Technology, Innovation, and Modern War – Class 14 – Planning– Major General Mike Fenzel

We just held our fourteenth session of our new national security class Technology, Innovation and Modern WarJoe FelterRaj Shah and I designed a class to examine the new military systems, operational concepts and doctrines that will emerge from 21st century technologies – Space, Cyber, AI & Machine Learning and Autonomy.

Today’s topic was Strategy, Plans and Policy in the Joint Staff.

Catch up with the class by reading our summaries of the previous thirteen classes here.


Some of the readings for this week included CNAS “The Next Defense Strategy” series, Sustaining the Future of Indo-Pacific Defense Strategy, Enhancing Forward Defense: The Role of Allies and Partners in the Indo-Pacific, Make China the Explicit Priority in the Next NDS, the Indo-Pacific Strategy Report, Lessons for a Future War

Our guest speaker was Major General Mike Fenzel, Vice Director for Strategy, Plans and Policy, J5 for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Joint Chiefs are advisors to the President, the Secretary of Defense and the National Security Council. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff submits a national military strategy biennially to Congress. The Joint Chiefs have no operational authority over troops. The chain of command for military operations goes from the President to the Secretary of Defense directly to the commanders of the combatant commands.

The mission of the Joint Staff J5 is to propose strategies, plans, and policy recommendations to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to support his provision of military advice to the President and other national leaders across the full spectrum of national security concerns. The J5 ensures these recommendations are informed by a larger strategic context–coordinated with interagency and alliance partners; account for the view and requirements of the combatant commanders; and assess risk in executing the National Military Strategy. The J5 is one of eight primary staff directorates in the Joint Chiefs of Staff organization, which is depicted below.

The diagram below is a summary of the DoD’s Adaptive Planning and Execution Enterprise. The top right shows the civilian-military dialog that gives the military direction for the development and execution of military plans. The purple box in the middle is where the Joint Chiefs of Staff – and General Fenzel’s group — help develop the National Military Strategy (NMS), Joint Strategic Campaign Plan (JSCP), Joint Military Net Assessment (JMNA) and the Capstone Concept for Joint Operations (CCJO). These plans drive the detailed military plans and courses of action.

A major emphasis of this course is appreciating that developing technologies is not what directly impacts modern war but how these technologies are adopted by militaries to develop new operational concepts, doctrines and strategies. Given this, we thought the class would benefit hearing from one of the top officers in the U.S. military responsible for developing our military’s strategies and plans for conducting future wars.  I’ve extracted and paraphrased a few of General Fenzel’s key insights and urge you to read the entire transcript here and listen to the audio of his complete talk.

How is Defense Policy Formed?
Policy is formed starting at the Joint Staff with advice. It’s referred to as the best military advice. That’s what we as a Joint Staff tee up for the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff since he is a principal military advisor to both the President and the Secretary of Defense. Most of our time is spent ensuring that that advice can be formed and offered in a concerted and thoughtful way. And that it takes into consideration all of the conditions, circumstances and opinions of the combatant commanders.

You’re sitting through what’s called an operational deputies meeting, which is the precursor to something that’s referred to as a Tank (the nickname given to the Joint Chiefs of Staff Conference Room in the Pentagon). And that’s where all the service chiefs and all the Combatant Command commanders and all the Joint Staff directors come together. And they decide how they should proceed before a recommendation goes to the Secretary of Defense. It’s a very big deal.

There is a painting on the wall of the Tank with Abraham Lincoln and his commanders; it’s called The Peacemakers. I think it’s important that painting is on the wall because that reflects how we all feel. Those who experienced war are the ones that hate it the most.

Global Integration of Operational Plans
In the past, when we talked about Operational Plans for combatant commands like Central Command, or INDOPACOM, or a European Command, we didn’t think about global integration. We would be developing those Plans in isolation because it was us against one adversary or another. Now it’s not that neat. It’s not limited to a given region, or area of operation. There’s cyber, there’s space. There has always been the nuclear issue. But cyber and space alone demand global integration. If there is a threat in one region, there are implications in other regions as well.

We refer to this as a “global integration framework.” We’re developing a framework for how to think about the problem, instead of launching right into a given course that might be irrelevant the moment the plan is completed. There’s a lot of effort involved in thinking about what can be done early, what can be done as the crisis is brewing, to get us to what we call “off ramps” — a position where we steer away from conflict. And that’s an area that I’m most obsessed with and most interested in — off ramps to conflict, rather than moving to conflict because of the far-reaching complications associated with any conflict that might erupt.

There’s a Need for AI in Operational Planning
We have a desperate need for artificial intelligence to be brought to bear in this environment. We have something called operational plans. We have an operational plan for just about every scenario you can think of. Every adversary, every condition, every circumstance, we have an Oplan that’s numbered. I have them on my desk. I’m looking at them. It is an eight and a half by 14 sheet of paper, with size 10 font. It’s all the way filled up with all of our Operational plans.

But each one of those Operational plans is for essentially a moment in time. That means, this is how many forces are applied against it, how many tasks have to be accomplished, this is the way the flow is going to go, these are the phases. All brilliant, except as soon as you’re done with it, it’s almost irrelevant, because things aren’t going to go the way you plan them to go. The very first minutes of any battle are going to change that. It’s going to change the requirements as well. So if we had that ability to knock back down these silos and take the variables, input them and then collate them quickly based upon the way the Chairman or these commanders would like to think about it. Or what if we change this variable or that variable, we would be in a much stronger position. So that’s something we need help with, to provide us greater agility. But there must be a way to develop a mechanism by which we can think through these things quicker, and change variables in order to provide additional options.

What’s your process to try to predict what’s going to happen so far down the road?
The short answer is that it’s challenging. Not a moment goes by without us considering how we should test or evaluate one of those concepts. We have an entire Joint Staff Directorate that is devoted to thinking about the future. The Office of Net Assessment in the Office Secretary of Defense (it used to be run by Andy Marshal and now Jim Baker) is focused on thinking out to 50 years. But the bridge between where we are today, and where we’re going to be in 30 years, that’s the J-7 (Joint Force Development) thinking hard about developing a concept, that’s considered in iterations and critiqued.  In these Tanks and other forums, over and over again, we consider what are the tenets of this future concept going to be?”

Once it’s established it’s immediately going to be tested in the form of tabletop exercises and in global integrated exercises — where all the Combatant Commands and all the services are involved. And then after each one of those tabletop exercises, and after those integration exercises, which last about 10 days or longer, we take the lessons learned, and we put them right back and correct the concept as it’s developed. The feedback we get from the regional commands and the services is obviously at the heart of it. Their lifeblood is to determine what the requirements are going to be in terms of weaponry. What are the requirements are going to be in terms of technology? Where are we are going to be potentially fighting so that we’re in a position to respond? And things like hypersonics, things like directed energy, all of those things are being worked quite actively.

But if they’re not applied against a concept that addresses how we how we fight, then it’s disjointed and then not effective in the end. So it’s the synchronization of those two — the commands and their perspectives, the services and their responsibility to train and equip the force — coupled with how we press forward as a joint force, which is how we refer to all the services and all of their roles, that’s the glue. And that’s what happens up here at the Joint Staff.

How has your thinking changed in the last couple years realizing that we don’t have 30 years to deploy exquisite systems? Might we want to get back to these fast, disposable things that we could deploy rapidly, or have we not gotten there?
We’re moving in that direction purposefully. What we’re concerned with on the Joint Staff and across the combatant commands and the services, is how we leap ahead. What is it going to look like? And what are those things that we’ve been doing, because the military industrial complex is so powerful, that we don’t need to be doing anymore? What are systems that are no longer connected to the way we’ll fight in the future? Those things that are going provide us future dominance on future battlefields of whatever variety, whatever shape. We want to move purposefully in that direction, but not walk away from the potential for a shooting fight to develop and us not be in a position to respond with overwhelming force.

You see what’s going on in the Nagorno Karabakh right now. And you realize that this is moving in a clear direction, but perhaps not at the pace that we might believe. So we’ve got to create a balance between that high-end fighting and cyber warfare, and some of these other things that are clearly going to develop and become far more important in the future.

If the US military has a conflict where would we fail?
It’s the issue of force projection. It’s the time and distance. If you’re talking about a European Theater you’re talking in terms of hours. When you talk about Indo Pacific, you’re talking about days. Then there is the concomitant challenge of logistics. And as you start to distribute your forces, they are almost by definition, they begin to be cut off. So how is it that you project force, maintain force and supply the force? Working through those challenges, that is crucially important.

So we need to speed up the cementing of these alliances and coalitions. Otherwise, there’s simply no way to bridge these distances. No way to effectively address the overwhelming requirements for force projection. And by that, it can be sea lift, air, you pick the type, it’s just not possible to do it on our own. And it’s not possible to do it with previous alliances alone. They’ve got to expand. Because if we go to war in the future, we’re certainly going to go to war as an alliance, as a coalition. The development and cementing of past close relationships and then bringing in other strange bedfellows into this alliance is something critically important to consider. There are the traditional partners, like Australia and New Zealand and the Philippines. There are others that we’d welcome to be brought in as well, like Vietnam, like Indonesia. That sort of work is diplomatic to be sure, but that is going to be the most important thing.

What should future American global alliances look like?
In the Indo Pacific, the thing that I believe has to be addressed much more intensively is the Indo part of Indo Pacific. India and the potential to cooperate more closely with United States to advance shared interests is a critical step to take. The timing is right, as you’ve watched some of the events unfold on the border between India and China. But that’s one that is going to take time. Because it’s moving away from what was a more solitary approach that they’ve taken up until recently, to where perhaps it can go.

We have to be more strategic in the way we consider it right now. What you see now is a sort of hyper-focused obsession with China. And I’m not saying that’s the wrong approach. But I am saying it can be limiting. We’re expanding beyond just the Indo Pacific because China has expanded far beyond the Indo Pacific.

A Global Alliance has to consider where China is located. They’re in Africa, they’re in South America, they are globally represented. And they’ve done so quite strategically, I just believe in the development of alliances and whether that be through countering the Belt and Road initiative and engaging those countries, when it comes to overflight, basing, and things like that. Those things are critically important to consider. And it can’t simply be limited to IndoPacom. Because China is not limiting themselves to their region.

Obviously, their backyard is what China focuses on the most. And the Taiwan Straits are a hot-button issue. And the South China Sea is something there’s great intensity about when we talk about freedom of navigation operations. But of course, in our own back yard China is also engaging countries within our Western Hemisphere. And so, as we develop these alliances, we have to give as much thought to their development as was given to NATO in the development and its origins as well. I understand there are some that exist already. There’s ASEAN, there’s others. There’s a number of those that are related directly to the Western Hemisphere. But we can be more thoughtful about how we knit these together.

Should the Joint Staff have a structure for the acquisition of capabilities, making sure it matches the modernization of our operational concepts?
Embedded in that question is this issue of how long it takes to get anything done. If you decide something is worthwhile purchasing. It can 10 years before it becomes a fielded requirement, which is not acceptable. That’s where we need to take a page from the private sector and apply it. We have to find a way to cut through the bureaucracy and move more quickly. There is an entire command that cuts through bureaucratic friction very, very quickly. And that’s Special Operations Command.

Why and how that hasn’t been expanded and become more pervasive I’m not entirely sure. There are Congressional limitations and legal issues associated with it. But I believe that’s a model that that needs to be replicated. I also believe, and perhaps this is what you’re suggesting, that there should be some level of capability pushed down well below the major command level. So from the four-star level, perhaps down to at least the two-star level, which is normally between 10,000 and 20,000 troops, to address their needs. Because as you deploy troops, whether it be a task force, or a ground force, they all have unique capabilities. And the inability for us to adjust to the new threats as they present themselves quickly, is critical.

We have to build into the systems for acquisition a method by which we can be far more agile. It needs to be pushed down to an appropriate level to allow for units to be more agile and to adjust if there’s a change of mission. If you’re going into Africa, and that’s your focus one month, but then you’re moving to into INDOPACOM and another you’re must be able to then shift your focus and prepare yourselves quickly for what might come whether that be off the shelf, or otherwise. But the future is going to demand that we become more agile as it pertains to acquisition.

How do you view the balance between conventional versus Special Operations Forces and how does that translate in a conflict with a near peer competitor?
I think the operative word is balance. I don’t think there’s any conflict we should ever be involved in — whether it be near peer or otherwise — without having a combination of the forces where they’re complementing one another – where one or the other is reinforcing. I’ll give you an example and it’s rather an emotional example, but it’s illustrative.

Operation Red Wings in Afghanistan that led to the death of four of our Navy SEALS you may have seen the movie Lone Survivor. I was the acting Brigade Commander in what was Regional command East at the time. The commander was on leave. A group of five SEALS came in to coordinate on an operation they were going to be doing up in the hills above the Korengal Valley. We had a conversation, they walked through the mission they were going to be conducting. I suggested they delay the operation for about four days. A full battalion of Marines – 900 Marines – were going to be operating in that same area by then and they would have been in a position to be a QRF. The SEALS opted to stick with their planned timeline.

Three days later, you had the MH-47 (helicopter) crash. You had the loss of four SEALS. To me that has always stood out as a demonstration of the imperative of the complementary nature of both conventional and special operating forces. And when you’re talking about fighting a near peer, and having been in in Desert Storm, you had special operations forces working in a very different way. They were focused on SCUD missiles at the time. But what they were doing was preparing the way for the conventional forces to flow forward.

There are 1,000 different permutations of that. But if the relationship between the conventional force and special operations forces is not close, if there isn’t true integration, then you’ve got a much more difficult problem set as it pertains to whatever conflict with whatever enemy force you’re speaking about. And then there are cases with this two plus three; we talked about the three – the last one being violent extremist organizations. Special Operations Forces, they can’t go anywhere without conventional support. Whether to provide security, quick reaction force, or whatever the case may be. So I think defining and cementing this approach to complementarity and reinforcement, that is at the at the center of what all future plans should consider.

Do you think that the State Department should also be expanded to meet that increased need to cultivate greater cooperation?
You’ve just put your finger on a hot-button issue for me. I worked there for a year and a half. The commitment and the investment in the State Department and frankly in diplomacy, is about 1/20th of what it should be. I’m not suggesting the military should be drawn down and the diplomatic force should be expanded. I am absolutely suggesting that the State Department should be expanded to a point where it’s commensurate with the demands that are placed upon it.

When I traveled it was clear to me how overstretched each Country Team at our embassies was. It didn’t matter what country or embassy we were in. Every person had four or five jobs, all of which are critical for the conduct of diplomacy in that country. I was overwhelmed at how hard they were working to keep things moving forward to support US interests. Overstretched and underfunded.

The military prides themselves on the close relationship they have with their diplomatic counterparts. We depend on one another. Certainly, the diplomats depend on the military for protection, but it’s far, far beyond that. It goes into the complementary nature of our respective missions. And that is precisely what prevents conflict. I think in the places where we don’t have engagement, those are the places where the greatest threat exists.

A dramatic expansion, both to the funding and to the infrastructure to support it, is terribly important. I know, you’ve heard the quote of Secretary Mattis, “I far prefer for my diplomatic counterparts to do the work they have to do than me to have to expend one bullet.”

Advice to students?
Don’t ever lose the level of learning you feel right now and the intensity by which you’re pursuing it. That in my experience differentiates those that move up quickly whether in the military or private sector. It’s the intense curiosity, the intellectual curiosity, that demand for more information. One of my closest friends, I find him online on a regular basis, taking online courses with MIT, just trying to figure out some aspect of AI that he didn’t understand. And he pursues it zealously. That, I think, is one of those character traits that you’re going to have to maintain throughout your entire career if you want to get to the level that you’re driven to.

Read the entire transcript of General Fenzel’s talk and listen to the audio.

Lessons Learned

  • There’s an Operational Plan for everything
    • Today they’re all drawn up by hand
    • Wars and contingencies never play out as they are planned- but planning is still critical.
    • There’s a real opportunity for AI in planning
  • Force projection in Indo-Pacific is a time and distance problem
    • How it is that you project force, maintain force and supply the force when it would take days?
    • The answer is more fully leveraging the potential of our allies and partners
  • Alliances matter
    • The State Department is the military’s partner in building and maintaining alliances and coalitions
    • But it is woefully underfunded and understaffed
  • Acquisition is not meeting DoD requirements, but Special Operations Command has seemed to find a way around it

Steve Blank

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[Diagnostic Robotics in EKMH Innovators] Interview: Diagnostic Robotics Founders Dr. Kira Radinsky and Yonatan Amir on AI, Machine Learning, Digital Health Innovation, Data Mining and More

It’s been an exciting year for Diagnostic Robotics ChairWoman & CTO Kira Radinsky, PhD and Diagnostic Robotics CEO Yonathan Amir. Diagnostic Robotics has brought together the leading artificial intelligence researchers in Israel and the United States to create a powerful AI solution trained on data from more than 27 million patient visits and currently in use at more than 75% of HMOs in Israel. The system seeks to seamlessly integrate into the major touch points along the patient journey, providing high-value decision support while slashing administrative burdens, massively reducing the cost of care, and improving patient experiences, and already counts Anthem, Brown University, Salesforce, Deloitte and the Mayo Clinic among its clients and partners.

Read more here.

The post [Diagnostic Robotics in EKMH Innovators] Interview: Diagnostic Robotics Founders Dr. Kira Radinsky and Yonatan Amir on AI, Machine Learning, Digital Health Innovation, Data Mining and More appeared first on OurCrowd Blog.

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Technology, Innovation, and Modern War – Class 13 – ONR– Rear Admiral Lorin Selby

We just held our twelfth session of our new national security class Technology, Innovation and Modern WarJoe FelterRaj Shah and I designed a class to examine the new military systems, operational concepts and doctrines that will emerge from 21st century technologies – Space, Cyber, AI & Machine Learning and Autonomy.

Today’s topic was The Navy and Modern War.

Catch up with the class by reading our summaries of the previous twelve classes here.


Some of the readings for this week included Defense Primer: Dept of the Navy, Navy Lasers and Railguns, Navy Large Surface Combatants, Navy Force Structure and Shipbuilding Plans, Navy Large Unmanned Surface and Undersea Vehicles, China’s Navy Modernization.

Our guest speaker was Rear Admiral Lorin Selby, Chief of Naval Research, United States Navy.

Admiral Selby is responsible for the Naval Research Enterprise. It is the “venture capital” of the Navy and Marine Corps. It’s made up of ONR – the Office of Naval Research, ONR Global, the Naval Research Laboratory, and Special Projects (PMR 51.)

His insights on the future of the Navy and reimagining Naval power are insightful, innovative and exciting.

(ONR played a seminal role in the formation of Silicon Valley. Founded in August 1946 in the aftermath of World War II, ONR provided support of research projects at universities when government funding to universities had dried up. That same year, Fred Terman became Stanford’s dean of engineering, and he received four ONR research contracts for electronics and microwaves. These grants formed the heart of the Stanford Electronics Research Laboratory.)

I’ve extracted and paraphrased a few of Admiral Selby’s key insights and urge you to read the entire transcript here and watch his video.

The Naval Research Enterprise
This picture is a way I divvy up my Naval Research portfolio:

  • On the left is the division that’s home to cyber and electronic warfare. A little bit of AI but really, mostly electronic warfare.
  • The next area is ocean battlespace. This includes unmanned underwater vehicles – UUVs. And we do submarine applications and oceanographic research in that division. We take a great deal of pride in really understanding and knowing the ocean environment. Of course, the submarine is critical, but really everything from the weather, to the way our forces must flow, optimizing transit routes, all depends on currents, winds, weather. We use those factors to help us also determine what potential adversaries might or might not do. All that goes into the calculus of how we position our forces.
  • In the middle are mission capable, persistent, survivable naval platforms. This division looks at the systems that are on our platforms, i.e. pumps, valves, materials science, corrosion. There’s science to be done in perfecting some of those, and they’re critical in the operation of these platforms. This branch looks at maintenance practices, trying to make sure we protect those.
  • Warfighter performance looks at how the human body responds to stress. How we can optimize performance of the human body in combat, or in other stressful scenarios? How does the human brain work? How do we think? When I look at reimagined Naval power, I think a lot of that is not about things, it’s about processes. It’s about how we present information. It’s about how we process information, how we use machines to help us make decisions. This group traditionally has not had as much focus as the others. But I think it’s something we really need to go after.
  • The far right is aviation. Jets, missiles, also directed energy, railguns, hypervelocity projectiles and hypersonics.
  • And across the bottom is the Naval Accelerator run by Rich Carlin. This group figures out how do we go faster in getting things to the fleet. From an ideation to a thing to a Warfighter. How do we do that faster than anybody else?

Reimagining naval power is about the way we think and organize, not about hardware
I know you were assigned to read The Kill Chain. Fascinating read. As I read through this book, it really resonated with me because this is the world we’re in today. Naval officers still tend to think of the solution to the problem set as “I’ll just get a better destroyer.” Or, “I’ll just get another aircraft carrier, or a bigger, faster submarine.” And I don’t think that’s the solution.

This quote out of the book I thought was interesting, “Military innovation is less about technology than about operational and organizational transformation.” I hear you thinking, “You’re the Chief of Naval Research, and you’re saying that it’s less about technology?” Yeah, I am. When I say reimagined naval power, I’m not necessarily talking about new big gray ships or black submarines. I’m talking about changing our processes, changing about the way we think, and the way we are organized. I think a lot of the problems we have in acquisition today, in trying to go after these new technologies, is because of the way we’re organized. The way the Navy is established – separate system commands, one for Air, one for Sea systems, one for cyber systems, supply over here. They’re separate, you get stovepipes, and you get barriers. There’s friction between them. And all these differences come because of that, and that impedes progress. If we want to reimagine Naval power, we have to look in a mirror, recognize we need to change some things organizationally. We’ve got to change the way we do business.

What do you hope the fleet looks like 10 years from now to make it relevant in a fight with a near peer competitor? Is that a 355 ship Navy? Is it squadrons of unmanned vessels? Is it something in between?
I think that it’s something in between. I think that you will see more unmanned, unattended things. They’ll be networked together. I think initially, what you’re going to see, and again, this is just the way we just tend to do things as human beings. When it comes to new tech,  we take the new tech, and we jam it into a form factor of something we recognize and know. So what you’re going to see are unmanned surface vessels that look like the Sea Hunter. It looks like a catamaran. It looks like something you recognize and know. That thing, whatever it is, whether its underwater, surface, air, will initially operate in tandem with a manned platform.

I think the answer is not just to go build bigger, faster gray-hulled ships or black submarines. We still need this for a while. We’re not going to stop, go to zero and do something else. It’s going to be a gradual thing. But I think there needs to be a plan with a trajectory of slowly weaning us off of these very highly complex and expensive vessels that takes us into something else. And some of that something else might be unmanned/uncrewed. Uncrewed vessels, unattended sensors, highly networked together, passing tracking information back and forth. I think that’s more of the future, combined with how we make decisions in a more efficient, faster manner than the adversary.

You’re going to have these things as kind of wingmen that’ll be arrayed around your platform. And you may be able to send it a couple hundred miles out front to go do some probing of the adversary. Maybe it’s got some decoys and other things it can do while it’s out there, then it will then come back. You have to refuel it at some point, because it’s still going to have limited range. I think in 10 years, you’ll find many, many more unmanned things out there, but they will be operating close to the gray hull or the black hull submarine, able to go out and do things but come back. So I think that’s step one.

But over time, it’s going to be driven by the younger generations, people like you who are not constrained by thinking it’s got to be a gray hull or a black hull thing. And they will come in and look at us and go, “If you’d change the form factor, you can make that thing….” It could be a surface thing, but could also be a semi-submersible, when it needs to be. Make it so it just drops below the surface a foot. And it can still cruise along slowly. Things like that will happen. Because, again, this does happen all throughout history as technologies have been introduced. We always try to take it and make it do what the old thing did.

An Example of New Tech First Looking Like the Old – Photonics Masts on a Submarine
Submarines traditionally have a periscope. You look into the barrel; it’s got the mirrors and the glass and a prism at the top looking out. And you’re looking through a circle. That’s the world for a submariner. That’s what I looked at for 20 years, 25 years. Today, we’ve got these new, cool electronic photonics masts. Guess what? When you look at that picture in the control room of a submarine, you may be on a big flat screen, you may control it with a joystick, but it’s still looking at a slice of the world.

We didn’t go, “Hey, if I put just four cameras or six cameras up there, and I was able to set them around looking, I can have a 360-degree camera all the time.” Well, we’re just now starting to do that. We started some R&D on that several years ago and it petered out because they didn’t have the money to keep it going. But now we’re back to, this is ridiculous, let’s get 360 out of that. That’s the challenge with new tech.

The problem today is, it’s going so fast that if you wait a generation to make those kinds of advancements, you’re so far behind anybody — adversary, other companies — that you’re irrelevant. We’ve got to break that pattern. And some of that is changing those organizational constructs that still have us back in 1994. We’ve got to get to 2020, or 2018, or 2015. I’d be happy with that. But we’ve got to get out of 1994.

As far as size, you may have seen the press. The SecDef just announced the Battle Force 2045. It talks about between 120 and 240 unmanned things in concert with a bunch of manned things. And it talks about a much bigger Navy. We’ll see what happens. A lot depends what happens with Congress.

How do we find a balance between funding exquisite equipment that costs a lot of money, and that’s very hard to replace, with building lots of low-cost equipment, but that’s less capable, but easier to replace?
We have this very big appetite for highly complex, which are exquisite, phenomenal, best in the world. No question about it, costs a lot of money to build. And oh, by the way, they cost even more money to maintain over the life of a 30-, 40- or 50-year platform. We need to get away from that. Part of the answer is a lot of these uncrewed surface or underwater vessels. But even those, when we send a design over to my friends in the Pentagon to develop requirements, what they come back wanting is exquisite, too. You take this thing that should cost $ 10 million or $ 20 million, and it comes back costing $ 100 million, or $ 200 million, or worse.

I think if you could build cheaper, in more numbers that are maybe complicated, but not complex, that would be just fine. And I would build them so that they’re semi-disposable. You run them hard for 10 years, but you don’t spend a mint to refurbish them. You take them back to some yard, you recycle them. You take all materials out and build another one. That’s the way you’ve got to do it.

Another thing we have to do is recognize that we’ve got some constraints. We’ve only got a certain number of shipyards that can build these highly complex destroyers, submarines, aircraft carriers. Our industrial base is very fragile. Since we are going to still build some of those for the foreseeable future, let those yards build those exquisite things. But we need to go the nontraditional yards down along the Gulf Coast, Pacific Northwest, and other parts of country – even to boat builders, yacht builders. Let’s go to those folks to build some these unmanned things. And let’s give them some money. Let’s move some defense industrial base money around. And we can develop new expertise in different pockets that we’ve never developed before. And let’s do that at scale. And build a lot. I think that’s one of the keys to this reimagined naval power. Because again, we just cannot afford to keep building the same things.

If you went right now and asked the submariners what they want, they want SSNX, which is the next generation of submarine in roughly 2035. You talk to my aviator friends; they want the next-gen fighter about the same time. You talk to my surface warfare friends; they want the large surface combatant about the same time. Well, first of all that’s 15 years from now. So by our traditional design, build standards, that means you’ve got to start like right now, for all three. And we can’t afford that. There’s no way we can afford that.

You may have noticed the SecDef’s Battle Force 2045 came out saying you need to go to three submarines per year. So there’s a tremendous recognition that we still own the undersea. And we need to maintain that dominance. But Battle Force 2045 doesn’t call for as many surface ships, it does call for next-gen fighters. And there’s a lot of reasons for that, which we can’t talk about here. But it does not call for the large ships. At least not in numbers, and not at the same time. We’ve got to deconflict these things, and we need to build different things that are much less expensive.

How has acquisition has changed? What specifically, if anything, has changed to make us move faster?
Some of what’s changed is it we are using OTA’s – other transaction authorities. We’ve been talking about this for a long time. We’re finally really trying to drive this hard. And we’re finally getting contract shops in different parts of the Navy using them. Up until probably only a couple years ago, it was only places like ONR that would do these nontraditional ways of buying things. We’ve now got the big SYSCOM acquisition shops and contract shops, realizing, “Hey, there’s something to that.”

How do you think about the development of technologies that cross traditional functional bounds?
How do you get these folks together to solve these hard problems? We go inward, we try to find our smart folks in our own organizations that are somewhat constrained and tainted by the problem set already because they lived it. They’re inside of it.

General Stanley McChrystal in his book Team of Teams talked about how he organized to fight in the Middle East. What McChrystal realized was the value of the team of teams. The answers are not all inside my team, they may be in your team, or your team, or your team. The value or the power is how you net them all together. And so he used to do the same every single day. He would have this video teleconference. And he had one guy who ran the meeting. They would have a bunch of topics they would go over every day, a set of stuff you would do, an ops brief. And then they would have someone give a problem statement, and maybe a little bit of a brief. But then they let it go to the teams. The teams, not the team. And the synergy, the interactions of thought, it was incredible.

That is the model I’m trying to figure out how to bring to my own ecosystem, and then net in all the other teams around me. Whether they’re different warfare centers, or different parts of the Navy, Army, Air Force, whoever industry, academia. Because that’s the power.

I’m curious to hear more about why Warfighter performance wasn’t as emphasized as the other areas.
Traditionally, most of the money went to build those high-end destroyers and submarines and next-gen fighters. So that would be my vernacular in code 32, 33 35, not 34, which is human performance. That’s the code that was on the right side of that graph. As a result of that, those other high-end things got all the money, that’s also where most of the R&D money went. And most of that was focused on either another submarine, another aircraft carrier, another fighter. And because of that, there was very little left to go do, kind of human forward stuff. I still contend that that is really where we as Americans have our advantage.

How do you recruit those people who are traditionally looking at the private sector as their career over to the Navy and to your research center?
The way we traditionally do this is that someone like yourself, someone who’s in a grad program somewhere, gets involved in research sponsored by ONR, or NRL and you get your doctorate and will become a postdoc. And you continue to do that research in some field of study that we are sponsoring. And then at some point, back in DC, a vacancy opens and they say, “Hey, you can apply for this job.” Next, you get a job. A lot of Ph.Ds in my headquarters building came out of academia where they got their doctoral degree in some program sponsored by ONR.

COVID Has Changed Our Thinking About Recruiting for ONR
COVID has taught us a lot of things about how to work. Today, for instance, I was at work, but only about 30 to 35% of the workforce was there. Most people are working from home. We do some classified work, but we do enough unclassified work that you can do a lot of work from home. I told my team: “I don’t want to go back to whatever was called normal back in March. Let’s find something good that comes out of this pandemic.” I want to be able to hire people in California, in Washington State, in wherever and tell them, “Hey, you can stay there and still work for me. I may ask you to come to DC once a quarter to do some required training and just to do something else where we want to get together. But I will let you stay remote.”

Because I think we were missing out on talent. A lot of people don’t come to DC and I don’t blame them.

How Can the Navy Attract More Diversity Into It’s STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) Fields?
There’s a lot of concern in the DoD that we have some issues trying to attract STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) talent. So I’m trying to find ways to really amp up our STEM programs. I’m trying to find ways to attract more women, more diversity into our STEM field. Whether it’s undergrad internships or graduate internships. And I’m trying to find ways to get more people involved that we traditionally don’t get.

We put together a panel to give us some thoughts on how to attract the kind of talent we’re not traditionally attracting. We found it’s in middle school where we lose a lot of kids. Most elementary school kids think science is cool. I think for most kids, there’s a wow factor in science, but somewhere in middle school to high school it stops being cool. And that’s really tragic.

So we are figuring out ways to develop a cadre of mentors to go into the schools and help teachers and students, to pull them across that valley of death where we lose them. I think there’s far too many that we lose early for the wrong reasons. They don’t see someone that looks like them, they don’t think it’s cool, whatever. So we’re trying to figure that out.

Read the entire transcript of Admiral Selby’s talk and watch the video below.

If you can’t see the video click here.

Lessons Learned

  • The U.S Navy is a historic crossroads
  • We are going to start seeing uncrewed ships and submersibles
    • First as “wingmen” to existing surface ships and submarines
  • We can get more ships if build these new types of vessels so that they’re semi-disposable.
    • You run them hard for 10 years, but you don’t spend a mint to refurbish them, you recycle them
  • We can build these new types of vessels in numbers by using non-traditional shipyards
    • Keep the existing shipyards building traditional ships/submarines
    • This will create new expertise in different pockets that we’ve never developed before.
  • This is in conflict with the existing major acquisition plans for future surface ships and submarines

Steve Blank

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