Innovation is about more than just coming up with new ideas. It is about personal interactions and developing relationships between people and organizations who have a desire to improve warfighter capabilities. Forward thinking organizations cannot exist in a vacuum but must learn from each other in both substance and style.
Last week, the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell (CRIC) traveled to San Diego, and met various some groups of disruptive thinkers and doers in the area. They visited a number of different innovative organizations and met men and women who had the courage to think and act differently from the status quo. These included a Grassroots science and technology (S&T) organization of young scientists and engineers at SPAWAR Systems Center, Pacific (SSC PAC) and an innovation forum organized by the sailors of the USS BENFOLD known as the Athena Project. In each of these organizations the CRIC saw individuals who had a vision and the courage to act on it, able to effect a positive and beneficial change to whatever field they were working in.
SSC PAC is the premier organization for developing naval command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4ISR) technologies. They have some of the best minds in the country advancing this field, but they are often not directly aware of warfighter needs. Along the same lines, warfighters are not technologists. They do not necessarily know what is within the realm of the possible from a scientific standpoint, and so might not fully understand what they can ask for. Under the leadership of Dr. Josh Kvavle, SSC PAC’s recently created Grassroots S&T group is working to bridge this technologist-to-warfighter gap and bring solutions to the Fleet faster.
The CRIC was also able to showcase a project led by LT Josh Steinman at the AFCEA West Conference. LT Steinman is working with Google to develop shipboard applications for Google Glass, and leverage its ease and portability to allow sailors easy access to information while performing tasks onboard ship. ADM Harris, Commander Pacific Fleet, utilized the Google Glass owned by the CRIC and SSCPAC as a prompter during his keynote address at AFCEA West. He demonstrated the ease of use and its wide range of applicability, and addressed the need for the Navy to develop and incorporate new technologies and ideas.
Another event the CRIC attended was the Athena Project. The Athena Project is an ongoing innovation forum started by the officers and sailors of the USS BENFOLD aimed at providing junior leaders on the ship the opportunity to present ideas and solutions to problems they are passionate about. The goal is to provide a venue where anyone, regardless of rank or position, can present their idea and be given serious consideration by an engaged audience. A set number of presenters are each given five minutes to present their idea to the audience, followed by a five minute question and answer period. At the end of each presentation, the audience votes on the idea, judging its quality, actionability, and presentation.
After presentations are finished, the votes are tallied, and the winner is awarded the Admiral Sim’s Award for Intellectual Courage. Recognition alone is not the reason behind the Athena Project. The real reward is the winner being given full permission and command backing to form a small functional team to put the idea into action during the following quarter. Since the Athena Project has started hosting innovation forums, they have grown from a mere 20 participants from a single ship’s company to an event with over 100 participants from multiple commands with onlookers from industry and academia.
The level of initiative and professionalism shown by the presenters was inspiring. Each one had taken time to research an idea they were passionate about and present it, understanding the possibility of failure., the winner of the Admiral Sim’s award at this event was an idea presented by LT Nobles and LTJG O’Donnell to pair sailors and scientists in order to foster direct communication between warfighters and the developers of their equipment. This was perfectly aligned with the goals of SSC PAC’s Grassroots S&T group. LT Nobles and LTJG O’Donnell will be developing their idea over the next quarter.
The Athena Project and other initiatives such as SPAWAR’s Grassroots S&T Group constitute the some of the best junior leaders currently in the Navy. These Sailors and civilians are forming themselves and making connections together now that will serve them as they become the future senior leadership in the Navy. These initiatives are not only important now, but are a key to ensuring the future of the Navy as an adaptable, mobile fighting force.
In the midst of political battles in Washington, D.C., dramatic cuts to military spending from the sequester and continuing resolutions, and the now infamous government shutdown of 2013, a group of military officers, enlisted, government civilians and men and women from industry gathered in Chicago last fall. The Defense Entrepreneurs Forum was held at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business to bring together innovators from the junior ranks of the military, senior officers with experience and advice, and experienced entrepreneurs who had come from the ranks to make a difference. Speakers ranged from Silicon Valley gurus, to military officers, and even one history geek. It was an inspiring event, and helped to stoke the embers of innovation that have been a central part of American military success time and again, through the ages.
This spring the opportunity is presenting itself again. This time, it’s closer to home for the decision makers in D.C. and the think tank crowd, as well as the U.S. Naval Institute. Not far from where the last Liberty Tree once stood, the gathering place for a previous generation of upstarts and thinkers, DEF[x] Annapolis will be held on 1 March, 2014 on the campus of St. John’s College. Bringing together the ideals of intellectual inquiry represented by St. John’s unique curriculum, the promise of military service from the U.S. Naval Academy, and a proximity to the movers and shakers in Washington, D.C., the speakers, breakouts, and social events show a lot of promise. Some of the events will be sponsored by organizations like Unleashed Technologies and USNI. The list of TED-style talks slated for this one day event are likely to be just as inspiring and informative as Chicago, including successful military innovators, operators, and again, at least one history geek.
If you’re looking to learn a little bit more about innovation in the U.S. military, about successful entrepreneurs, or about operators who have tried something new in the field, this will be the place to be on Saturday, 1 March. Even if you’re just looking for an excuse to escape the beltway and see historic Annapolis, it’s worth the short drive. Registration is limited and the seats are filling up quickly, so click through to sign up.
“Our objective must not be “safety first” in the sense of adherence to already tested practices and implements, but safety first in being the first to recognize, the first to experiment with, and the first to adopt improvements of distinct military value.” – Admiral William S. Sims, 1921.
In an era of defense draw down, technological acceleration, and globalized connections, doing the “same old, same old” is not an acceptable answer. Come join some folks who are interested in trying new things, and looking for creative solutions.
A. Denis Clift, former Naval Officer, president emeritus of the National Intelligence University, and Vice President for Operations of USNI, joins us to talk about his reflections on his time in the Antarctic, Cold War intelligence, life, and the United States Naval Institute. This is the first of a bi-monthly series that will be investigating his career during the Cold War.
Even though submarines entered mainstream use during World War I, they nevertheless were dangerous, and accidents were usually fatal. A series of mishaps on US submarines finally inspired one man to develop the tools that would help sailors escape from a sunken submarine. Charles Momsen was a pioneer in underwater rescue, and developed the rescue device that bears his name.
By Mark Tempest
Just click here to get to the live show (you may have to click again on a show page, but what are two clicks among friends?). Call in during the show with comments or thoughts or join us in the chat room if you think your voice is not yet ready for radio.
I think Cyber, Russia, Christine Fox’s comments, Coalition Warfare, budget constraints, the JSF, retention of our best talent, and the future of warfare will come up at some point. Plus more.
Join us live or listen later.
The recent 72nd anniversary of the attack at Pearl Harbor allows for a pause in our chronological narrative of naval history. Fifteen Medals of Honor were awarded to Navy sailors for heroism during that attack, and our object today is one of those medals.
I made my way to the USNI/AFCEA West 2014 Conference because the theme is an important one. Shaping the Maritime Strategy. And because I was fairly certain it wouldn’t be snowing in San Diego. Sure enough, the speakers and panel sessions have not disappointed. And, there is not a snowbank in sight.
This morning’s keynote event was a roundtable on Information Dominance. Moderated by Mr. David Wennergren, VP for Enterprise Technologies and Services at CACI, the panel consisted of RADM Paul Becker USN, Director of Intelligence J2 from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, RADM Robert Day USCG, Assistant Commandant for C4I for Coast Guard Cyber Command, Mr. Terry Halvorsen, DoN CIO, and BGen Kevin Nally USMC, Marine Corps CIO.
Each spoke eloquently of the need for protecting trusted information networks in an increasingly interconnected military, as well as the complexities of the dependence on trusted networks for myriad systems, capabilities, and decision support of command and control functions. Not surprisingly, the emphasis of most of the discussion was on countering the threats to our use of the electronic spectrum, which is to say “cyber” security. Each of the roundtable speakers were insightful in describing the problem of data overload, and how that overload actually stymied efforts to retrieve information. And each commented in turn that “information dominance” was not synonymous with “cyber”, which merely represented one aspect of the concept.
The discussion amongst the roundtable members did fall disappointingly short in two critical areas. The first was the focus on technical solutions for managing data and information. Connectivity and data transfer capability dominated what should have been a cultural discussion about information management. It is not the lack of sensors, or data feeds, nor connectivity shortfalls which have hampered our attempts to wring the maximum value from our information systems. We have become so enamored of the colossal capability to access raw data that we have become less than disciplined about what we NEED to know, when we need to know it, from whom we should expect it, what form that data needs to be in, and how it is to be analyzed into information useful for decision support for C2. Little of that was directly addressed, which was unfortunate, as such lack of acumen about our information and intelligence requirements will render any system to deliver those products far less effective than they should be.
By far, however, the biggest shortcoming of the roundtable discussion was the inability of any of the panel members to actually define the term “Information Dominance” in any meaningful way. I had submitted precisely that question for the roundtable via the electronic submission system in use at West this year, but someone asked it ahead of me. The attempts to define “Information Dominance” would have made a junior high English teacher cringe. We heard what information dominance is similar to, and what the supposed goals of information dominance were, but neither was in any way a real definition. (This is not a surprise. Two years ago, the Navy had an “Information Dominance” booth on the “gizmo floor”, staffed alternately by a Captain and two Commanders. I asked each, separately, over a couple days, to give me their definition of “information dominance”. None of theirs were remotely similar, nor any more adequate than what we heard today.)
The problem, of course, is the term itself. Information cannot be “dominated”, despite assertions to the contrary. An enemy with a very specific information requirement that he can fulfill reliably and in a timely manner can be said to have information “dominance” over our massive sensor and communications networks that commanders and staffs pore over in attempts to see through the fog of war. The dust cloud from the dirt bike as the teenager rides from Baghdadi to Hit to tell the insurgents of the Coalition convoy headed their way trumps our networked, data-driven ISR platform links that cannot help prevent the ambush that awaits us.
We have much work ahead of us to make most effective use of our incredibly robust data collection systems and information networks. The solution to the problems of analytical capacity resident in C2 nodes with which to turn raw data into useful information and intelligence will be far more human than digital. Commanders have to insist on a philosophy of “Don’t tell me everything, tell me what I need to know”. And then go about ensuring that those who collect, compile, and analyze data have a very good idea of what they need to know.
And we can start by retiring the troublesome and ill-suited term “Information Dominance”. As General van Riper is fond of saying, “Words MEAN things!”. They’re supposed to, anyway.
Cross-posted at Bring the Heat, Bring the Stupid.
Block some time out today to watch the speech by Acting Deputy Secretary of Defense Christine Fox that kicked off the AFCEA-USNI West2014 Conference. She was strong, direct, and the substance of her comments should be considered a good source of Indications & Warnings for what our Navy will be faced with going forward.
In some ways, she spoke as a prophet of the Church of the Hard Truth, and that was refreshing. More of that tone from her and others. It is healthy and gets people’s attention.
Some points to ponder from her speech as I heard it – with a little commentary from my part from what I saw, unspoken, between the lines;
Pacific Pivot: She rightfully reminded everyone of the fundamentals. The Pacific is predominately a maritime theater, and that aspect needs to be central to the military side of the refocus. This cannot be just a military effort, it must be a diplomatic, informational, and economic rebalance to the Pacific. Yep, she kicked off with D.I.M.E. It was at that point that I knew I was going to like a lot about what she had to say.
China: In the near term, we should look at the military growth of China in the maritime theater as a drive to thwart the freedom of movement of others in her sphere of influence, as China sees it.
Disengagement: If the influence and presence of the USA decreases, regional rivalries will increase. In the Pacific, American military presence is a stabilizing force, not a provocative force.
Complacency & Assumptions: We cannot assume American dominance going forward or that we can operate in the permissive environment we have enjoyed for the last couple of decades. We need to reassess our ability to bring force from over the horizon and under the surface in order to get around Anti-Access and Area-Denial systems.
LCS: Though she didn’t address LCS directly, it was clearly there in her warnings that we cannot build a Fleet for a specific kind of fight. Our platforms need to be flexible, and more importantly, survivable in combat. “Niche” platforms are not what we need to invest our limited resources in.
Unsexy but Important: She reminded all that in previous drawdowns, enabling forces were ignored in a rush to save “combat” assets. When actual war comes, we are significantly hampered by the lack of those enablers we ignored in the lean years. Sacrificing enablers for combat units in peace is a false economy.
Hollow Force: We know what creates a hollow force, all we have to do is look at the 1970s. We need to make sure we don’t ignore that history. This will be the 5th drawdown in living memory, and when the next conflict comes, forces will be used more than what was sold during the drawdown.
Personnel Compensation: The post-911 benefit plus-ups are not sustainable and the costs are impacting readiness and modernization. That and the fact we need a BRAC are well known, but there is no political will to address it.
Force Levels: The upcoming QDR will show that there will be no “Peace Dividend” from the last decade of conflict. That being said, the military must get smaller in the next 5 years. We just need to ensure a tighter fit between strategy and budget resources in order to get it right. In theory strategy should drive budgets, but the reality is that budgets force one to make strategic decisions and define priorities. Budgets and strategy are hard-linked together.
One final note on style. Yes, style. In both style and substance, Fox was strong. We are lucky to have someone like her at the front of the conversation, and if I may offer – whatever her future holds, the Pentagon needs to make sure a place is found to have her out front of the public and decision makers.
As you watch the video, remember that though superficial, it is true that regardless of how good or important the information you want to present, you have to deliver it in a manner that gets and keeps people’s attention. You have to make sure your style matches your substance, or the substance is lost.
Fox was not dry, stilted, nervous, or excessively wonky. She was humble without being cheesy, but most important – the hard truths she delivered were presented with an upbeat but serious tone. Even a few smiles thrown in. The happy warrior style.
That is how you do it. Again, the national security community needs to encourage and create opportunities for Fox to come more from out of the background. This drawdown will be done right or wrong based on a the results of intellectual battles in the marketplace of ideas. In this conversation, I think we have identified a High Value Unit.
In our first post Scott and I wrote about education opportunities available for those supporting the U.S. Navy, from reserve Marine Corps to active Navy to civil servants. We’ve updated that post with additional options thanks to RADM James Foggo, CDR Steve Melvin, Chrissy Juergens, LT Vic Allen, and Tetyana Muirhead. In that article we focused on free courses that can be used towards degrees or certificate programs. But that’s not the only type of free training available.
Alternatively, you might find yourself in the situation “Degreed Out” (BSEE, MBA, CDFM, CISSP, OA Cert from NPS…), in which getting another master’s degree or certification may start merely seeming like alphabet soup. Also, if you’re like me and you find yourself on shore duty, it should be a time for professional and personal development, right? I tried something different and took a few classes through Coursera. Six classes actually, and I’m happy to say this was a very positive and rewarding experience. Coursera offers what are known as massive open online courses (MOOCs). In contrast with the courses in our first post, these typically have no limit on the number of seats in the class and some can be started at any time, although there are many variations on the set-up. While they too don’t charge for enrollment, a few have a small fee to test or “certify” you upon the course’s completion if that is something you’d like to pursue.
With Coursera each class ranged from 6-12 weeks in length and all required a different but not insignificant amount of work. What did I get for my efforts you ask? All but one of the courses offered me PDF certificates of completion that don’t mean much to anyone but me. More importantly, I learned more than I thought possible in subject matters I chose (Cryptography, Reverse Engineering of Malware, Financial Engineering, Computational Finance, High Performance Computing and Guitar) by the experts in the field (Stanford, University of London International Programmes, University of Washington, Columbia University, Georgia Tech, and Berklee School of Music).
In my humble opinion, this is the future of education. I think this is the greatest invention since the public library system. It is the public library system and the internet combined, with guided direction of the world’s greatest instructors thrown into the mix. I am convinced that this is how the world will judge future academic institutions and decide where they will send their children to study full-time. It is also quite possibly, how future college students will prepare and choose their degree paths. I expect great things for the future due largely to efforts such as these. For Scott’s part, he believes the business model will allow MOOCs to count towards degree and certificate programs at “brick-and-mortar” institutions if they are individually partnered with that institution and upon the successful completion of testing on a fee basis (The Economist has covered the possible future of MOOCs in more depth, as well as even shorter, less-formal learning tools).
Massive Open Online Course (MOOC)
For an aggregation of MOOC courses across these and other sites check out MOOC-List.
Coursera has 554 institutions offering course-work in various subject areas. Take the world’s best courses for free and earn a certificate of completion. Alternatively, pay a few dollars extra and earn a verified certificate. This certificate verifies your identity by using methods such as your typing patterns and using an online camera to verify your picture. One of the downsides for military members attempting to take Coursera classes related to your job is that the site is not compatible with NMCI’s old browsers.
iTunesU has a large collection of free podcasts in several knowledge areas. Not surprisingly, if you want to learn how to write an iTunes App this is the place to go. It seems that may universities have their own portal on the iTunesU website. In my opinion, Apple’s decision to host individual portals has left this site a bit of a mess and course material is slightly unorganized. However, once you find the content you are looking for, it could make your commute to work much more productive.
While I have yet to try this one, Udacity is the same basic concept as Coursera but with a twist. You can take the classes completely on your schedule. Although limited in number by comparison, the course offerings looked fairly attractive. I think I may just try the “Intro to Hadoop and Map-reduce” course if I can squeeze it in. With no deadlines it is much more likely that I will sign up, poke around at the most interesting content, and if I am not completely enamored put it off until another day.
edX is another top-tier MOOC which at the time of this writing has 38 courses to choose from, provided in partnership with such institutions as Harvard, MIT, and Georgetown, spanning many subject areas. Most edX course videos are provided by means of YouTube and do their best to incorporate students into discussion groups on online forums. edX also offers certificates of completion, some requiring a fee for identify verification.
Navy Knowledge Online, MarineNet, and Joint Knowledge Online
We would be remiss if we didn’t mention these three sites, which are in fact long-running DoD-restricted versions of MOOCs. While they may not have the best reputation and are saddled with clunky, non-mobile interfaces, they do offer training on topics directly related to professional duties. Additionally, for those seeking to expand their knowledge beyond their designator or rate, there’s a range of interesting coursework available – from drone operations to intel “A” school to short cultural backgrounds on dozens of countries.
Defense Acquisition University (DAU), FEMA, DHS, Defense Security Service
Back in our first post we talked about (at least in the updated version) accredited courses and certificate options available through DAU, FEMA, DHS at NPS, DHS at Texas A&M, and the Defense Security Service’s Center for Development of Security Excellence. As a reminder, they have many online training options there for self-edification as well. Offerings typically focus on subject such as incident response management, cyber security, and counter-terrorism.
While Rosetta Stone used to be available free to servicemembers, that contract has since expired. However, there are still several options for beginning or furthering a language for free. Both NKO and JKO have several languages available, but they’re not the most interactive, and focus primarily on a few of the high-demand target languages and militarily useful skills. That said, if you’re already an intermediate speaker or going on a specific assignment and want to brush up on your ability to talk to your uniformed counterparts, these could be quite useful. iTunesU has a plethora of options, running from minute-long immersion to more structured serial listening podcasts. For those with smartphones there are a variety of free language apps that I have yet to try, but the Duolingo app comes highly recommended and takes an immersion and gamification approach to try and cram learning for fun into the nooks and crannies of your free time. Scott may have to put away The Simpsons Tapped Out and finally get back to his Spanish studies.
If you have any additional recommendations on language learning options, please let us know and we’ll perhaps come up with a part 3. In the meantime let us know what else we missed, and keep on learnin’.
This article was cross-posted by permission from JO Rules. The opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy.
If you’re in the neighborhood, join us for drinks and conversation 21 February, 1800 at Factor’s Row in Annapolis.
The groups listed share many characteristics, and have hosted their own local events before. Seeing the significant overlap between the organizations, it made sense to do an event which included them all.
I2 – “Innovators Initiative” is a group of USNA Midshipmen who began meeting to share their mutual interest in emerging technology and ideas. They are the ones behind the upcoming DEF(x) conference in Annapolis.
CRIC(x) – the wider community of the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell.
CIMSEC – Center for International Maritime Security. If you’re like me, and find it difficult to make it to the CIMSEC DC meet-ups on a week night – this Friday Annapolis based meet-up is for you.
- DEF[x] Annapolis: Encourage the Innovators
- A History of the Navy in 100 Objects #48: Models of HMS St. George (1701) and USS Missouri (1944)
- Engineering and the Humanities: The View from Patna’s Bridge…
- A History of the Navy in 100 Objects #47: British Dockyard Models
- A History of the Navy in 100 Objects #46: WWII Japanese Radio Headset