Tag Archives: defense innovation

The Devil Vector

Field Marshal Helmuth von Moltke (He was actually a lot more fun than this picture makes him look…)

“No plan survives first contact with the enemy.”

This sentiment has been attributed to Prussian Field Marshall Helmuth von Moltke and is widely accepted as revealed truth by every military officer that I know. Anyone looking at U.S. military engagements in the past decade can’t help but acknowledge the wisdom of Moltke’s conclusion. It is worth noting, however, that the regimented and highly structured world of Moltke’s pre-World War I military experience was a very different place from the modern threat environment. And this reality shaped how Moltke internalized his axiom.

Basically, Moltke’s key take-away was that one of the main jobs of the military leader (and his staff) was to conduct extensive analyses of possible outcomes in the development of a comprehensive system of contingency plans that would create “options” on the battlefield as the action unfolded. Put another way, Moltke’s solution: if no plan survives first contact, have more plans in your back pocket.

Contingency planning in industrial age warfare was tough. Contingency planning in information ago warfare is obscenely difficult. Of course, this doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be done. But it should be approached as more of a facilitation exercise that provides a framework for rapid decision-making as operational realities evolve than a prescriptive set of if-then scenarios.

Winning today’s conflicts is not about who has the better plan. It’s about who can learn (and by extension evolve) the quickest. The fitness function in modern warfare is not about speed and mass. It’s about adaptation. And if there’s one thing that the Pentagon hates it’s unconstrained adaptation, that is, adaptation that cannot be regulated, monitored, and controlled (i.e. planned). Such disruptive adaptation is what I call the Devil Vector. In biology, we refer to the same concept as mutation – the basis for natural selection. Mutation implies a constant dialogue between species and their external environments. Many mutations are biological dead ends. Others supply a competitive advantage that ensures a species’ competitive viability. The thing is – neither outcome can necessarily be predicted ahead of time. A priori reasoning (i.e. planning) doesn’t apply to the unprecedented.

Newton’s third law: to every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction. Newton seemed to have it right relative to the physical universe, but he’s way off the mark in socio-political universe of modern warfare. It seems to me that in the Pentagon to every action there is always an equal and opposite over reaction. “If ten Reaper orbits are good, fifty orbits must be better,” the logic goes. And for every threat variation innovated with $50 in parts ordered from the internet, you can expect a $10 million response (at the bare minimum) from our military industrial complex. Needless to say, the economics of this dynamic do not work in our favor… In today’s utterly complex military environments, this is what even the most sophisticated contingency planning gets you: more of the same, while the unknowable is hanging around out there ready to bite you in the ass.

The only way that DoD can change this state of affairs is to throw its self-imposed rule book out the window and embrace the Devil Vector. Make it a priority to institutionalize what the guys on the ground do every day: improvise. Do it carefully and methodically. Make small bets to limit risk. And – most importantly – do it in a way that enables the entire organization to benefit and learn from the winners and the losers.

Embrace change and feedback and the risk of failure, recognizing that these are the main ingredients of competitiveness in a world too complex to reduce to plans. Empower local decision makers with the tools to access and interpret the opportunities and challenges manifested by their immediate environments. And take the well considered opinions of technocrats and planners and programmers for what they are – a view from the cheap seats.

The Next Secrets Of The Web | TechCrunch

This is a very interesting article on where to harvest insights that become innovations – irrespective of industry.

The Next Secrets Of The Web | TechCrunch.

32 Innovations That Will Change Your Tomorrow – Interactive Feature – NYTimes.com

We tend to rewrite the histories of technological innovation, making myths about a guy who had a great idea that changed the world. In reality, though, innovation isn’t the goal; it’s everything that gets you there. It’s bad financial decisions and blueprints for machines that weren’t built until decades later. It’s the important leaps forward that synthesize lots of ideas, and it’s the belly-up failures that teach us what not to do.

The thing is, innovation without risk (and ultimately failure) is nothing of the sort. Innovation and risk go hand in hand. The DoD acquisition enterprise must be re-thought to accommodate the type of calculated risks that drive the leap-ahead innovations that fuel the commercial tech sector.

via 32 Innovations That Will Change Your Tomorrow – Interactive Feature – NYTimes.com.

How Kinect Hacking Is Sparking Innovation | Mobiledia

The idea of creating tech that is purposefully designed to be hacked (i.e. rapidly modified for custom end-user applications) is extremely powerful. One way that the U.S. can get ahead of enemy improvisation on the battlefields of the future is to deploy technology platforms that enable rapid customization by the soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines who understand the tactical opportunities and challenges that tech should be designed to exploit.

How Kinect Hacking Is Sparking Innovation | Mobiledia.

Transcranial magnetic stimulation to improve visual processing in soldiers and others.

Enhanced human performance through technology…

Transcranial magnetic stimulation to improve visual processing in soldiers and others..

DroneOS: How To Take Control Of The Country’s Growing Robot Army – Forbes

This is a cool idea – integrating disparate unmanned systems at the user level, but implementation is going to be a bear. I have a hard time imaging DoD mustering the political will to drive the defense industry giants towards a common unmanned system OS. The economics of creating a new OS for every platform are too attractive for the big boys to ignore.

DroneOS: How To Take Control Of The Country’s Growing Robot Army – Forbes.

Ford + TechShop: Getting Employees to Tinker | Wired Design | Wired.com

Well, if Ford can do it, DoD can do it…

How do we harness the ‘maker’ culture that already exists in DoD to create break through innovations that improve the soldier experience?

Ford + TechShop: Getting Employees to Tinker | Wired Design | Wired.com.

Centralization v. distribution

Whose network do you want to join?

No one doubts DoD’s commitment to networking the battlespace. The question is why.

In the real world, networks enable unstructured discovery, DIY experimentation, resource and information sharing, near infinite diversification, and just-in-time collaboration. Networks underwrite emergent ecosystems where opportunity often precedes intent. In other words, the value of networks (at least in part) is that they operate outside of rigid, preconceived ideas about how the world ‘should’ work and empower the lowest common denominator to envision and contribute in unexpected ways.

At their best, networks are not extensions of the core, they are the connecting tissue that allows meaningful incorporation of the edge. My fear is that DoD can have all of the connectivity in the world and still not reap the real benefits of the networked battlespace because of an outdated, top-down, centralized organizational paradigm. Centralization doesn’t scale, no matter how good the network.

The Silicon Valley-style innovation that DoD aspires to replicate is fueled by the non-uniform, heterogeneous decision-making of distributed, semi-autonomous networks that are organized around common interests vice carefully prescribed modes of interaction. If DoD is to remain competitive in the global information economy, it must leverage the network as a catalyst for fundamental business model innovation and not just a means to extend command and control.

Augustine’s Laws – revisited

The epiphany of Norm Augustine...

Former Lockheed Martin CEO, Norm Augustine, was a defense industry titan, but his greatest contribution to the business world might just be his 1983 book, Augustine’s Laws, in which he posits the absurdities of managing a large aerospace corporation. A recent editorial by David Smallwood (1203smal) reprises Augustine’s Laws. In reading this latest treatment, it occurred to me how shockingly relevant Augustine’s insights remain to the current defense industry.

“Large increases in cost with questionable increases in performance can be tolerated only for race horses and fancy women.” – Lord Kelvin

Kelvin’s idea forms the basis of Augustine’s Law XV: The last 10% of performance generates one- third of the cost and two-thirds of the problems.

Both treatments speak to the heart of the future of defense acquisition: 70% solutions delivered on-time and on-budget are infinitely better than 100% solutions delivered a day late and a dollar short…

More Than Technology Needed to Defeat Roadside Bombs

The overarching issue with the U.S. response to IED’s (and other asymmetric threats) is economic. The nation can’t afford to invest millions of dollars for countermeasures to $100 threats. The question should be: how can DoD re-think defense R&D to remain economically competitive?

More Than Technology Needed to Defeat Roadside Bombs.