Harm.



aboutfaceIn 1805, Boston’s Frederic Tudor stumbled upon the most innovative idea of his life. The global economy would actually pay handsomely for ice harvested and shipped from New England. Within fifty years, Tudor grew that idea into a highly profitable industry, shipping this new commodity throughout the U.S. and internationally. He didn’t even flinch with the invention of a new machine that could produce ice anywhere in the world. Large, cumbersome, and expensive, the machine produced ice that came at nearly 21 times the cost of Tudor’s harvested ice. Slowly the industrial ice maker became more efficient and less expensive. Tudor and the entire New England ice-harvesting industry lost much of their market share. Stiffening their resolve in the face of steadily waning profits and a changing technological landscape, they doubled down and invested in more effective ice harvesting techniques that would allow them to harvest more ice than they ever had before. The nail in the coffin for the ice harvesting industry came in the 1940s with the invention of the refrigerator which allowed consumers to make their own ice.

In retrospect, their fate seems painfully obvious. However, their problem is a human problem. We create organizations and services that are sustainable, improving incrementally over time, rather than the drastic transformations necessary to evolve. Known as the innovator’s dilemma, ideas are rejected that do not conform to the pre-existing business models that generated the initial success. This lesson shouldn’t be lost on the United States Marine Corps. Our Commandant has challenged us to “Innovate, Adapt, Win”, based upon a rich history of adapting and innovating. We consider ourselves able to accomplish any mission; to be ready when the national calls. However, the modern age of resource commons, digital technology, and social globalization is transforming the world around us, while we remain unmoved. We must inculcate a culture of innovation throughout the Corps, by rapidly and cheaply testing new ideas, empowering visionary Marines across ranks and communities, embracing learning through failure, and disrupting our own 20th century warfighting models with new tactics and modern, inexpensive, and impactful technologies.

Everything Old Is New Again

The evolution of innovation is no accident, nor is it a passing fad. The past 100 years of glorious success and excruciating industry collapse have borne out the approaches required for systematic innovation. Those approaches can be classified into the following strategies: Acquire, Accelerate, or Incubate. Corporations may choose to either acquire a disruptive new startup, accelerate that startup by funding it and gaining a controlling equity in the process, or they can incubate internally. Incubation empowers their existing entrepreneurially-minded employees to act like startups, but within a relatively protected corporate harbor. All these approaches hold to a consistent set of mantras: “Think Big”, “Start Small”, “Fail Fast”, “Invest Minimally”, “Learn Continually”, and “Validate As You Go”. Somewhat surprisingly, these words should sound very familiar to those versed in Marine Corps history and maneuver warfare doctrine. However, to those recently or currently serving in the Marine Corps, those same words prove discordant with our current Corps culture. Since this discordance is debatable, let’s explore each mantra.

  • Think Big. Marines are often challenged to ‘think outside the box’. We also require that same Marine to be realistic in their approaches and to practice strict obedience to organizational and rank-based hierarchies. Although necessary for the instantaneous obedience to orders required for combat, these requirements directly suppress the promotion of unorthodox ideas. Particularly those that challenge core values or practices, and yet those ideas are exactly what is needed in order to identify our vulnerabilities.
  • Start Small. We routinely emphasize this mantra at the tactical, deployed, mission planning environment. However, outside of that specific environment, we assemble like-minded Marines into a U-shaped ambush around a projected computer screen and heroically execute the Marine Corps Planning Process (MCPP) as the only trusted methodology to solve problems. We develop plans with the knowledge that the plan won’t ‘survive first contact’. Nonetheless, we still demand fully developed requirements that are meant to mitigate all possible risk.
  • Fail Fast. Failure, at nearly all levels, is typically cause for reprimand either socially, verbally, or formally. Even earnestly intended experimentation often results in punishment for ‘good initiative, poor execution.’ This mentality has caused some to argue that our promotion and assignment system encourages status quo behavior that incentivizes Marines to perform minimally so that they may simply survive until retirement.
  • Invest Minimally. The Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) has crippled our combat development and acquisitions cycles. They have become so obfuscated that it now requires decades of experience, certifications, and graduate degrees to navigate them. These processes are designed to handle high-dollar, high-risk, weapons systems. Those same processes are fundamentally at odds with modern, cheap, and rapidly developed information and communication technologies. Recently published efforts have begun to allow faster, cheaper, and more responsive acquisition models. However, it remains to be seen whether this will result in any near-term change in the subsequent processes and mindsets of the individuals who implement and control these processes.
  • Learn Continually. Should our requirements make it through the combat development and acquisitions crucible, they will find a home within a solutions development office from across the range of doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leadership, personnel, and facilities. These offices are designed to execute requirements planning documents and carry a program throughout its lifecycle. Slow or nonexistent warfighter feedback mechanisms do not allow solution developers to pivot on that warfighter’s emerging needs. Similarly, solution developers are challenged to adjust the initial requirement based upon a more clarified understanding. Requirements creep has become a dirty word, rewarding requirements inflexibility.
  • Validate As You Go. Our experiments and operational tests are planned and executed in large cycles, usually taking years to develop a wargame or field test. For that reason, there is no option for mid-execution assessment and cancellation of the experiment. Even a basic understanding of the scientific process shows us that experiments are designed to be small and incremental in nature, and be halted at the earliest possible opportunity.

Self-Examination: The State of Marine Corps Innovation

Nearly every facet of our modern lives, from how we communicate, create, lead, entertain, and educate, has seen a drastic transformation outside the gates of our bases. Despite this, the Corps woefully lags behind in creating or even following a similar transformation. Cloud computing has combined with lightweight apps and mobile devices to offer overwhelming potential for military capability, but Marine Corps implementation of any of these technologies remains nascent at best. Nearly a decade has passed since the global revolution of smartphones and tablets, and yet these items haven’t been measurably integrated into our force. It’s been over 12 years since social networking has turned into a trillion-dollar market, but we haven’t managed to find any role for it within our Corps. These examples are representative of a much larger problem, one recognized across the military. On April 8th, 2015, Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work stated “Our technological superiority is slipping. We see it every day.” We innovate linearly in a world where Moore’s law dominates with exponential increases in technology. We must then expect a high risk future state where we are unable to incorporate the technology used by outside industry. Or worse still, the military’s inability to innovate restrains the progression of our military-industrial complex. Our current emerging innovation projects are in name only, watered down to suggestion boxes and process improvement training. Augmented reality, robotics, and 3-D printing could fundamentally transform who, what, when, where, how, and even why we deploy our force. New technologies are able to drive disruptive innovations and social change. These shifts have altered how individuals, businesses, and nations function, yet our Corps remains largely unchanged. The Marine Corps must look to new models to innovate, integrate new technologies, anticipate disruption, and rapidly transform itself.

Innovating From The Core, For The Corps

A fundamentally different approach to innovation in the Marine Corps is needed. The program must look, feel, and sound different than anything we have done in the past. However, it will largely be a return to a time when our Corps was permitted to fail, to experiment, to be nimble, and to be genuinely creative. The approach I recommend builds directly upon the incubator innovation engines found within 80% of the S&P 100, such as GE, 3M, and Adobe. In addition to this, incubation has been adopted by forward thinking government organizations, such as the National Security Agency, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the National Aeronautics and Space Agency. A Marine Corps innovation incubator will foster new ideas, develop those ideas through deliberate and anonymous collaboration, build minimum investment prototypes with specialized teams of experts, and transition those prototypes into formal capabilities. The approach won’t be detailed here, but it can be thought of as a mashed-up process that crowdsources both support and ideas like Kickstarter, builds prototypes like Mythbusters, and invests resources like SharkTank. The program will use a modern, web-based, mobile-friendly, platform that is centered upon transparency, open collaboration, and empowering Marines to behave as entrepreneurs and investors. Participation is incentivized through unique and refreshing methods that are far beyond the simple and relatively ineffective approach of cash pay outs.

Why An Innovation Engine At All?

It’s reasonable to ask why a new approach to innovation is even needed. After all, we already have several activities that serve some type of innovation function and currently produce capabilities. However, we must recognize that there are endemic problems that exist today which aren’t being addressed by current approaches. Although an innovation engine like the one discussed above will never be a silver bullet solution, there are several advantages that have been proven out by the corporations and government agencies which have implemented these engines.

  • People. We empower our Marines and civilians to own the future of their Marine Corps, giving them greater value to the Corps and themselves. Our visionaries are recognized and embraced, rather than marginalized. Further, we capitalize on the strengths of the incoming generation’s ability to use technology and social platforms to create change.
  • Capability. We can now rapidly and efficiently test a high quantity of ideas in order to fail our way towards success. This strategy is built upon principles found in MCDP-1 Warfighting, and has been shown to develop richer and more beneficial capabilities within industry. Strategic risks are mitigated by exploring both near and future-term disruptive ideas, before an adversary can discover them. We can also directly and transparently identify deficiencies in current capabilities. Conversely, solutions developers and leadership can now engage with a Marine directly to develop creative solutions to those deficiencies.
  • Culture. We promote our innovative spirit while demonstrating willingness to adapt to any future condition. This sends a strong message of stepping away from current risk-averse, zero-failure culture. We outwardly display eagerness for innovation, bringing in entrepreneurs and startups to support the innovation program itself. Such a display provides a crucial bridge to the incoming generation of Marine Corps recruits and future business leaders of America.

Our own history, in conjunction with modern corporate innovation approaches, has blazed a trail towards innovation. These modern approaches are even more important in today’s constantly changing digital world. Any modern bureaucracy, to include the Marine Corps, must seriously consider how innovation can be used to evolve the organization. Nowhere does the popular mantra of “Innovate or Die” hold truer. However, success in innovation demands enthusiastic support from every leader, as well as Corps-wide participation. Our Marine esprit has primed us for success, if we may only direct it towards transformative approaches to innovation. This transformation cannot come too soon. Today’s technologies are rapidly driving down the cost to innovate. For the Marine Corps, the cost of failure is simply too high to continue harvesting ice.



Please join us Sunday, 15 March 2015 at 5pm (U.S. EDT) for Midrats Episode 271: “Red Flag and the Development USAF Fighter Pilots”

In parallel efforts that in the Navy which led to Top Gun, the US Air Force looked hard at the lessons of air to air combat in the Vietnam War and brought forward “Red Flag,”

Moving beyond the technical focus, they looked to training and

fundamentals to bring back a primacy of combat skills.

Our guest for the full hour to discuss this and his new book, The Air Force Way of War: U.S. Tactics and Training after Vietnam, will be

Dr. Brian D. Laslie, Deputy Command Historian, North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and United States Northern Command (USNORTHCOM).

A historian of air power studies, Dr. Laslie received his Bachelor’s degree in history from The Citadel: The Military College of South Carolina, his Master’s from Auburn University Montgomery in 2006 and his Doctorate from Kansas State University in 2013.

Dr. Laslie was Honorably Discharged from the United States Air Force in 2007 as a Captain after serving as a logistics officer, doctrine instructor, and Action Officer to the Commander of Air University.

Join us live if you can (or pick the show up later) by clicking here. Or if you prefer, you will find the show later on our iTunes page here.



On the heels of Misso and O’Keefe’s excellent piece calling for an increase to the already healthy pool of critical-but-constructive JO writing, “Stick Your Neck Out,” James Fallows at the Atlantic has published in an unfortunately different tack, “Two Young Officers on How the Country Let the Military Down, and Vice Versa,” showing the state of the military from a “I’m out” angry mic-drop perspective. Now, he has published a follow-up this morning, “A Reform the Military is Undertaking,” with some Junior Officer (JO) responses, but we all still need to have a chat.

Guys, I feel for the two officers’ sense of frustration – but this growing stream of solutionless exit-route bitterness is becoming too much a staple in corners of dialogue on the military. The vast forest is often missed for the particularly striking burning trees – and attention to the unofficial public debate seems to occur as an responsorial afterthought rather than the main thrust of our discussion. In some cases, you may even do a dis-service to a well-meaning JO whose writing may be shocking and a traffic generator, but fails to follow the advice of Brett Friedman on sound JO approaches to problem solving and writing.

If you find yourself with a fiery tome written by an O-2 or terminal O-3 who has been pounding away at their keyboard in well-meaning isolation – don’t do yourself and them the discredit by using it as a tool for pulling in clicks. Consider doing your and their credibility a favor, as a believer in the civil-military dialogue: put them in touch with someone you know in uniform, who you would trust to help that young JO add the tact and fact-checking necessary to make a truly incisive piece. Force them, before publishing, to grapple with the concrete realities that mold their institution and how they would see these realities shifted through implementable solutions. Remind them about the size of their institution with its indirect paths of change or glacial pace. You might suggest that, perhaps with time, their passion for change and continued service could see those or other changes come to pass. Hey, maybe just send them to one of us for a quick look-over?

Journalists, academics, enthusiasts… let’s have some real talk. If you want to write about the military, its culture, or the technical, tactical, operational, and strategic concerns of its members – you can always listen to the one’s who are still in, trying to understand, pursuing solutions, but are still sometimes frustrated (if that’s what you’re looking for). Some of you do listen, and you have our thanks – perhaps some of us have even bought you a beer as part of that civil-military dialogue. There exists whole constellations of critical-but-constructive JO’s and J(ish)O’s writing, with the occasional peppering of responses or even policy from GO/FO’s – all accessible to you every day:

reporter_-_bw_vintageI have said this before, if we want to build a better civil-military understanding, I beg you start paying attention to the debate happening in the public writings of those servicemembers you want to understand. Though there is a place for appreciating the pure critics and exit-route mic-droppers; their views should not be the main drumbeat of our dialogue. To be fair, many of us who write regularly are a self-selected group – there still remains a vast space in which to encourage JOs to write. Those in the public space who avail themselves for those writings are doing a service, but the cherry picking and lack of guidance in the production of shocking JO posts does no service to your legitimacy among those you wish to discuss, and misinforms – or only partially informs – the public you are attempting to explain us to.

You want controversy, you want to see the battle of ideas, you want characters, you want stories… they’re all out there. The shooting stars may grab attention, but the constellations in the night sky are how we should navigate.



« Older Entries
2014 Information Domination Essay Contest