Lessons for the New Administration – Technology, Innovation, and Modern War

Our recent national security class at Stanford, Technology, Innovation, and Modern War was designed to give students insights on how the onslaught of new technologies like AI, machine learning, autonomy, cyber, access to space, biotech, hypersonics, and others have the potential to radically change how countries fight and deter threats.

With 20+ guest speakers, including two Secretaries of Defense, Generals, Admirals and Policy makers, the class emphasized that winning future conflicts requires more than just adopting new technology and developing new weapon systems. It calls for a revolution in thinking about how these technologies can be adopted and integrated into weapons and other defense platforms, and more importantly, how they can create new operational and organizational concepts that will change the way we fight.

By the end of the class there were five surprises.

  1. One was a continuous refrain from senior DoD leadership that new tech, weapons, and operational concepts are insufficient to guarantee the U.S. will prevail in a great power conflict. In fact, these new technologies/weapons change the odds against us.
  2. Secondly, our senior military leadership recognizes that now more than ever we can’t go it alone. We need allies – existing and new ones. And that depends on a reinvigorated State Department and renewed emphasis on diplomacy in general.

Unstated by any of our speakers but painfully clear by class end were three other surprises:

  1. Our national security is now inexorably intertwined with commercial technology and is hindered by our lack of an integrated strategy at the highest level.
  2. Our adversaries have exploited the boundaries and borders between our defense, commercial and economic interests.
  3. Our current approaches – both in the past and current administration – to innovation across the government are piecemeal, incremental, increasingly less relevant and insufficient.

Lessons Learned
A few takeaways from our speakers. If you’re in the DoD and conversant with the National Defense and Military strategies and have read Chris Brose’s book The Kill Chain, none of this will come as a surprise. But for the rest of you, here they are:

  • The 2018 National Defense Strategy focused the DoD on Great Power competition. It called out China as a peer competitor to America, pursuing its goal of global dominance. At the same time, Russia has reemerged as a regional power.
  • For the last two decades, while we were focused on combating terrorism, China has explicitly developed weapons and operational concepts to target every one of our advantages- in weapon systems and operational concepts, but also in alliances, economic and diplomatic power.
  • Unfortunately, China has succeeded – many of our most exquisite systems on sea, in space or in other places are at risk. A majority of these weapons have now become legacy systems eating up future budget and resources.
  • Rapid innovation in new technologies – cyber, AI, autonomy, access to space, drones, 5G, biotech, quantum, microelectronics, etc. – are no longer being led by military/government labs, but instead come from commercial vendors – many of them Chinese. The result is that unlike the last 75 years, the DOD can no longer predict or control future technologies and threats.
  • A surprise for many of us was the tacit acknowledgment from our military and defense leaders that we cannot win a war alone, without allies. These senior leaders emphasized the importance of a more collaborative embrace of existing allies and creation of new ones. They put a premium on diplomacy, and the need for a better funded and robust State Department.
  • The result is that for the first time in almost a century, the U.S. is no longer guaranteed to win the next war.

The good news is every one of our military and civilian speakers conceptually understands all of this. And even better, all want to change the status quo. However …

Most are coming to the conclusion that the DoD is at a crossroads: Substantive and sustained changes in the DoD size, structure, policies, processes, practices, technologies, and culture are needed.

  • For example, our requirements and acquisition systems are driven by a 70-year-old model predicated on predicting the future (both threats and technology) and delivering solutions decades out; and optimized for lifecycle costs, not rapid innovation or disposable systems.
  • In the last four years we modernized the acquisition process, but it remains hindered by the requirements processes from the services, which still result in 88 Major Defense Acquisition Programs – where we spend our acquisition dollars – to buy legacy systems mostly built for past threats.
  • Some hints of the future force came from multiple speakers. Admiral Lorin Selby, the Chief of Naval Research, for example, had a compelling vision of the future fleet and an expanded industrial base.
  • The DoD has over 75 incubators and accelerators. We lead the world in demos of new technology but not in deployed systems. Few of these innovation activities have resulted in a major program of record. The DoD is making the right baby steps but needs to quickly focus on scaling innovation. This, of course, will require the difficult conversation of what legacy systems will be retired.
  • DoD’s relationship with startups and commercial companies driving these new technologies is hindered by a lack of understanding of their own and their investors’ interests. Venture capital and startups have institutionalized disruptive innovation. In the U.S. they spend $150 billion a year to fund new ventures that can move with the speed and urgency that the DoD now requires. While we’ve made progress, a radical reinvention of our civil/military innovation relationship is necessary if we want to keep abreast of our adversaries. This should include:
    • A Civil-Military Alliance driven by incentives not coercion. By public-private partnerships not government control. Private industry – from Primes to startups – incentivized at scale will ensure our leadership in science, in industry and in new technologies.
    • Reduce the dependence on bespoke and exquisite systems. Rapidly bring commercial technology into the DoD while adding proprietary defense components
    • Create new technology ecosystems around DoD technology needs by encouraging commercial interoperability around DoD standards. Awards and contracts to each new ecosystem.
    • Encourage and incentivize dual-use startups, scale-ups, and companies
    • Overhaul Federal Labs and Federally Funded Research and Development Centers (FFRDCs) to promote collaboration at scale with startups and venture investors
    • Each service should pick 1-2 startup/scale-up winners and buy heavily
  • Pentagon leadership will need to be selected on the ability to innovate – empower the innovation insurgents and elevate risk takers that understand technology.
  • We’ve failed to engage the rest of the populace in our mission. Americans – including extraordinarily talented students from our top universities — are ready and willing to serve in some capacity. We’ve shown little interest in providing the incentives and expanding the opportunities required to make that happen.

However, these observations about changes needed in the DoD surfaced a much bigger problem, one that civilian leadership has not yet acknowledged: National security is now inexorably intertwined with commercial technology and is hindered by our lack of a national industrial and economic policy. There is an urgent need for an integrated strategy and policies.

These are not problems of technology. They’re problems of organizational design, incentives, out of the box thinking and national will.

The American people will need to demand more of their government and elected officials. The status quo will need to be broken. Substantive change will require new ideas, not better versions of the ones we have. For example:

  • The new Biden senior White House organizational structure still treats technology as a standalone issue. That’s a status quo position and a losing hand. We need to recognize that the boundaries between our defense, commercial and economic interests are interrelated.
  • We need to build the innovation capacity across the interagency- coordinated and synchronized by senior executive branch leadership. One way of implementing this would be creating a political appointee in key government agencies that acts as the interagency single point of innovation leadership cutting across organizations including but not limited to the DoD, National Security Council, Council of Economic Advisors, OMB, FCC, and OSTP.
  • Create a new Deputy National Security Advisor to coordinate and synchronize innovation and industrial policies across these multiple agencies
    • With real influence and responsibility on budget, trade policy, and alliance strategy
    • Specifically coordinate national policies of 5G, AI, machine learning, autonomy, cyber, access to space, biotech, hypersonics, microelectronics, etc.
    • Owns Civil/Military alliance for engaging and incentivizing new entrants and incumbents and protecting civil assets
    • Sits on the National Security Council and National Economic Council

These changes will require Congress, defense contractors and the executive branch to pull in the same direction to change that equation.

The good news is that we have all the tools needed to succeed, we just need the willpower.  And we must not forget what’s at stake. Democracies, while messy, are a force for good.  Self-determination with codified freedoms is the most moral system of organization mankind has developed.  Getting the reforms we examined in this class is essential to the preservation of democracy and maximization of peace.  It is most certainly a noble endeavor.

In future articles we’re going to offer specific solutions to transform the DoD to face the challenges ahead, not behind.

Steve, Joe, and Raj

Technology, Innovation, and Modern War  – Wrap Up

This class, Technology, Innovation, and Modern War was designed to give our students insights on how the onslaught of new technologies like AI, machine learning, autonomy, cyber, access to space, biotech, hypersonics, and others has the potential to radically change how countries fight and deter threats.

Our 20+ guest speakers were an extraordinary collection of military and policy leaders including two Secretaries of Defense, Generals, Admirals and Policy makers.

The class emphasized that winning future conflicts requires more than just adopting new technology and developing new weapon systems. It calls for a revolution in thinking about how these technologies can be adopted and integrated into weapons and other defense platforms, and more importantly, how they can create new operational and organizational concepts that will change the way we fight.

By the time we got to the end of the class we had a firehose of perspectives on technology, weapons, and policy. It took us awhile to process it all, but out of that mass of data five surprises emerged – insights about what’s happened to the DOD and the country and how we should organize to meet these challenges. We’ve summarized them in part 2 that follows this post. But first here’s a summary of what we covered in this class.

An overview of the history of military innovation
In the first part of this course, we reminded the students that the national power of a country – its influence and footprint on the world stage – is more than just its military strength. It’s the combination of a country’s diplomacy (soft power and alliances), information/intelligence, and its innovation / economic strength as well as military prowess.

Nations decline when they lose allies, decline in economic power, lose interest in global affairs, experience internal/civil conflicts, or the  nation’s military misses disruptive technology transitions and new operational concepts.

In our opening lesson, Ex-Secretary of Defense Ash Carter shared insights and experiences from his extensive and impactful career in DoD that included tours as Undersecretary for Acquisitions, Technology and Logistics, Deputy Secretary, and Defense Secretary. Subsequent teaching team lectures provided students an overview of the history of military innovation, all the way from long bows to nuclear weapons and offset strategies with the observation that innovations and adoption in military systems follow a repeatable pattern. Max Boot, the author of “War Made New helped us understand that pattern. Next, we described the US strategies developed since World War Two to gain and maintain our technological and competitive edge during the Cold War with the Soviet Union.

Finally, we discussed the challenges raised in the 2018 National Defense Strategy. In addition to  the non-nation states (Al-Qaeda and ISIS) we’ve fought for the last two decades, our military now faces “Great Power” competition from China and Russia. Today the U.S. faces “two plus three” threats –  the two peer adversaries China and Russia, plus the three – regional threats from Iran, North Korea as well as the non-nation state actors. The strategy called for a pivot of our defense from fighting terrorists to preparing for confrontations with the “two plus three.”

To help us understand how and why the “two plus three” strategy was created, we had Bridge Colby, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy and one of the strategy’s authors lead this discussion.

Next, Christian Brose, the former staff director of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the author of The Kill Chain, (one of our required readings for the class) helped us understand what our adversaries have done to put our military and country at risk over the last two decades and the consequences for the country.

Military Applications and Operational Concepts in Space, Cyber, AI, and Autonomy
Once we laid out the new 2+3 threats to the nation, we segued into the second part of the class where we examined how emerging technologies in AI, cyber, space, and autonomy would create new weapons systems and operational concepts.

We heard from the DOD officials who are acquiring these technologies including Ellen Lord, the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment, and Will Roper, the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition Technology and Logistics.

We got a deep understanding of the impact and deployment of AI in the DOD from recently retired Lieutenant General Jack Shanahan, the founding director of the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (the JAIC) and Nand Mulchandani the JAIC CTO. Chris Lynch, the ex-head of the Defense Digital Service and now CEO of Rebellion Defense described his company’s experience as a new defense contractor trying to build and deliver these AI-systems for the department defense.

For autonomy, Maynard Holiday, former senior advisor in the Pentagon who helped the Defense Science Board define autonomy, gave us a tutorial on the technology. And for cyber, we had Sumit Agarwal, a former DOD cyber policymaker, do the same.  For understanding space as a new contested domain, and the role of the new Space Force, we had General John Raymond, Chief of Space Operations and Commander of the Space Force. And for the impact new technologies will have on the Navy, the best person to hear from was Admiral Lorin Selby, the Chief of Naval Research, which includes ONR, and the Naval Research Lab.

Major General Mike Fenzel, Vice Director for Strategy, Plans and Policy, J5 for the Joint Chiefs, educated us on how the DOD develops operational plans and courses of action. And finally, Michele Flournoy former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy offered what a new Secretary of Defense might do to organize to match those 2+3 threats and new technologies.

Midterms and Finals
For their midterm we asked students to describe how they would reallocate the defense budget to better serve US national security interests and to make their case to Congress on why and how our defense priorities should change. They had to determine and argue how much budget should shift from legacy systems to new systems and why.  We selected the author of one of the top student submissions to present her argument and recommendations to Congressman Mike Gallagher of the House Armed Services Committee.

For their Final, students teamed up in groups of 4 to tackle thorny challenges that may face the US and its Allies in the coming decades, including misinformation, cyber, logistics, networks, and new military platforms.  The students, with the help of a military member, developed broad proposals and wrote a policy paper for the President of the United States.  In the next to last class, as prep for the students final presentations, Safi Bahcall observed that one of the most significant barriers to innovation and adoption is how organizations are designed. And he offered that the DOD needs a different organization to facilitate rapid adoption

Finally, in our last class one of our student teams presented their final project – how they would address real threats, with new operational concepts, policies, and strategies – to former Secretary of Defense General (ret) James Mattis.

To Our Students
This class has given us a lot of hope that our nation and free nations around the world will be in good hands if the students in this class-and the best and brightest of their generation beyond Stanford – make the decision to serve and to use their amazing skills for the betterment of the world. We hope you take on the challenge that General Mattis posed to “Be the change in the world that you want.” All of us are cheerleaders to all of you and in that journey. So thank you for letting us be part of this.  We are excited to see how much positive change you will make happen in the coming years.

Lessons Learned

In our next post we’re going to describe the five surprises, the insights we’ve derived and offer specific solutions to transform the DOD and country to face the challenges ahead, not behind.

Steve, Joe, and Raj

A Quick Course on Lean

Over the weekend I got asked the best way to teach students the principles of Lean via Zoom.

One of the key lessons from our Educators Conference is that when teaching online complex information needs to be delivered to students in small, easily processed parts.

I realized that pre-pandemic I had put together a series of two-minute videos called “See Why.”  They’re not only helpful for a formal class but for anyone who wants to review the basics. Here’s what I suggested they offer their students:

Lean in Context

No Business Plan Survives First Contact With Customers

How did we build startups in the past?

The Business Model

An introduction to The Business Model Canvas

The Minimal Viable Product

How to Get, Keep and Grow Customers?

How to Get Out of the Building and Test the Business Model

What is Customer Development

What is Customer Discovery and Why Do it?

Why Get Out of the Building?

A short article on how to do Customer Discovery via Zoom

Jobs to be done

Customer Validation

The Pivot

The Harvard Business Review Article “Why the Lean Startup Changes Everything” ties the pieces together here

The Mission Model Canvas

What is the Mission Model Canvas

The Mission Model Canvas Videos

Extra’s

Why Customer Development is done by founders

What Do Customers Get from You?

What are Customer Problems/Pains?

Users, Payers and Multi-sided markets

How do I Know I Have the Right Customers – Testing

How big is it?

How to Avoid Pricing Mistakes

More two-minute lectures here

Tools for educators here

Tools for students here

Lessons Learned

  • Break up online lessons into small parts

 

 

 

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