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

Technology, Innovation, and Modern War – Class 18 – General James Mattis

We just held our eighteenth and final 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 General James Mattis addressed the class.

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


Our speaker for our final last class was former Secretary of Defense General Jim Mattis who gave an inspiring talk about service to the nation. General Mattis joined the Marine Corps back in 1969, and he has led Marines and then later Joint forces from every level from platoon commander as a Lieutenant all the way up to combatant commander of US Central Command as a four-star general. He recently led our entire US Defense Department as our country’s 26th Secretary of Defense. We’re fortunate to have him back here at Stanford at the Hoover Institution.

Below are select excerpts from a riveting Q&A session with the teaching team and our students. General Mattis shared a range of compelling experiences and insights that underscored many of the themes of the course.

How do we as a nation, compete against China?
The reality is that Republican and Democratic administrations have tried over 20 some years, to help China. (It was assumed) if we enable them, if we work with them, if they liberalize their economy, political liberalization will follow. It was an untested thesis. And there were a lot of people if they’d read history that might have said, I’m not so sure about that. Because as many of you are aware, the Chinese Communist Party sits on a shaky throne. They cannot liberalize politically, or they will lose power. It’s that simple. They’re not going to liberalize. They’ve made the choice. It’s loud and clear, it goes on over decades.

From Brussels to Washington, DC, certainly from Tokyo, to Canberra to New Delhi, there’s an appreciation that China wants to rewrite the rules. And there’s no reason to think an authoritarian country at home, would somehow write liberal rules abroad. That’s not what history teaches you. Countries don’t treat foreigners better than their own people. So you have to recognize the CCP is becoming more authoritarian- for example over Hong Kong, over their Uighurs, over their own people with social grades now being assigned social responsibility, job, grades, and that sort of thing.

When the National Defense Strategy came out, stating that China is our number one competitor, it was done with the idea that if we can buy the peace, keep the peace, one more year, one more month, one more week, one more day, this gives our diplomats the time to work. And try keeping our values foremost, to show the world we mean to make this work. We are not out to keep China down.

What do you think is the opportunity for Silicon Valley and the students in our class here at Stanford, to play a role in national security?
Well, the first point I would make is, we need every one of your good ideas. This is not a government that’s run in Washington and does its own thing like Beijing does, or Moscow does in their country. This is a government of the people, by the people for the people. We have no ordained right to victory on the battlefield. If we want to keep these freedoms we have – the freedoms that bring so many people from around the world to Silicon Valley – those freedoms are going to have to be defended, because there’s always people who think the way to run things is to beat heads, not to count heads.

For those countries that don’t operate off that, you cannot wish them away, you cannot make them into something you want them to be because you think the people there are like you. They are like you. A taxi driver in Leningrad, for example is much like a taxi driver in San Francisco. The problem is not with the people in those countries, it’s with a system. So we’re going to have to deal with that system, and make sure that we draw the very best of our young people.

And you don’t have to stay for 40 some years like me, but you should come in and do it for a few years. Maybe what you want to do is really emphasize education in your local community. And be on the local school board when you’re 26 years old- do your homework and go for it. Maybe you want to be on the city council and help adjust housing policies so that normal people with normal paychecks can actually afford to buy a house in this town.

We need others of you to move into these very technical issues and help us find our way forward. But the bottom line is you really need to consider that this freedom, just because the draft went away, it doesn’t mean you get to live here scot free. Some people say, a country’s like a bank, you can only take out of it what you’re willing to put in. We got a lot of people nowadays who think they can take out. But they don’t have to put anything in. Number one, that’s a good way to end up on a psychiatrist’s couch when you’re about 45 saying that in my selfish life, I didn’t do a whole lot of good to other human beings. So I don’t recommend that. But number two, it’s just a heck of a lot of fun to roll up your sleeves, and work alongside others in a great cause. You’ll never regret it, you’ll have the best days of your life, you’ll have the worst days of your life there. By golly, you’re really living when you’re doing this. And for those of you who want to go into military, I recommend it.

Are we correct to emphasize that it’s less about the technology, and more about how we use it?
Well, we’re fortunate, I think that we are at the leading edge – at the  cutting edge – on technology. It’s why so many young people who are bright come to Palo Alto and the area, or to Boston, to Seattle, Texas, all these places where we have this going on. I don’t think it’s either or, but If I was to concentrate on the area most important, it would be on the integration. I study a lot of history, not because it gives me all the answers, but it tells me how other people dealt successfully or unsuccessfully with similar situations. Not every situation is unique. And so it teaches you what questions to ask.  And I’ll give you an example of a military technology where some people didn’t develop it -didn’t develop the 2.0 version -but used it better than anyone else.

World War One, the British are sick and tired of their boys going against barbed wire and machine guns. And they say if we could cross that ground in an armored vehicle, and then fight, or fight from the armored vehicle, we’d save a lot of lives. And so they developed the tank, right in the middle of the war. They weren’t thinking ahead. They got caught flat footed. Tanks are big, they didn’t work well and everything else. But they had the tank. British had the tank. They even had some pretty good tactics to tell the truth, developed over the next few years after the war. Well, everybody else said, Oh, I want one of those too. Mankind being what they are, they’re always looking for a different way to whack each other. And so everybody starts making tanks. Guess who had the best tank by 1939? People think the Germans. Aha, not by a longshot. The French had better tanks. Tank for tank, French had the better tank by 1938/39. But the Germans integrated the tank better. So the British had tank 1.0. Let’s just say the French had 2.0. And the Germans were about 1.5. But the Germans put a radio in their tank to talk to a dive bomber overhead. And they trained their people- educated them to use initiative. And now they unleash what you and I call lightning war -blitzkrieg- across Europe in 1940. They didn’t invent the tank -they didn’t develop the tank very well. They didn’t even have the most modern tank, but they integrated that technology better than anyone else did. And they unleashed hell across Europe. So that just shows the priority of integrating capabilities better, more effectively, more broadly, in a more focused way than someone else. That’s where you get your advantage.

What new technology threats do you see?
The new threats that are coming, we can see them mostly in the cyber, and the space domains. Those are two new domains. We fought on this planet for about 10,000 years on the land and sea, then in the last hundred years, the air. In the last 15 years, we’ve added cyber and space.  I would tell you that in these areas, we are integrating them now.

But there’s also fundamental changes coming in the way we deal with one another as human beings. Talking about artificial intelligence here, how we deal with life. And all of these are double edged swords. Every one of them, I can tell you has a double edge. So we better figure out how we’re going to deal with these emerging technologies, hypersonics this sort of thing. And try to keep the peace for one more year, one more month, one more week.

What do you think the future of warfare looks like?
I got a phone call one day. I was a marine three-star in Afghanistan. The Secretary General of NATO called me. He said, I’ve been approved by your president to call you. You’re going to be put in charge of the Supreme Allied Commander for NATO transformation. And in the US, you’re going to command U.S. Joint Forces Command. Your job is to feel out future warfare. And I thought, I better start reading about this, because I’ve been an infantry guy fighting all this time. So I read 20 some books. And every military book started with Alexander the Great. There’s a reason he’s called the great by the way.

Every military that successfully transformed, successfully modernized, did one thing in particular, the ones that succeeded. They defined the specific problem they were trying to solve.  And what they did was they defined the problem so well, that the solution became more apparent to them. Go to Einstein, if he had 60 minutes to save the world, he was asked how he would compose his thoughts. He said, I’d spend 55 minutes defining the problem, then we’d save the world in five minutes. So how does that impact here? I would tell you that in this case, it is going to be a combination of the legacy systems and the breakthrough technologies that are coming right now. But remember this, I was thinking, as you all were briefing your strategies earlier, for 2022 and up to 2030. There’s a boxer who said everyone’s always got a plan until they get slugged in the face.

I remember when we were explaining to some Russian officers after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and we were meeting and actually getting along with each other in those days. It went bad under Putin, but for a little while, in this window, I remember one of our officers saying, you know, with our air forces, you weren’t going to move across Europe. He said, Oh, we weren’t worried about that.  I was kind of curious, I said, why not? He said, because you weren’t going to be flying many of your air forces when my T-72‘s. were parked on your runway.

In other words, there’s the give and take of war. Where you see an advantage that we held, and we did hold a great advantage in the air. And they didn’t have the air defenses that would have been sufficient to stop us in all most cases. But what they were going to do is using a past technology. They were going to deny us the use of ours. So what does this look like? We’ll see all these new weapons being fielded. And some will work some will not work as well, some will be destabilizing, some will actually not be used at all. Just the threat will be sufficient.

For example, right now, if you walk into a geographic combatant command, there’s a whole bunch of men and women sitting there in the senior operations shop, and they’re watching the intel on the board. And there’s a guy sitting there talking to the aircraft carriers, another one talking to the Air Force fighter, the CAOC, the fighter guys, bombers, that sort of thing. There’s the army missile people in the room. There’s your maneuver brigades in the room, this sort of thing. Well, there’s also sitting there some different  looking guys and gals, mostly civilians. And they’re sitting there and they’re on keyboards, and they’re going very quickly back and forth to some other places. And they are fighting it out in cyber warfare right then. And satellites are being turned to look at certain things. And it’s going on.

And so you’re going to see the integration from the very top, all the way down to an army battalion that’s got an Air Force officer in it. That’s bringing in certain targeting data through an integrated command and control system. In other words, it’s not like it’s all going to be fought by robot, but there’ll be a lot of robots on the field and in the air overhead. It’s not all going to be high tech. In fact, some of the units will be messaging to one another, using motorcycle riders more than likely, because they can’t be cut off by cyber. You’re going to see this mix up and down the scale of technology. And certain breaking technologies are going to then dominate in certain areas. And now it’s up to you to mix and integrate that together in a way. That’s what you do.

Let me tell you what you want to do to the enemy commander. That guy who’s going to make the decision to fall back to fight harder, to do this, do that. You want him facing so many cascading dilemmas that he cannot keep up with them. As he solves this one, three more dilemmas pop up. And you want him on the “horns of a dilemma” constantly. If he moves, he’s going to get hit. If he stays put, he’s going to get hit. If he moves over here, he’s going to get hit. But if he hits you, he’s going to get hit even harder, because he’s now had to fire and now we have more intel on where he’s firing from. It’s a great, great, tragic chess game. And it will be characterized by all the things you’re studying now and surprises the enemy has up their sleeve.

A Principled Strategy- First
When I walked into the Pentagon-my first day there-it’s noon on a Saturday. And there is the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, four Star Marine General, I knew well. A four star Air Force general I knew well as the vice chairman. And one holdover from the Obama administration required by law, who’s the Deputy Secretary of Defense under President Obama. And that’s the four of us, we’re going to be for six months, the people that make all the decisions there. I said, you know, guys, I’ve been asking for a strategy for a month in case the Senate asked me about it in my hearing, they didn’t, but you didn’t give it to me. I know I couldn’t give you an order beforehand, because the Senate would take umbrage. I didn’t have their consent yet. But I said, I want the strategy. And I need it right now, because I’m going to be signing next of kin letters, moms and dads. And, the Chairman, looked me right in the eye and said, we don’t have one. We hadn’t had one for 10 years.

This is not a partisan slam on the Obama administration. It’s two different parties, two different administrations. So I went home that night and I started writing it. I carried it with me in every meeting in NATO so I can talk to our allies. My first trip was just Tokyo and Seoul. I took my starting writing with them. I talked to every democrat and republican on Capitol Hill that was willing to talk with me about it. A year later, we rolled it out. And for two years in a row, I was getting record breaking budgets for the Department of Defense, with 87% of the House and Senate Democrats and Republicans voting for it.

So the answer is- do not give up on your principles, your values, your way of life, your constitutional form of government. Create a strategy, and say this is what we stand for, this is what we will not stand for. Put everything in your budget into it.

Move Past America First
I’d recommend the new administration take out of the national security strategy at the White House anything about “America First”. I don’t care how well it was intended. It did not work well. I didn’t like it in the beginning. I like it less now. We didn’t put any of that into the defense strategy. So it could probably pretty much stand. They may need to play with it a little bit and put their thumbprint on it.

But when you get strategies that are built with bipartisan support, as Senator Vandenberg, a right-wing conservative Republican was asked in Michigan 1949, how could you work with that terrible left wing, President Truman, he answered very bluntly, “politics stops at the water’s edge.” Right now we have so few people who’ve seen nonpartisan, bipartisan work. They don’t even recognize that when it happens. But that’s the solution. Real strategic thinking based on traditional strategies and traditional views of America’s role in the world, with less militarism in its foreign policy.

How can we (students) help advance national security and serving our country?
You should, number one, keep learning. Make this your first step of graduate level learning, and keep it going now. In the Marines, every time you get promoted, you get a new reading list, you have to read. Even generals get a new reading list to read. You have to read all these books. But never stop learning because this is a very dynamic world. It’s just awash in change and you have to keep learning.

How do you bring that to bear in your question? And remember, we’ve got a couple of branches of the government that would probably appeal to you. The House and the Senate Armed Services committees, intelligence committees, and foreign relations committees, love to get you bright young folks in there. Oftentimes you don’t stay but four or five years, which seems like a long time to you right now. It’s not, trust me. But it gives you an understanding of how the government works and steeps you in the issues de jour. Another way to do it would be to go into State Department, the CIA, or the Department of Defense, or the Department of Navy, Air Force, Army.

If a little more technically oriented, for example, that might be worth it. If you go to the Secretary of Defense’s office, and just say you’ve lived for a year in Jordan, or you lived for a year in China, we often times try to bring people like you in to be the deputy desk officer. So you can actually bring your knowledge right in. We think if we can snag you young, and show you what we’re doing, we’ll keep you. Years later, you’ll come back. The point I would make is, that even if you don’t stay there for a career, whether it be the Peace Corps, the Marine Corps, whether it be the military or State Department, try to find a way that you can go in and find that you get passionate about something. Because I would just tell you that once you get to that point, it never seems like a job. And you’ll really dig into it because you have the initiative to go deeper because you like what you’re doing.

Keep the Faith – America’s Power of Attraction
And now let me close with something.  I’m a two-star general I’m out in western Iraq. It’s 2004. It’s been 120 degrees, 127 degrees every day. At night, it cools down to 105. We’re outnumbered. We’ve been fighting and fighting and fighting and I pull in at midnight to a Lieutenant probably no more than 18 months out of his undergraduate days in college, and his Sailors and Marines. And when the sun comes up, I’m inside his perimeter out in the middle of nowhere in the desert. And he comes over and he’s telling me Okay, here’s where I’ve been fighting general. And here’s where I’ve lost men. Here’s how many enemy we’ve taken out. And by the way, General we picked up a guy last night he was putting an IED on the road you drove in on. I said, Really? That’s kind of personal. He said, Well, guess what? He lived two years in London. He speaks perfect English. You want to talk to him? I said, Sure.

Because it turns out he’s an engineer. He’s been trained in England. And so he sits down. A marine cuts off a little plastic handcuffs, the guard who’s walking around with him. And obviously, it wasn’t a good night for the man. He’s out there digging his hole. He’s got his artillery round, he’s going to put his car battery in. He’s whistling. He looks up and there’s five guys with automatic rifles pointed at him in camouflage uniforms. It is well, I think my retirement program is not in good shape right now. And I said, What are you doing this for? You’re a Sunni, I can tell that. We’re the Marines. We’re the only friend you’ve gotten this country. Why are you trying to kill us?

And he starts off well, “You’re American. You’re here to steal the oil” and all this. And I said, no, actually, we’re not. I said I pull my wallet out every time pump gas in my doggone car. “But you’re an educated man. You get to talk like that. Just go away. I don’t want to waste my time.” And the Marines stepped forward to take him away and I said, can I sit here for a minute. He said, okay. We’re sitting in the dirt right there by my vehicle. And he said, “I just don’t like foreign forces, foreign soldiers in my country.” Okay, I respect that. I wouldn’t want them in my country. I understand that. We started talking a little bit and getting a cup of coffee and he spilled it all over his hand, he’s so nervous. And I asked him about his family. He’s got a wife and two daughters. They live over on the river about 10 kilometers away. And these Marines are on ratline out in the middle of nowhere, where if they don’t stop the Syrian foreign fighters coming in they’re going to get to Baghdad they’re going to kill a lot of innocent people. So the Marines are getting antsy to get back on the road, get back on patrol and everything. And so at the time I got to get going, and he said, Can I ask you a question? I said, Sure. He said, “I guess I’m going to jail.” You sure are. You’re going to be in Abu Ghraib wearing an orange jumpsuit for a good long time for this little stunt. You’re doggone lucky you’re not dead. And he said, “Do you think general? You think if I’m a model prisoner, do you think my family and I could immigrate to America?”

Think about that my fine young friends. On your worst day. I want you to remember that story. Think about that. That he would give anything right now to be sitting where I’m sitting and his daughter sitting where you’re sitting, right now. As imperfect as we are, as angry as we are at each other in this country right now but seems angrier than I was even at terrorists when I’m shooting them. Think of how great this country is on its worst day, and then roll your sleeves up and make it better. It’s that simple- make it stronger. Keep faith with each other, help each other. And remember three words, “put others first.” And you won’t be going to some shrink when you’re 45 years old wondering what you did with your life. Have a good night, young folks. And thanks for having me here.

A transcript of General Mattis’s talk is here and the video is below.

If you can’t see the video click here.

Lessons Learned

  • What a fitting end to the class
  • Class summary and lessons learned in our next and final post

Technology, Innovation, and Modern War – Class 17 – Organizational Design – Safi Bahcall

We just held our seventeenth 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 Organizational Design and Modern War. And Finals Prep.

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


This was our next -to-last class. While this class focused on the impact new technology and operational concepts and modern war, we thought it was important to have our students understand the organizational and cognitive barriers that make adopting new technologies difficult. Our guest speaker was Safi Bahcall,author of Loonshots.

The pre-class assignment was to watch Safi’s video about Loonshots.

In addition to our speaker, today was presentation prep day for our students’ final papers. We met with all the teams and reviewed their final summaries. (A description of their final assignment follows the summary of Safi’s presentation.)

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

Invention versus Innovation
As I’ve been sitting in the back of the class for the last couple of months, I’ve seen great speakers on strategy, on technology, on invention. I’m using the word invention deliberately — not innovation — because invention and innovation are different things. That point is at the heart of the problem with innovation inside so many organizations.

Invention is having an idea. For example, in the 1920s, when Robert Goddard showed that we could propel metal tubes by exploding liquid fuel inside them, he invented jet propulsion. That was a great invention. It didn’t become an innovation until it was developed and deployed at scale. In the case of jet propulsion, it wasn’t the U.S. that innovated. It was Nazi Germany with the V1 and the V2 missiles, and the Messerschmitt 262, the first jet aircraft.

So what’s at the core of the problem for national security organizations? What’s stopping them from innovating faster and better? It’s not strategy. The 2018 National Defense Strategy explained very clearly and effectively what needs to get done. It’s not technology. The military has 76 innovation labs. It’s not leadership. Leaders across every service are pounding the table about innovation.

Organization Design
The military has three of the four pieces of the puzzle you need: strategy, access to technology, leadership. The fourth, however, is missing. And that’s organization design. Good teams will kill great ideas, no matter how smart the strategy, how enticing the technology, or how much leaders insist on innovation. Why that’s the case is a longer story, which I’ve written about, but the bottom line is that we need to design our organizations to solve that problem — the adoption problem. If we don’t do that, we will lose.

I’ll give you an example. For close to 60 years, IBM dominated the IT industry. The industry was known as IBM and the Seven Dwarfs because IBM’s competitors were so far behind. If there was a superpower in any industry, it was IBM in IT. There were a couple of little competitors in the 80s, who didn’t seem like much. A little company in Seattle called Microsoft. When they did their first partnership with IBM, they had just 32 employees. There was another little company in Santa Clara called Intel. They were running out of cash. Little competitors that IBM disregarded.

Does the story of a superpower ignoring distant threats from seemingly weak competitors sound familiar from the class discussions on China? For IBM, strategy was not the problem. Invention was not the problem. Just like the DOD, IBM has tons of innovation labs. Many widely used technologies originated at IBM. Leadership was not the problem. IBM has been pounding the table about innovation for years. But if you look at IBM today, it’s 1/10th the value of Microsoft, it’s half the value of Intel. Strategy, technology, leadership – those were fine. But good teams kept killing great ideas. That’s the adoption problem.

So what can we do? There are some ways. They’re not obvious. They’re not what you read about in glossy magazines. They have nothing to do with fuzzy words like culture.

It’s About Creating The Structure for Adoption
It’s about structure. How do you create the right structure that helps with adoption? One of the things I found very encouraging over the last couple years in speaking with leadership in military or intelligence is their curiosity about what’s happening in the private sector, outside their usual sandbox.

When I sat down with Admiral Selby, we talked about Google. Google, at the time, was overhauling the back end of their search engine. They built their search engine 20 years ago. And they needed to fix the guts of it because it was out of date. Not unlike big legacy systems in the military. Google was getting that job done in blocks of six months. Selby pointed out that nothing like that could get done in the military in six months. It might take six years, if not 60 years. So how does Google get it done in six months? And what can the military learn from that?

We don’t have time to get into all the details we discussed, but I’ll give you a flavor.

Five Patterns that Impede Adoption
I’ll start with five patterns I’ve observed across the service branches, and what we might do about them.

  1. The first is a preference for big versus small. Many of your previous speakers have talked about that. Bigger jets, bigger engines, bigger ships, as opposed to the small changes that can make an enormous difference.
  2. The second is a preference for product over strategy. A preference for things that you can touch – ships, guns, planes. As opposed to new strategies that are less obvious, less glamorous, but can make an enormous difference. For example, the tank was invented in the mid-1910s. And it was used in World War I. But it wasn’t the tank as a technology, by itself, that allowed Nazi Germany to take over Western Europe in a matter of weeks. It was their strategy, the Blitz. Focusing on technology alone, getting caught up in the shiny glamour of it and neglecting the less glamorous strategies on how to deploy those technologies creatively, is a common trap. Not just in the military, but also in Silicon Valley, where it dooms otherwise successful companies.
  3. The third is a focus on technology as opposed to transfer. In other words, a large investment in acquiring sexy new technology. With much less energy and attention on identifying and navigating the internal barriers to adoption. Assuming that good ideas and technologies will win the day, by themselves, and neglecting the often-hidden sources of internal resistance, agendas, misaligned incentives, legacy stakes. You can spend billions on great technology, on dozens of innovation labs, but if you don’t put energy and creativity into winning those internal battles, the technologies will die.
  4. The fourth is a focus on prototyping as opposed to pretotyping. Pretotyping is about what to do beforethe minimum viable product. How to test hypotheses incredibly fast. In one day for $100. Doing it well bakes into the system a preference for hypotheses rather than opinions; fast experiments rather than big plans; and testing ideas and strategies, not just products and technologies.
  5. And the fifth pattern is a focus on minimizing as opposed to maximizing risks. By which I mean maximizing the intelligent risk-taking you need to discover important breakthroughs. I see this all the time in mission-driven, as opposed to profit-driven, organizations. When lives are at stake, there’s an enormous focus on reducing risk. In the military, you don’t want a lot of risk in your parachutes, or in your nuclear silos. But if you want to discover a new technology before your competitor, you want risk. You want to fail. A lot. If you only try things that don’t fail then you won’t discover the truly important breakthroughs, the ones where everyone gave up because they didn’t think it could be done. And who will discover them? Your adversary, who is taking those risks, who is working through the nine failures to get to then 10th iteration, the one that works. And you’ll see that 10th iteration when it’s too late, when it’s a bullet coming at your head.

Three Solutions
I’m not going to talk about reforming the acquisition process, which many of your class speakers have mentioned and does need to get done. Doing that is like turning an aircraft carrier. It’s incredibly slow, because of all the stakeholders. I’m going to talk about some things that are easier to do. More like a surgical strike.

  1. 1 is measurement. If you can’t measure it you can’t manage it. Conversely, the things you measure well, with easily understood and visible metrics, tend to improve without much extra push. So how you do that with innovation? Follow the money is the bottom line. But the fact that we aren’t doing that at all is a real problem. I remember speaking with someone senior at the Joint Chiefs of Staff who said, “We have no tangible way of knowing how we’re doing on innovation across the service branches. Absolutely no idea.” If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.
  2. 2, rewards. A quote from a major in the Air Force, “You get promoted in the Air Force by not screwing up. Trying something new means risking failure, scaring people around you, and therefore risking advancement. Do what the guy did before you and train those below you to do what you do.” A widespread mindset in the DoD is that the No. 1 priority is don’t get fired. What are the implications of that mindset? How much risk will people take? I mean among the people that you want to be taking intelligent risks, the ones that you want to discover new technologies and strategies before your adversaries do? Do you want the No. 1 priority in the minds of those people to be how do I play it safe?
  3. The need for a “special forces” for innovation. Not another innovation lab but standing up a new functional combatant command of program champions who can identify the internal barriers to adopting new technologies, come up with solutions, and get the job done. With representatives from each of the service branches. A joint surgical strike on innovation, rather than a disconnected massive attack.

There’s a widespread failure to understand that being a good inventor and a good champion are vastly different skill sets. The idea of radar was discovered by a pair of scientists in the Naval Research Labs 18 years before World War II started. They were great inventors, but lousy champions. The idea sat there for a decade until a naval officer named Deak Parsons discovered it, went around to every bureau chief, pounded the table on why it mattered, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, until he got them to cough up a check for $5,000 to fund the project. Robert Goddard was another great inventor, lousy champion. It’s because there was no good champion for that idea here in the U.S. that the Nazis – who got the idea from Goddard’s papers – developed missiles and jet aircraft first.

You heard in an earlier class from General Shanahan about a bullheaded Colonel named Drew Cukor who pounded the table to stand up Project Maven and JAIC to  bring AI to the military. Cukor is the most recent in a long line of internal champions, like Deak Parsons or Vannevar Bush, or Schreiver with ICBMs, or Moffett with aircraft carriers, or Rickover with the nuclear Navy. They were all great champions. Not inventors.

What we need is a new functional combatant command to attract, train, and deploy great champions. To develop the next generation of Drew Cukors or Deak Parsons or Bernard Schrievers, rather than hoping and praying that maybe we’ll get lucky and another disrupter will come along in time and modernize the military. We no longer have that luxury. We cannot afford to start our conflicts with yesterday’s technology and hope that we will catch up. Not in the era of data and algorithms. Chris Brose was quoting was John McCain when he said, “Hope is not a strategy.”

We need a separate command for the same reason that we need cyber or special operations as a separate command. The problem is endemic to all the service branches, not specific to just one. And there’s a unique skill set that needs to be developed. Good champions need to be mediators, buffers between technologists and soldiers. They need to be bilingual, to speak the language of each side fluently. They need to understand product market fit: why some ideas will get traction, others won’t. They need to identify hidden organizational barriers and come up with solutions. They need to understand horizontal influence: how to influence people over whom they have no direct authority. All of those are special skills, with best practices and useful lessons to be learned from years of examples across the different branches. Yet no such training exists today.

Google does it. Microsoft does it. They’ve understood the importance of having a special forces unit for innovation champions and have done it well. They create a career ladder to retain people in the role, to build experience and skill, to convey prestige and respect. They keep the role neutral, like Switzerland, neither on the research side, nor on the operation side, but in between, like a mediator needs to be.

If you create a joint special forces for innovation Sherpas, for program champions, you not only gain the ability to innovate faster and better as an organization. You improve your ability to attract, retain, and motivate talent. When I put out that War on the Rocks article, I got emails from very impressive people, with an entrepreneurial bent, who had left the military, but clearly wanted to contribute. They said, “If that division was there, sign me up.”  You put a purple rope around it, you make that command hard to get into, you make it as cool as SOCOM.

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

If you can’t see the video click here.


Final Assignment– Technology Innovation and Modern War

Over this course you’ve heard from the leading voices across the military, government, and industry issue a call to action. If we are to prevail in the challenges posed by renewed great power competition it will require leveraging new technologies, new strategies, and most importantly- new approaches to problem solving.

In your final project you will address the operational challenges and strategic dilemmas created by the changing nature of warfare. This assignment will draw on your creativity, critical thinking skills, and individual experiences to present actionable recommendations to real decision-makers.

Your Final Assignment
In groups of 3-4, develop plans to address national security challenges grounded in real-world trends.

Groups will deliver a 15-minute presentation as well as a 10-page written report (<2500 words excluding appendices).

Step 1: Read the scenario and prompts that follow. The scenario depicts escalating confrontations between the U.S. and China in the near, mid, and long-term time frames.

The prompts present discrete operational or strategic problems faced by the U.S. military we’ve encountered in class readings and lectures. The prompts ask you to consider the implications of these in each of the situations presented in the scenario.

Step 2:  Develop a proposal to address your  problem. Assume your findings will be briefed to the U.S. President during a cabinet meeting called specifically to address these topics.

Shape your approach as you see fit, but your plan should address:

  • Specific actions to be taken including investment or divestment in specific technologies/capabilities, shifts in operations/doctrine, budget/acquisition implications, and other policy changes
  • The timeframe for taking these actions: how these actions might differ in the near-term, mid-term, and long-term situations described in the scenarios
  • Tradeoffs of your proposed solutions. For example, how do you address a capability shortfall if you eliminate a weapon system in the near term?
  • Key obstacles to adopting your proposed solution
  • An assessment of relative impact. Which of these actions would impose the greatest cost on China if implemented? Which could sway China’s decision calculus the most?

For Example: An answer to the C4ISR prompt could define key vulnerabilities in U.S. communication networks, then identify how China might exploit these weaknesses differently during the political coercion of Taiwan in the near-term vs open conflict in the long-term. Students would then present potential solutions and discuss how they might differ in each case.

Groups will also be assigned military mentors, who can serve as a resource in developing realistic, actionable recommendations.

SCENARIO
Background: China advocates for peaceful reunification with Taiwan but has yet to officially renounce the use of military force as a means to resolve the issue. Moreover, the PRC has developed a range of options to coerce Taipei based on increasing capabilities in multiple domains. The three scenarios below depict a gradual escalation of Chinese actions towards Taiwan in the near-, mid-, and long-term timeframes.

Near-term, Coercion: The year is 2022 and the U.S. has passed a law that pressures Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) and other Taiwanese companies that manufacture advanced microchips to no longer sell their products to any Chinese entities. This move effectively limits China’s access to a critical resource- the custom chips that are vital to products that fuel China’s domestic and export growth. Taiwan announces its intention to comply with the U.S. law, prompting China to retaliate by trying to coerce Taiwan into restoring access to chips. China launches intense influence operations and targeted non-kinetic attacks (i.e. cyber and disinformation) to sway popular opinion and reduce support for the Taiwanese government’s decision. 

Mid-term, Limited Use of Force: The year is 2025, Taiwan has yet to budge on the sale of microchips. Moreover, China’s coercive tactics have generated a backlash in Taiwan and have only served to intensify anti-Chinese sentiment. In order to demonstrate military capability and deter any thoughts of Taiwanese independence, China invades the Taiping Island (Itu Aba) and Zhongzhou Reef, small Taiwanese-occupied islands in the South China Sea. Unmanned, autonomous planes and ships play a significant role in this operation.

Long-term, High Intensity Conflict: The year is 2030. Five years of simmering resentment over Chinese actions lead to the election of a number of independence-minded politicians, some who openly voice plans for formally declaring of Taiwanese independence in the next 12 months. China launches an outright invasion of Taiwan accompanied by a blockade, and moves to secure the first island chain. The United States seeks to intervene in order to deter Chinese advances and restore the status quo. Both sides appear headed towards open hostilities and high-intensity conflict.  Simultaneously, China commences heavy cyber and disinformation attacks on the United States in order to sway American sentiment by causing pain through disruption of utility, travel, and banking infrastructure.

PROMPTS

Misinformation Warfare: Disinformation campaigns designed to influence large numbers of people in subtle ways will likely be a mainstay of future conflict. States can utilize subversive and disruptive messaging on social media and other platforms to sow discord and confusion within an adversary’s borders.

  • How might China utilize influence campaigns to support their objectives in each of the scenarios described above?
  • How could the U.S. help defend Taiwan and the American populace against these threats?

Your answer could address

  • Key risks and vulnerabilities China would seek to exploit
  • Required tools/technologies/capabilities to counter these tactics, and how to extend these capabilities to U.S. allies
  • The policies and strategies required to coordinate responses between public and private entities

C4ISR: The DoD relies on command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4ISR) networks to form the U.S. military’s central nervous system. However, these centralized networks are slow to move information and risk being disabled outright in the opening days of a conflict with a technologically advanced competitor.

  • How might China exploit weaknesses in the C4ISR networks fielded by Taiwan or the U.S. to facilitate the actions described in the scenarios above?
  • How could the U.S. ensure that C4ISR capabilities are resilient enough to survive the full spectrum of potential confrontations with China?

Your Answer Could Address

  • Key vulnerabilities (e.g. overreliance on communication satellites or centralized nodes)
  • The architecture/capabilities needed to build out a more resilient communication network
  • Current obstacles to building out more survivable networks

Forward-Deployed Forces: The U.S. has long relied on military assets pre-positioned in the Asia Pacific to serve as a deterrent and first line of response. Over the last twenty years, however, China has developed the ability to precisely target fixed infrastructure in Japan, Guam and elsewhere with thousands of ballistic and cruise missiles. The U.S. forces closest to a conflict in INDOPACOM could be destroyed before they ever leave base.

  • How might China view the willingness and ability of forward deployed U.S. forces to respond to each of the scenarios described above?
  • In each scenario, how can the U.S. ensure that forward-deployed forces present a more credible, survivable threat?

Your Answer Could Address

  • The right types of capabilities/platforms to pre-position in the Asia-Pacific
  • Defensive capabilities needed to protect forward deployed assets
  • How to delineate when/how these forces would respond to events in the region

Logistics: Over the last 30 years, the U.S. has enjoyed the luxury of taking months to gather and transport personnel, platforms and supplies to various parts of the globe in order to execute combat operations with overwhelming force. In the future, these critical resources could immediately come under attack as they begin to mobilize and may never make it into theater.

  • In each scenario above, how might the perceived ability of the U.S. to gather a critical mass of combat power in the INDOPACOM AOR influence China’s decision-making?
  • What could the U.S. do in the near, mid, and long term to better utilize out of area assets to provide a timely response?

Your answer could address:

  • The best way to position resources across the globe
  • Key limiting logistical vulnerabilities (fuel, repair parts etc.)
  • The impact of advances in manufacturing/production (e.g. localized 3D printing)
  • Technologies/capabilities that could “hide” the movement of ships, aircraft and ground forces

Non-Kinetic Attacks: Cyber and electronic warfare attacks directed against military and civilian entities may prove just as damaging in the future as missile salvos. States may be able to open a second front in conflicts by targeting physical and electronic infrastructure, commercial businesses, individuals and their personal networks.

  • How might the PRC use cyber and electronic attacks against the U.S. and Taiwan in each of the scenarios described above?
  • What near, mid, and long term steps could the U.S. take to better defend against these threats?

Your Answer Could Address

  • The most critical risks and vulnerabilities in each scenario
  • Foundational tools, capabilities, processes needed to counter these risks
  • How to coordinate a flexible response across military and civilian sectors 

Operating in Contested Spaces: Between missile forces and more conventional platforms, China is actively building up the capability to target and strike U.S. military units operating nearly anywhere within the Asia-Pacific. In a future conflict, the nation’s primary expeditionary force, the U.S. Marine Corps, will need to operate across the AOR while remaining well within range of Chinese weapons.

  • What near, mid, and long-term steps could the USMC take to successfully deter lower-level aggression or engage Chinese forces in open conflict?

Your Answer Could Address

  • Offensive capabilities needed to effectively skirmish with Chinese forces
  • Defensive capabilities needed to avoid detection or defend against precision missile strikes
  • Required shifts to USMC, Navy, and Joint Force doctrines

The Role of High-End Platforms: The U.S. military has invested billions of dollars towards a small number of high-end weapon systems designed to turn the tide of future conflicts. As we have heard repeatedly during this course, however, the Chinese military has purposefully acquired capabilities to target and defeat these platforms well before they come within range of engaging Chinese forces.

  • What value would the current U.S. inventory of high-end ships, aircraft and other platforms add in each scenario described above?
  • In the long term, how could the U.S. ensure it can project the type of offensive power needed to push back Chinese forces?

Your Answer Could Address

  • New platforms/offensive capabilities that might be required
  • Changes to operating doctrines or tactics
  • Ways to utilize existing platforms differently, or make them more survivable

Alliances: Any conflict with China would also impact long-standing U.S. allies in the Asia-Pacific and elsewhere. Partner nations could see their own militaries and homelands subjected to the same threats and challenges that the United States would face.

  • How might the U.S. leverage regional alliances and partnerships in each scenario above?
  • How could the U.S. ensure that allies and partners in INDOPACOM and elsewhere are able to better balance Chinese power and ambitions?

Your Answer Could Address

  • The different offensive or defensive capabilities key allies and partners would need to acquire to effectively counter Chinese military power
  • The operational role key allies and partners should be willing to play in future conflicts
  • How to convince allies and partners of the urgent need to adapt to the current strategic environment

Soft Power PRC initiatives such as One Belt One Road leverage diplomatic and economic influence around the world to further military and security interests. Any dispute with the United States in the Asia-Pacific would likely spill over to other realms of competition.

  • How might the PRC leverage access to global infrastructure, commercial markets, and financial resources in each scenario above?
  • How could the U.S. counter these tactics?

Your Answer Could Address

  • How China could exploit key economic, financial and diplomatic vulnerabilities the U.S. faces in a global, interconnected system
  • How technology might be used in diplomatic, information and economic realms to counter Chinese efforts
  • Required partnerships with the private sector or between the DoD and other government agencies

Deterrence: A key theme of this course has been the need to invest in the right capabilities in order to deter and prevent future conflicts. Given that future warfare may involve activities that span from cyber-attacks to conventional strikes against the U.S. homeland, preventing conflict may require a fundamentally new understanding of deterrence.

  • Could the U.S. have fundamentally changed China’s decision calculus in each of the three scenarios above?
  • What could the U.S. do in the near, mid and long-term to effectively voice an understanding of deterrence?

Your answer could address

  • The specific capabilities and employment strategies needed to create reciprocal predicaments for Chinese forces
  • How to clearly voice the manner and conditions under which the U.S. would be willing to respond (i.e. how would the U.S. respond to a state-sponsored cyber attack?)
  • Policies clarifying the of capabilities with ethical implications, such as artificial intelligence or autonomous systems

Lessons Learned

  •  Invention and innovation are different things
    •  Invention is having an idea
    • It doesn’t become an innovation until it’s developed and deployed at scale
  • The barrier to innovation and adoption is how organizations are designed
    • We need different organization to facilitate rapid adoption
  • This new organization needs to:
    • Measure innovation
    • Reward innovation
    • Create a special innovation force to champion and facilitate adoption

Technology, Innovation, and Modern War – Class 16 – Acquisition & Sustainment – Ellen Lord

We just held our sixteenth 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 Acquisition and Sustainment and Modern War.

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


Some of the readings for this week included How the DOD Acquires Weapons Systems, The Planning, Programming and Budgeting Process, Acquisition Reform in the NDAA, Defense Primer on DOD Contractors, and on the Defense Industrial Base

Our guest speaker was the Honorable Ellen Lord the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment. She is responsible to the Secretary of Defense for acquisition; developmental testing; contract administration; logistics and materiel readiness; installations and environment; operational energy; chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons; the acquisition workforce; and the defense industrial base.

Prior to this appointment, Ms. Lord served as the President and Chief Executive Officer of Textron Systems Corporation, a subsidiary of Textron Inc. leading a multi-billion dollar business with a broad range of products and services supporting defense, homeland security, aerospace, infrastructure protection, and customers around the world.

I’ve extracted and paraphrased a few of Ellen Lords key insights and urge you to read the entire transcript here and watch her video.

Progress in Modernizing the Defense Acquisition System.
Everything we do here at the Department is under the framework of our National Defense Strategy, or NDS. Acquisition and sustainment is focused on supporting all three lines of the national defense strategy. So they are:

  1. restoring military readiness as we build a more lethal force
  2. expanding and strengthening alliances and partnerships.
  3. bringing business reform to the Department of Defense.

Strengthening Our Supply Chain
So under the first line of effort, lethality, we’re focused on addressing supply chain fragility. The nature of today’s near peer or peer to peer threat is not always kinetic. One of the ways our adversaries try to gain the advantage is by attacking our supply chain through methods like fraud, introduction of counterfeit materials, control of raw materials, cyber and intellectual property attacks, denying access to strategic materials and rare earth minerals. And finding ways basically to undermine our free market system.

The United States is reliant on a global supply chain for our goods, systems and services. In most instances, this is really very positive. We’re enriched by investments from other countries, which often helped to build infrastructure that supports a variety of industries. However, we really need to remain vigilant about reliance on adversarial countries, when it becomes to our defense industrial base, and our national security systems. Should our adversaries choose to restrict supplies, It’s really possible that the department would struggle to find, test, and qualify replacement sources if they even exist. So, the DODs report that we wrote in response to executive order 13806. The report came out in 2018, highlighted reliance on foreign suppliers, including China for critical materials such as rare earth elements and microelectronics.

For example, China has an 80% market share in rare earth elements, as well. As well as a significant market share in manufacturing value added rare earth containing goods, such as electric motors and consumer electronics. Rare earth elements are integral to the US military and to the national infrastructure and economy. They’re used in a wide variety of applications, ranging from guidance systems for missiles and space, space launch vehicles, to electric vehicles and sophisticated medical instrumentation.

Expanding and strengthening alliances and partnerships
In accordance with the second line of effort in the NDS, strengthening alliances, we’re actively working to better harness defense trade as a strategic tool to advance national security interests. We are tracking 37 initiatives across DOD focused on four main areas. Designing in exploitability early in programs. Facilitating technical release ability. Capturing market space versus Russia, for instance. And increasing industrial capacity.

And in addition to strengthening our interoperability with allies and partners. Reforms in each of these areas will strengthen the foreign military sales process. It will enhance the defense industrial bases global competitiveness, and it will increase our supply chain export capability. As we move into fiscal year 2021, an effort we call defense trade modernization will help implement both DOD as well as interagency process to streamline and allow the US to more rapidly export technology in order to drive this interoperability because we don’t fight alone when we fight. As well as to sustain our domestic industrial base.

Business Reform – The 5000 Series
In support of the NDS’s third line of effort, reform. Our organization is committed to enabling an acquisition environment designed to deliver warfighting capability at the speed of relevance, versus one that’s defined by bureaucracy. One of my team’s most significant accomplishments has been rewriting what we call the 5000 series.– the overarching policy on DOD acquisition that focuses on what I call creative compliance. So that acquisition professionals can design acquisition strategies that minimize risk.

The 5000 rewrite achieves that objective by decomposing a large policy document into six clear and separate pathways that we call the adaptive acquisition framework or AAD. Each pathway is tailored to the unique characteristics of the capability being acquired. The six pathways include urgent capability acquisition, middle tier of acquisition, major capability acquisition, software acquisition, defense business systems, and acquisition of services.

The software acquisition pathway is the newest pathway in the adaptive acquisition framework. Given that software is central to every major DOD mission and system, we need to acquire and deliver software with much greater speed, agility, and cyber security. The software pathways built on commercial principles that really enable innovation and rapid delivery in response to conditions of uncertainty. We have rapidly changing user needs; we’ve got disruptive technologies and threats on the battlefield. The policy tailors, as well as streamlines acquisition and requirements, processes, reviews and documents- to adopt a modern development practice, like agile and DevOps, or DevSecOps.

It’s a substantial departure from the department’s usual way of doing business, by removing procedural bottlenecks and regulatory bureaucracy. Programs are really pushed to embrace the goal of delivering capabilities on a much faster cycle time in one year or less, while emphasizing and ensuring cyber security.

Cybersecurity is Integral
One of the subordinate functional areas is cybersecurity, which is a foundational aspect of any acquisition that cannot be traded for cost, schedule or performance. To ensure cyber security is also foundational for our partners in industry, the department created the Cybersecurity Maturity Model certification, which we call CMMC. It’s scalable, auditable and repeatable. A cybersecurity standard that industry partners will be required to obtain, depending on the level of cybersecurity required in a specific contract.

This morning, the cyber security model certification DFARS rule, and we live by the Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation standards was posted on the US Federal registry as an interim rule. The public’s going to be able to comment on the rule for 60 days. And then at the end of the 60-day period, the rule will go into effect. Therefore, it will require all DOD contracts by October 21, 2025, a five year span, to have some level of CMMC. Now, I think of this as we think of ISO quality. The same kind of idea.

Risk Management Tools
The department launched a pilot program with commercial risk management tools. The one we use is called Exigers DDIQ. To really assist with rapidly identifying reputable vendors and vetting the sources of their supplies. We need to know who is in our supply chain, who the beneficial owner is. Not just that we’re dealing with a shell company. So this tool is fed in to our department’s ADVANA analytics platform. And we’re able to provide supply chain illumination that is now essential to the department’s execution of all US Defense production act authorities. To be able to make sure we increase capacity and throughput in our supply chain. To make sure that we not only help the Department of Defense, but we work with all of our partners to acquire vital personal protective equipment and medical supplies in response to COVID-19.

Our enhanced understanding and rapid vetting of the supply chain has helped mitigate the award of fraudulent contracts to opportunists. And there are many, many out there. Ensuring the effective use of the CARES Act funding we’ve received from Congress.

What do you consider your most important reforms initiated under your leadership today?
One is the fact that we have made acquisition much simpler to understand and use. In terms of instead of having this big book that you read through and use it like a pilot’s checklist. We now have the acquisition process, broken into different pieces that can be adapted.

Out of all of those pieces, I think the most significant accomplishment is the software pathway. We’ve basically said, our major weapon systems are hardware enabled, but they’re software defined. And we need to make sure we continually evolve that software, from development, to production to sustainment. it’s all a continuum. And we actually are really excited to have been able to work with the hill with Congress to define some pathfinder projects for a software Color of Money. Because previously, we spent so much time on administrivia. But very important administrivia, to make sure we were legally compliant with colors of money. This is going to be able to unleash our business processes to keep up with technical innovation.

What do you what are the biggest challenges and opportunities going forward for further reform?
I think it’s really communicating both with industry, to understand middle-tier acquisition, how we no longer need clearly defined requirements. We can basically try to define a capability and see the art of the possible. To make sure that industry understands how they can work with contracting professionals to get on contract. And then also to teach our contracting workforce, what we have for capability and really unleash them to innovate.

I always think that technical innovation is way sexier and easier to do for all the obvious reasons than business Innovation. Because people are afraid, they’re going to break the law and go to jail or be hauled up in front of the news. Or get pulled up onto the hill for a hearing which can be lots of fun. What we have to do is show that our acquisition professionals, our business professionals, can make a huge difference to the warfighter. No kidding, they can get capability in warfighters hands much more quickly.

Many argue that maintaining our technology edge, it’s less about technology and more about the speed in which it can be identified and deployed. Would you agree with this assessment?
How do you quickly apply it to the warfighting gaps we have? My whole team works very closely with the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Hyten. His responsibility through the JROC is to define requirements for the warfighter.

My responsibility through our acquisition process is to get it there quickly. And the challenges is the valley of death we have between development of cool technical things and applying them in a way that the warfighter can use them. So we like to work on the art of the possible. How do we get going? How do we enable that technical collaboration to meet the needs of the warfighter?

How would your organization increase collaboration between industry and government, especially at the startup and small company level?
Most of our innovation comes from small businesses. It’s absolutely vital to us at Department of Defense. So I believe regardless of where you work, and what your mission is, everything comes down to communication. So early on, I knew that my team could only communicate and meet with so many people. So I decided we would use the industry associations as our force multiplier. To echo and amplify what messages we have. But just as importantly, if not more importantly, for us to listen to what industry needs.

So what we do is, I bring about 15 people, and we’re doing this virtually now, just as well as we did it in person, quarterly, working with three industry associations. They pulled together about 15 or so CEOs. They develop the agenda. I bring our service acquisition leads, I bring a number of A&S individuals, and we talk with industry about what their challenges are. What they’re doing. I also bring the big primes in one company, once a month. With their senior leadership team, my senior leadership team, again, service acquisition representatives, and we talk about the issues.

What’s changed in how you’re preparing our acquisition professionals for these new ways of doing business?
We used to lock them down at the Defense Acquisition University for two or three weeks and put our finger on the transmit button and lecture in what I’d call like a 30, 40-year-old way. We’ve changed that. We’ve been totally virtual since March. But more importantly, we do lots of podcasts, we are instead of taking the very what I consider dry policy, we do interviews with the program executive officers with program managers and get them to tell stories about the acquisition problems they’ve had. And how they’ve used some of the authorities we have. Because again, I want that creative compliance. People are so worried about doing something wrong, that they rather do nothing at all. Which isn’t helping us.

So it’s very different in terms of a lot of real time presentations. A lot of podcasts, a lot of self-service type of work. We also actually licensed from TED Talks, what we call TEDx DAU. And so we just finished with our second round of TED talks on Defense Acquisition. And it’s kind of acquisition at the edge.

How is the purchase of new weapon systems technologies is coordinated with the development of new doctrine or new operational concepts?
The NDS tells us that we are pivoting from violent extremist organizations, to peer-to-peer threats, that we see around the second island chain with China. So what we have to do is change our warfighting capability. We are working very closely with the Joint Staff and the services as we develop that new doctrine. It’s something we do on weekly meetings with the SecDef. Dynamic force employment for instance. We are deploying ships, aircraft, that just show up different places a little bit more surprisingly.

What we’re doing is listening to that voice of the customer, the Warfighter about what are the electronic warfare capabilities they need. What are the all-domain command and control that they need, now that we are truly an interoperable force?. And we’re working closely with the Joint Staff through the JROC with General Hyten. I So it’s taking that technology and applying it where needed with lots of cycles, lots of iterations, back and forth.

Do you think Anduril’s model where a company develops a product on their own dime and then sells it to the DOD versus DOD funds the development is the future of defense tech procurement?
I think there is very much a place for the Anduril type model, as well as the traditional companies, I think we need a whole spectrum. Because a company is not going to build an aircraft carrier or a fighter jet or a large satellite on their own. It’s just too complex, too cumbersome. But smaller options, I think are very much what we want to see. We want to see those developments. We want to get them in the hands of the warfighter as soon as possible.

That’s where we’re using Other Transaction Authorities to get going on that. That’s what DIU does. We’re using middle tier of acquisition to rapidly field prototypes and new production..

How does the DOD ensure operational security and its acquisitions when there’s such a vast range in diversity of corporate contributors to the national security ecosystem?
OPSWC, as we call it is incredibly important. On one hand, one of my prime focus areas has been cybersecurity of the defense industrial base. That’s why we rolled out CMMC, it’s like ISO is to quality, it will be for cyber security.

So that was huge, making sure that the infrastructure of companies are adequately protected. And again, scaling. it’s different, if we buy combat gear, you know, boots, or clothing, versus if we’re buying a fighter jet. You need a different level of security. But also, what we’re doing with our new 5000 rewrite, one of the functional areas was cybersecurity. We are writing in cyber security standards to how you design new systems.

We also spend an enormous amount of time with NSA and Cybercom. With exquisite intelligence we get on what adversaries are trying to do to our weapon systems. And we are going back and continuing to harden the already fielded systems. We are we have new KPPS, if you will, for designing in the cybersecurity of the new systems. And then of course, we are looking at mergers and acquisitions.

I spend quite a bit of my time on with the Committee on Foreign investment in the US, CFIUS, which was firmed up by FIRRMA. But bottom line, we when there is a national security threat can block transactions acquisitions, and now with FIRRMA we can block acquisition of real estate adjacent to critical national security spots, and we can also intervene in JV’s.

Some students in our class that that aspire to public service.  Any thoughts on advice and recommendations how they might approach this?
I was 33 years in industry, before coming into government. And this government job is by far the most fascinating job I’ve had. I was very fortunate to do some things in industry that I’m proud of, and I think were significant, but there is just so much you can do in government.

So on a fundamental level, I would say connect with people. We have rather Byzantine hiring processes. I didn’t even know that USA Jobs existed before I came on to the federal government. But that’s where we advertise all of our jobs. But you have to connect with people. And you need to talk about what you’re interested in doing. Reach out to someone currently in government and talk a little bit about what generally they’re interested in what they would like to do. Because you don’t know what you don’t know. But you’ve got to start a conversation.

I will tell you, you’re never going to make a lot of money working in government, however, you particularly at junior levels will be exposed to so, so, so much more than you could be in the same amount of time in industry. And I’d say a one-to-three-year stint would be incredibly enriching for your background, regardless of what you do with the balance of your career. I fantasize about getting people back in for one to two years that perhaps served for seven to 10 years, then went out to industry. I would just love to get some logisticians from Southwest or a trucking company or Amazon to come and work with us. Because what we do at the Defense Logistics Agency, it’s eye watering. It’s just unbelievable. So I’d say communication, communication, communication.

I grew up my father was a lawyer, he served in the army in World War Two. But we never talked about what it was to serve. And not only is it really incredible to be part of something much bigger than just you, it’s amazing how much impact you can have, and how much you can see and learn.

Read the transcript of Ellen Lord’s talk and watch the video below.

If you can’t see the video click here.

Lessons Learned

  • The 5000 series is the DODs the policy on acquisition – how they buy things
    • We’ve strengthened our supply chain, expanded our alliances and partnerships and we reformed the 5000 series
    • Added a path to acquire software
    • Built cybersecurity compliance into acquisition
  • These reforms have made working with the government much simpler to understand

The Rapture Happened but I Wasn’t Called

Last Friday the Secretary of Defense abruptly fired half of the Defense Business Board.
For some reason, he forgot me.

He appointed former Trump campaign officials Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie as chair and vice chair and nine other new members. (Update: the new chair is Chris Burnham and the new vice chair is Kiron Skinner. Both are current board members.)

The Defense Business Board is one of several advisory boards that serve as the pleasure of the Secretary of Defense. The business board is just what it sounds like – leaders from business who could offer best business practices to the department and nation.

Other defense advisory committees include Policy, Innovation, Science, Military Personnel Testing, Women in the Services, and on Sexual Assault. Each of these boards/committees is supposed to provide the Defense Department with the best nonpartisan information and advice available.

The reason I joined was to offer the Secretary of Defense insights that could transform and leapfrog the status quo, not just make us incrementally better. Not just 10% better advice but 10x advice.

After multiple board meetings I still couldn’t tell you what political party any of the board members were in, nor did any of them let their party affiliations color any of their advice. We were all volunteering our time to serving our county.

Over the last year the administration began replacing members of every defense advisory board with party loyalists.

Below is my resignation letter to the Secretary of Defense.


K&S Ranch
Pescadero, California
December 7, 2020

Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller

I volunteered to serve on the Defense Business Board because our nation faces an unprecedented set of challenges. For the first time in a century, the United States is no longer guaranteed to win the next war. We face authoritarian governments in China, in Russia, in Iran and North Korea, governments that not only oppress their own people, Tibetans, Uighurs, those in Hong Kong, but that offer the world a dystopian vision of control.

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 military and economic strength.

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

For the last century the U.S. was a global power that represented much more than just a strong nation. It stood for a set of values that set us apart. Freedom of speech and worship. Freedom from fear and the collective belief that we are one people with a continual aspiration to a more perfect union. To the rest of the world, we were the shining city on the hill, a beacon of justice and opportunity to emulate and aspire to.

When other nations required loyalty pledges to a party and launched ideological purges of their best and brightest, we recognized that they did so because they were weak. Their ideas and values could not withstand dissent or discussion. We celebrated what made the United States strong was that we embraced diversity of thought and acted collectively in the nation’s interest.

In exchange for ideological purity, the abrupt termination of more than half of the Defense Business Board and their replacement with political partisans has now put the nation’s safety and security at risk.

My service to the Department of Defense was a service to the country not to a party.

I hereby tender my resignation.

Steve Blank

Technology, Innovation, and Modern War – Class 15 – Mid Term– Congressman Mike Gallagher

We just held our fifteenth 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 Midterms with Congressman Mike Gallagher.

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


Our guest speaker Congressman Mike Gallagher, a member of the House Armed Services Committee.

Congressman Mike Gallagher is one of the leading thinkers in defense in Congress. He’s a Princeton and Georgetown graduate; served in the Marine Corps, with deployments in Anbar province; got his Ph.D; joined a startup; has been reelected to his third term, representing the 8th district of Wisconsin; and is on the House Armed Services Committee.

The Congressman was gracious enough to take on two roles in this class session: First he shared his views on the future of defense, and second, he received a formal policy recommendation – our midterm assignment – as a briefing from one of our students.

I’ve extracted and paraphrased a few of key insights and urge you to watch the video of his talk.

What’s life like as a Congressman?
If you watch the news, you’d think that all of us are consumed with whatever the Twitter controversy of the day is. But there is a ton of good work going on beneath the surface, beyond what you see on TV, particularly in national security. That doesn’t get headlines, it doesn’t get a lot of attention, but is incredibly important. As a member of the House Armed Services Committee, we pass an annual National Defense Authorization Act. It is the culmination of a year’s worth of work. And at a time when it seems like everything is divided, it represents an area of significant bipartisanship. When it comes to the big questions of the day, from a national security perspective I sense an emerging opportunity to rebuild something resembling that consensus.

The biggest misconception I had coming into this job four years ago was I thought that the dysfunction in Congress was purely a function of the people that were in Congress. That Congress was filled with charlatans, or people that were incompetent. Now certainly, there are examples of that. And certainly, there’s a lot of careerism that goes on. But Congress is also filled with a lot of incredibly smart, patriotic, well intentioned people with unique backgrounds that just want to serve the country. And I’ve been blown away by the quality of a lot of my peers on both sides of the aisle.

That’s an opportunity for more bipartisanship. If you look at a lot of the work of the Future of Defense Task Force, some of those issues are going to be debated right now by the Biden transition team and incoming Biden foreign policy team. And I think it would be a mistake for us to go back, given how much progress we’ve made on China in general and technological competition.

What do you expect from the new administration on National Security?
I think there’s a serious debate going on within the Biden national security camp about what direction to go.

There are two camps within the Biden advisory team. The first I associate with the return to the Obama era approach, which would focus on cooperation with China. And if you want to cooperate with China, that leads you down a path where you put Taiwan relations on the back burner. You’re less likely to press hard against Chinese tech giants like Huawei. And you kind of go out of your way to be on extensively good terms with Beijing, because you want their cooperation on transnational issues, particularly environmental issues.

But if the second, more realistic camp wins out – one that looks at malign activities of competitor states, like China and Russia, and focuses on defending American influence and liberal values internationally – I think there will be a striking amount of continuity. I think the Biden administration’s spin on great power competition will be different from the Trump administration’s. That’s okay, if the point of departure is about defending our values internationally, as opposed to better competing internationally, which was the Trump administration’s core focus in the national security strategy. Ultimately, both approaches lead you in a similar direction. I think it would be a mistake for them to view everything that the Trump administration did as tainted, and we throw the baby out with the bathwater. Because the fact is, there has been remarkable progress made on U.S./China competition the last three years.

You’re still likely to come down in a similar place in terms of how you approach adversaries like the CCP and Vladimir Putin. And I think the Biden administration will have an opportunity when it comes to placing values at the at the center of American foreign policy. I have Democratic colleagues who are influential in the Biden camp like Tom Malinowski, who would argue for doing just that. And we’ve worked very closely on things like calling out what’s happening in Xinjiang. Similarly calling out human rights abuses at the hands of Vladimir Putin. So I think you’ll see a movement just on sort of the overall position that values-based arguments play in the national security strategy. If you talk to H.R. McMaster, he’d say that values were an integral part of the national security strategy.

Should the New Administration Focus on Europe or IndoPacom?
I think Biden said that the top threat to America was Russia. I disagree with that. His team advocates for a Europe-centric approach to US foreign policy. To the extent they change the overall regional prioritization for our national security strategy and say that European command is the primary theater and IndoPacom is secondary, I think that would be a huge mistake because there’s absolutely no comparison.

The Biden Administration and the Defense budget
I think the new administration is going to face some very difficult budgetary choices. We just spent over $3 trillion on Coronavirus response; we’re not going to be able to continue a 3% increase in the defense baseline over the next two years. So there’s going to have to be hard choices. And the biggest and hardest choice they need to make right away is the prioritization among the services. If you look at our national defense strategy, all the things that Bridge Colby talked to you about, you’d probably conclude that if you just look at our priority theater, IndoPacom, you might notice some interesting things about that theater, notably that there’s a lot of water. Therefore, it would make sense to prioritize the Navy and the Air Force and not prioritize growing the Army. That’s a huge choice they’re going to have to make right away.

Trading Climate Issues for Security Issues
The Biden administration wants to prioritize environmental issues in the way that the Trump administration didn’t. I think Biden already announced his intent to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement. I think it would be a mistake to subordinate our security issues, particularly those with China to the demands of cooperating with him on environmental issues. However, I think there’s room to make a smart investment in carbon capture technology and nuclear micro reactor technology. I have a bill with Chuck Schumer and Ro Khanna, a progressive Democrat. It would be the biggest investment from the federal government in research and development since the end of the Cold War, and a lot of that would be in clean energy technology.

Opportunities on Trade, Section 232 Tariffs and Allies
You can’t pick a trade fight with our friends at the same time you’re trying to pick a trade fight with China. You could immediately bring some of our disaffected friends into the fold, particularly if they continue to move in our direction when it comes to 5G, which is probably the most important disagreement we’ve had with some of our European allies.

There’s an opportunity to clean up any lingering disputes with allied countries when it comes to Section 232 Tariffs – the tariffs we placed on steel and aluminum. There’s a dissertation waiting to be written about the nature of 232 tariffs and the constitutional problems with Congress giving up its ability to regulate commerce with foreign nations to the executive branch. It created a situation in which the President was able to claim that we face a national security threat from Canadian steel and aluminum and effectively impose a tax on the American people. So let’s resolve the Section 232 disputes, I’ve opposed them from the start, at the same time you maintain pressure on the Section 301 investigations, which are the investigations into unfair Chinese trade practices.

There are economic opportunities for the incoming Biden team. I think there’s just an obvious slam dunk with the UK, now that they’ve navigated their withdrawal from the European Union, in the form of a free trade agreement with them. As well as a bilateral trade agreement with Taiwan. The reason that the US Trade Representative didn’t want to pursue a trade agreement with Taiwan was because they didn’t want to screw up the phase one trade deal with China.

The Future of 5G
For all the criticism of the Trump administration’s neglect of allies, the fact is, we’ve recently had some incredibly important diplomatic wins. When it comes to convincing the UK for example, to get on the same page with us with respect to Huawei. Shifting the Huawei/ZTE 5G debate in certain European countries like Germany. We have a long way to go. But it does seem like the concerted effort from the executive branch and the legislative branch to send a signal, at least to our closest allies, our Five Eyes allies, that we need to have the same basic principles when it comes to future control of the internet and 5G internet technologies.

I think it’s critical, at least on 5G, to be in the same position with our allies. But I would say for the last four years we’ve purely been playing defense. In other words, we’ve been going around the world saying Huawei is bad, Huawei is bad. ZTE is bad, ZTE is bad. See, look at all this stuff. We’re declassifying all this evidence. And that’s good, we had to do that. And it requires some tough conversations.

The next phase of this involves some sort of offensive-minded effort in concert with our allies to cooperate better on these technologies. To form a digital development fund to coordinate the R&D and the distribution pathways with our like-minded partners. Without reinventing the wheel of existing international efforts, America can take the lead by launching a coalition of countries dedicated to finding a coordinated solution, particularly when it comes to 5G, that cannot only compete on quality with Chinese state-owned or sufficiently state backed enterprises, but also compete on price.

Reshoring Manufacturing and Economic Decoupling From China
I think that some form of selective economic decoupling from China is inevitable and necessary. And you’re going to see efforts to selectively decouple when it comes to our capital markets. To make sure that if Chinese companies list in U.S. markets, they have to follow the same reporting and transparency requirements as U.S. companies. They’re going to see it in key technology areas, not just 5G, but AI, rare earths, medical devices, pharmaceuticals. I think there’s going to be a serious effort to reshore manufacturing, or perhaps revitalize Puerto Rico as a hub for manufacturing of advanced pharmaceutical ingredients. You’re going to see it reflected in a lot of different areas.

Congress and Long-Term Planning
It’s very hard for Congress to do long-term strategic planning. We’re not optimized as an organization to look beyond two years. And sometimes it feels like we’re just looking two weeks at a time or two days.

I pay attention to this stuff. I work hard to understand it. I have an academic and a professional background in it, which I think gives me a little bit of advantage. But I feel like I’m just scratching the surface because there’s no time to really dig into the bureaucratic labyrinth that is the Pentagon.

Why the status quo wins out, why the primes are so good at defending their territory, it’s not member of Congress laziness. It’s just you have so many demands on your time and the demands of reelection. It’s hard to carve out a half-hour of my day to devote to serious defense work just because of the nature of being a member of Congress. And that’s a problem because it’s really Congress’s role. If you look at the history of some of our autonomous drone systems, it was Congress poking the Pentagon to get over their intransigence at the early stages. It requires the legislative branch to get in the game to force the Pentagon to do some things it often doesn’t want to do.

While it’s impossible to predict all the technologies that will dominate the future, if you talk to younger members of the armed services committee, some things are obvious. I think everyone agrees that we have to make an increased investment in AI, and the future will inevitably involve a lot more unmanned systems.

For example, I work a lot on naval issues. If you think about how we’re going to grow the future of the Navy, it’s obvious that we’re not going to be increasing the number of carriers we have from 11 to 15. In fact, it’ll probably be a glide path, down to 9 at some point. And then we’ll grow the fleet with smaller ships, i.e., small surface combatants, and then unmanned systems, both large, unmanned surface combatants as well as unmanned underwater vessels.

And if you look at the Marine Corps Commandant’s planning guidance, which I think is the most innovative thing that’s been written by any military service in the last decade, that’s exactly what he’s recognizing. He’s the only one I’ve seen so far that’s been willing to say, we are not going to invest in certain legacy systems like big amphibious ships that are optimized for doing a joint forced entry operation like Marines did back in World War II in the Pacific. Instead, we’re going to focus on fielding small teams of Marines, who can operate unmanned systems throughout the first and second island chain. Having the logistical infrastructure to constantly move them around to complicate our enemy’s decision-making cycle. Figuring out the basing agreements with our allied countries, so we can host missile systems there. I think he gets the mix right.

Personnel Costs and the DoD Budget
All of this is bound up in a bigger budget discussion. You can scrape together an extra $50 million or $100 million to invest in robotics, AI and hypersonics but If you look at the overall budget, what’s costing us more and more money, it’s human beings. In other words, if you compare the Reagan buildup in the 1980s, in the heady days of the 600 ship Navy real dollars adjusted for inflation, we spent more money during the Obama eight years then we did during the Reagan years.

And it’s not because our ships got more exquisite and fancier, though they did. It’s primarily because human beings got more expensive. The military has the same problem that the rest of society – funding health care and retirement costs. And that’s a very difficult problem to solve. Theoretically, unmanned allows you to have a similar impact with less human beings. But you’re still going to have a lot of human beings involved in the business of defending the country. I just bring that up to say the biggest and hardest choices that DoD needs to make have nothing to do with cutting-edge technology. They have everything to do with healthcare costs, and retirement costs and the cost of training human beings and making sure they’re ready to fight.

The Military Personnel System
The biggest problem I saw when I was in the military is really the best and brightest officers of my generation, (myself excluded) left – usually at the O-3 level. In part it wasn’t a pay thing. It wasn’t that they wanted to go to GSB and then make a bunch of money doing venture capital in Silicon Valley. It was more about flexibility. They wanted the Marine Corps to meet them halfway in terms of, “Hey, can I pursue civilian graduate school and I’ll pay the Marine Corps back on the back end? I don’t want to have to spend a year at Expeditionary Warfare School because it doesn’t make any sense to me.” And it was just more of a career flexibility and management thing. I think this is something we grappled with extensively on the Future Defense Task Force: How do you retain the best and the brightest? How do you attract the best and the brightest?

I think if you retain qualified officers and enlisted military service members throughout their career, you’ll start to get more innovative thinking at the top ranks when they become field grade officers, and when they become general rate officers. And you’ll have less of status quo military industrial complex.

Another area where we’ve given the Pentagon enormous latitude is to reach into private industry and make somebody a colonel or a lieutenant colonel if they have the appropriate skill set, and they really have been loath to use that authority.

Acquisition, Primes, Requirements and the DoD
We have a very brittle defense industrial base. It’s highly concentrated among five or six companies. I think there’s only been two defense related startups that have had a valuation north of a billion dollars in the last couple decades: SpaceX and Palantir. That’s because we build moats around these industries. And there’s a bunch of special interests that advocate for the status quo, and it becomes very hard for Congress to change anything.

Now we’ve tried. We’ve tried in the form of giving special acquisition authority to the services. Honestly, if you look at the U.S. Code when it relates to defense provisions, we don’t really need to give new authority to the services to allow them to experiment and invest in certain technologies and make bets on small and medium sized companies. We’ve given them a ton of authority. But there’s a general risk aversion among the services and almost an unholy alliance between the general officer and flag officer class and the primes. Because general and flag officers when they retire, go and work for the primes and get paid a million dollars a year as a consultant for Boeing or Lockheed. So there’s a “swampy” aspect to all of this that precludes innovation or a risk-taking mindset.

The Goldwater/Nichols Act governs the requirements processes for the services. Today, the Navy says, we need to do X. And here’s our strategy for doing X and all these documents go bounce around the Department of the Navy. We need to change that entire process. Because the result is the services generate requirements that do not align with the national security strategy. Or they’re just published prior to those documents, or without taking into account changes those documents make. It’s a totally incoherent strategy process that doesn’t drive our budget choices and allows the status quo to win out and legacy systems to dominate.

As an example, we have a shipyard in Northeast Wisconsin, Fincantieri Marinette Marine, where we built the Littoral Combat ship. The Littoral Combat ship was supposed to be the ship of the future for the Navy. You can Google “Bob Work LCS“, he wrote a great white paper on how the Littoral Combat ship went awry. And it was really a story of the Navy just getting too ambitious with its requirements and trying to do too much with one ship. They constantly changed requirements, which then screwed up the manufacturing, making it extremely complicated.

I worry that we get too enamored with the new technology and the next big thing and create these hyper exquisite platforms that are extraordinarily difficult to build, let alone operate and maintain. When sometimes a simpler, less technologically advanced approach might do just as good.

There are also some huge opportunities they have now that we’re no longer bound by the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty. Because we can field missile systems that we already have, that have ranges between 500 and 550 kilometers that can do things that otherwise require a destroyer or a big, fancy expensive ship to do.

How do we stop special interest groups in the military industrial complex from influencing Congress to make decisions that are perhaps better for business but maintain the status quo?
It comes down to the way in which the Pentagon awards money. The Pentagon needs to stop making very small and insignificant bets on a variety of small or midsize companies that can never make that next step to becoming a prime. They need to start making bigger bets on a smaller subset of non-prime companies. That’s one way you could start to get less of a military industrial complex culture.

I wonder if there’s not some sort of ethics reform or drain the swamp proposal that could be applied to the Pentagon without unleashing some unintended consequences. I’ve long thought it’s a good idea for members of Congress to be prohibited from lobbying for the industries that they oversee, in Congress, I prefer for a lifetime. But I’d take five years. That that seems like a sensible, drain-the-swamp proposal that myself, Ro Khanna and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez could get behind.

And I wonder if you couldn’t have a similar prohibition when it comes to general officers and flag officers. Or at least extend the cooling off period, so they can’t immediately go and collect a paycheck from some of these companies. Now that may sound naive and populist to some of your more cultured teachers, but you’ve got to do something about it at the end of the day. Otherwise, you won’t get any change.

Advice to Our Students
I profited from the advice and mentorship of a lot of people, including your professor Raj Shah. So I’m happy to pay that forward. I was where you guys are a few years ago, just slugging it out in grad school. And you never know when you’re going to be the person making big decisions. Whether it’s a legislator, or member of the executive branch.

And so, I would encourage you guys to keep pursuing your current policy studies. You’ll find yourself in a position where you can make a real impact very quickly. And if you can write well, and if you can work well with others, you’ll you have limitless potential.

Watch the video of Congressman Gallagher’s talk below.

If you can’t see the video click here.

Our Midterm
Our students completed their midterm assignment–- described below – months ago. In this class session, we competitively selected one student to present their proposal to Congressman Gallagher and get his feedback. The midterm assignment is below and Janani Mohan’s presentation to the Congressman follows.

Midterm – Technology Innovation and Modern War

Background for the Students
In the past sessions, Chris Brose and Will Roper presented very different views of the same status quo. In one telling, America is woefully unprepared to harness innovative technologies, with the Defense industry unwelcoming to private sector innovators; in another view, the Air Force is leading the way through disruptive new methods of harnessing commercial innovation and equipping the warfighter with next-generation tools.

Are both narratives correct? How does the Air Force and Department of Defense really spend its money? Are they prioritizing the right programs, or does more fundamental change need to happen?

We want to give you a chance to investigate these questions further and formulate your own plan for the future. We challenge you to reflect on what you have learned, synthesize your key insights, and apply your creativity to make policy recommendations to key decision makers.

Your Midterm Assignment
The documents below are a glimpse into the reality of what the world looks like today. They lay out how spending is allocated between major appropriation categories (i.e., procuring new equipment vs. sustaining existing equipment) as well as major capability investments.

Your assignment is:

  1. Decide whether the current DoD allocation between broad spending categories sufficiently addresses the future strategic and operational challenges we have outlined in class.
  2. Decide whether the DoD is investing in the right capabilities.
  3. Write a 4-page or less advocacy paper describing whether resources are being allocated correctly, and if not- how you would reallocate money in a way that best serves national security objectives. You should make an argument to the House Armed Services Committee analyzing why and how the DoD budget priorities should change in light of your views on the preparedness of US and allied forces to deter and win future conflicts.

The factors in your reallocation proposal could include

  • The need to invest in research and development vs procurement vs sustainment vs salaries, etc.
  • Specific legacy programs vs new technology areas
  • The role of traditional defense contractors vs new companies
  • Human capital (Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines) vs technology
  • Hardware vs software
  • Allocation across the services (i.e. Navy vs Air Force vs Army)

Review these exhibits pulled from the FY2021 DoD budget request and external analysis.

Read the entire transcript of Janani Mohan’s midterm presentation to Congressman Gallagher and watch her video below.

If you can’t see the video click here.

Lessons Learned

  • The new administration will have a series of decisions:
    • Whether to cooperate with China or continue to counter their activities
    • With a limited defense budget, to decide on the prioritization among the services
    • Whether to subordinate our security issues, to the demands of cooperating with China on environmental issues
    • Whether to remove the tariffs we placed on steel and aluminum on our allies
    • Whether to selectively decouple our economy from China and reshore manufacturing
  • The U.S. has a highly concentrated defense industrial base – five or six companies
    • General/flag officers have a risk aversion and prefer the primes rather than new entrants
    • We’re enamored with new tech and the next big thing and create these hyper-exquisite platforms that are extraordinarily difficult to build, let alone operate and maintain
    • The Pentagon needs to stop making very small bets on lots of new entrants
      • They need to start making bigger bets on a smaller subset of non-prime companies.
  • Ethics reform for members of Congress to be prohibited from lobbying for the industries that they oversee

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

We just held our thirteenth 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

Technology, Innovation, and Modern War – Class 12 –The Space Force– General John Raymond

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 Space Force and Modern War.

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


Some of the readings for this week included: CRS Report on Space ForceSummary of the Defense Space Strategy, Space Force’s Capstone Doctrine “Space Power”, State of the Space Industrial Base 2020, Space as a Warfighting Domain, Russia gears up for electronic warfare in space, Chief of Space Operations Planning Guidance

Our guest speaker was Gen. John Raymond, Chief of Space Operations, United States Space Force.

It’s amazing to think that it’s been 75 years since the U.S. created a new service, which was when the Air Force spun out of what was the Army Air Force post-World War Two. The creation of the Space Force is an indication of everything we’ve been talking about in this class – about the changes in technology and threats, the speed at which those are happening simultaneously and the new organizational models needed to counter them.

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

Formation of the Space Force
Last year, the President signed the National Defense Authorization Act, which is the birth certificate, if you will, for the United States Space Force. And I’ve been privileged and honored to lead that group of folks, some very sharp space professionals in establishing this force. There’s no checklist on how to do this. There’s really no history to go back to. But we are moving out with great speed, to be able to establish this force.

Why do we need a Space Force?
The strategic environment we face today is rapidly changing. And the nature of warfare is changing. We’ve been involved in the space business in the military since the 1950s when space was a great power competition. And what started out as nation state versus nation state has evolved to where we have students building satellites. We started developing capabilities as part of that great power competition with the Soviet Union. I’ll highlight a few demarcation points where I think there was some significant shifts.

Desert Storm and Space
In 1991 we went to war in Desert Storm to evict Iraq out of Kuwait. And that really was the first space war. It’s the first war where space was integrated into theater operations. The U.S and coalition forces did a left hook through the desert at night on a featureless terrain to maneuver against the adversary. And the way we did that was using a GPS constellation that wasn’t even fully up and operating. Iraq was also launching Scud missiles and we used Strategic Missile warning capabilities that we have (in space) to detect ICBMs, and we used them to be able to give warning of these smaller rockets.

Since that time my whole career has been focused on integrating space capabilities and everything that we do as a joint and coalition force. And today there’s nothing that we do that isn’t enabled by space, whether it’s humanitarian assistance, disaster relief and all the way up through conflict.

China’s Anti-Satellite Demonstration
The next demarcation was 2007, when China launched a missile that blew up one of their own satellites into about 3000 pieces of debris. That was the wakeup call that space may no longer be the peaceful, benign domain we hoped, or we wished it would be. It was no longer just using our space-based capabilities and integrating those capabilities into operations. Now we had to worry about protecting and defending those capabilities. Everything from jamming of GPS and communication satellites, to laser threats, to on orbit activities, to cyber threats, to missiles that can be launched from the ground that that can blow up a satellite.

Defending Space – Part 1 – Space Command
Because of this changing strategic environment, the United States over the course of the past few years has been in a dialogue on what’s the best way to organize for space.

Space had long been part of the Air Force and the thought was, we really need to elevate space to a level commensurate with its importance to national security. In the Department of Defense, we’re organized two ways. One part of the organization -the eleven combatant commands – are focused on warfighting. There used to be a command called U.S. Space Command, but it was stood down shortly after 9/11 and the responsibility for space moved underneath U.S. Strategic Command. In August 2019 we reestablished Space Command as its own combatant command.

Setting up Space Command as its own combatant command was one part of that equation. And I was privileged to plan it and then be its first commander.

Defending Space – Part 2 – The Space Force
A few months later, in December 2019, the United States decided to elevate what we call the “organize, train and equip” part of the military. That’s what services like the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and now the Space Force do. And space moved from underneath the United States Air Force to become its own independent service. I served as both the Commander of U.S Space Command and was the The Space Force chief until August 2019, when we split the hats and now there’s a new commander for U.S Space Command, and I’m solely focused on the organize, train, equip, part – the Space Force.

As a Dual-hatted Commander it Must Have Been Fun Writing Memos to Yourself
It’s interesting when you’re dual-hatted as a service chief and a combatant commander, you get to write yourself a letter saying, hey, dummy, why did you do that? And so it’s kind of fun. But a combatant commander has a much more narrow, short-term focus. He or she has to conduct operations today. A service chief tends to think longer. I want to build the service for the future. And that tension between near term and future is why that structure in the Department of Defense is so important. Where you have two different, two distinct functions, that provides a healthy tension.

In the stand up of the U.S. Space Command and the Space Force, I think Congress got it exactly right, when they said that the commander of Space Command could be the service Chief for up to a year. Because when we were standing these organizations up, I was able to make organization or enterprise level trades between the two organizations. And it was much easier. And now that we have those structures built and we have the staffs designed, almost all those trades are done. Now it’s time to split those hats and get two distinct four stars with separate focus  running fast.

Organizing the Space Force as an Independent Service
Let me give you a few thoughts on what an independent service needs to do and some of the things we’re thinking through.

There are five things we have to do to set up Space Force:

  1. Developing our own people is a big piece of what we’re focusing on. We’re inventing this service, because we don’t want to just build what we had, we want to invent something new, that’s purpose built for this domain, to be able to get after the challenges that this domain provides us.
  2. We have to have our own doctrine. And so we just published our first independent space force doctrine called “Space Power.”
  3. We have to have our own budget. We took all the dollars that were associated for space from the Air Force and brought them into the space force.
  4. We have to design our forces to be able to operate in a contested environment and to reduce duplication of effort, enhance our speed and reduce costs.
  5. We have to present those forces to a warfighting commander.

There are several lines of effort that we’re focusing on:

  1. We’re working to build the Space Force as a very Lean and Agile service. We don’t want to be big and slow, we want to go fast. The domain that we operate in is huge, it’s 100 kilometers above the surface and higher. And so that vastness of space and the speed at which things move is significant.
  2. We also want to be able to build capabilities at speed and acquire capabilities at speed.
  3. We’re developing this service as the first digital service; to have a digital headquarters, a more fluent digital workforce. Everybody that comes into the space force will learn coding and adopt digital engineering standards as our as our standard for acquisition.
  4. We’re also focusing on partnerships. We believe that with this service, we can develop closer ties to our allies around the globe and to commercial industry, and be on the cutting edge of innovative industries going forward.
  5. We need to develop space experts that understand how to operate in the contested domain. Today, we’ve got the world’s best space operators, but train them to operate in a benign domain. We’re shifting to train them to operate in a contested domain.

How Did You Organize Space Force Staff Functions?
The plan was to have over 1000 people on the staff. I thought that was going to be too clunky, too big and too slow. We’ve whittled that staff size down to less than 600. However, having said that, you have to be able to operate inside the Department of Defense. And there’s overhead that’s required just to be able to do that and to do that well. You need somebody to be able to pick up the phone and be able to understand who they’re talking to. And you don’t want to get too different so that people don’t know how to plug into you. So we came up with critical functions that we had to have to operate inside the Department of Defense.

For example, if you’re going to be a member of the Joint Chiefs, you have to have a three-star that can interact for you on your behalf with the other services. And so we stood up a three-star called the S3, so everybody understands that nomenclature inside the Pentagon. We have a hybrid approach where we have the S3 bit combined with some other functions, because we wanted to have a reduced leadership structure, so we made it the S2,3,6 and we call them the Chief Operating Officer to drive a different mindset for that position.

We’ve done the same thing on the resourcing side. And we’ve done the same thing for our human capital development where we have a hybrid approach. And then we also stood up a Chief Technology and Innovation Officer and made that a direct report to me as well. That’s the leadership team.

What’s the Role of the Space Force in Promoting Positive Norms of Behavior in Space?
Space is a warfighting domain just like air, land and sea. We do not want to get into a conflict that begins or extends into space. We want to deter that from happening. We are working to develop norms of behavior to address what is safe and professional behavior in space. We want to develop those by demonstrating good behavior on how we act. We’re very transparent, we share data broadly across the globe.

A lot of people talk about space deterrence. I just talk about deterrence – the calculus of imposing costs and denying benefits. All combatant commands have a deterrence role, U.S. Space Command does as well in the capabilities that we provide, help feed into that deterrence.

How Will You Bring in Talent from Commercial Companies?
We’ve developed a human capital plan that’s really innovative. We want to be able to bring people in from industry, laterally into the service. We want to be able to send people from the Space Force and have them go work at a company and come back. We want to do things differently. There are a lot of authorities that that we have that are underutilized; we want to use all of them.

Our first 10 months have been about building the processes to get people into the Space Force. On 20 December 2019, when the President signed the law, I was the first one. And then we got a command senior enlisted advisor, that was number two. Next, we got 86 cadets coming out of the Academy. That made 88. And then we held boards and who at the Air Force is going to apply to come in? We had ~ 9,000 applicants for 7,000 positions. Now we’re looking at doing the innovative pieces. This human capital plan will be the model for others going forward. We built the plan, we built the strategy, and now we’re focusing on implementing that.

How are You Tackling Classification?
Classification is an issue that we’re working through. Space has largely been in the classified realm. In my opinion it is overly classified. And we’re working hard to develop a strategy. If your goal is to deter conflict, you want to be able to message any potential adversary to be able to change their calculus. It’s kind of hard to do that when you can’t talk about things. 

What is the Space Force Doing Differently in Innovation- With Commercial Partners and Internally?
First, one of the big things we’re doing is adopting digital engineering as our standard. And it’s more than just the digital engineering of the thing. It’s all the way from requirements, to acquisition, to developing the capability, to testing the capability, to operating the capability. We want to have that digital thread.

We’ve worked hard over the last couple years to expand our defense industrial base. I’m not saying that the partners that we have aren’t good. They provide great capabilities, but we want to expand that. The work we’re doing with what we call SpecOT is trying to get others involved.

We are looking to build a Space Systems Command that will have disruptive innovators sitting side by side with more traditional innovators. We think there’s room and value for all. If you look at the domain and where it’s headed, and where industry is headed, there are a lot of opportunities to come up with a hybrid type of architecture. Not just a one size fits all. And we think expanding that industrial base is going to be important to us.

We’re also looking at developing a relationship with industry that is closer than the relationship that we have today. That’s going to require some different rules for operating under. We’re really focusing on pushing decision-making down to the lowest level. I want folks managing their programs, not managing the Pentagon bureaucracy. We’re really trying to delegate down to the lower levels. And if we do this right that will be another model for others to emulate.

One of the things that you can’t do: You can’t go out and kill somebody for making a mistake. We want to be able to fail forward. And we want to be able to move at speed. I think you have to do that in a domain that’s so big and where operations happen so fast.

How Does the Space Force Approach Cybersecurity?
One of those threats on that spectrum of threats is a cyber threat. And so if you look at who we’re bringing into the space force, one of the career fields that we’re bringing in are cyber professionals. We need to understand the cyber terrain to be able to operate in this contested domain. We’ve actually integrated cyber professionals on our operations floors as part of our crews to be able to protect our ability to operate. We’ve really put a lot of focus on this over the last few years to harden ourselves from any kind of cyber threat. And it’s a constant, constant vigilance thing for us. And it’s something that we take very seriously.

What Did you Think of the Netflix Show About Space Force?
No matter what you think of the show, it shows the excitement and the imagination that is going across the country about space. I think it’s going pay dividends for us. Again, it’s not just about military space, it’s about all the different sectors of space.

When I was a little kid, I remember sitting on the living room floor in West Point, NY, where my dad was a teacher and watching man first walk on the moon. And then going to the dining room table and building Apollo models. I think that with what we’re seeing, there’s going to be this enthusiasm for space that is going to help our country. If you look across the board at schools, the schools that I have engaged with over the last few months, they’ve all told me that their interest and their applications for space types of engineering things have gone up. So I think there’s value there for our country.

How Receptive Are the Other Services to Reimagine and Fix Old Organizational Structures?
First of all, we’re just beginning, we’re just creating this. It’s probably a little early to say what have you built that others our now are emulating. For example, when we did the organization for Space Force, we collapsed two layers of command. I know there’s value to us already.

And you’ll hear the department talk a lot about JADC2, joint all domain command and control. The data part of that was designed and built by the Space Force that has now been integrated into JADC2.

And if you look at the challenges that we face in the space domain today, they’re largely Big Data challenges. We track 20 or 30,000 objects in space and probably a half a million objects that we don’t track because they’re because of their size. A small portion of those are actually satellites. Though that number is growing significantly with these proliferated LEO constellations. We take 400 or so observations a day to make sure that nothing collides with other space objects, and we keep the domain safe. Those are all big data challenges. And so we’ve spent a lot of a lot of time building the data infrastructure.

How Can Students Get Involved in Space?
As we’re building the service, if anybody wants to do a research project, I can give you a laundry list of topics where we could really use your brain bytes to help us think through. And I think when you graduate, I think there are plenty of opportunities to get into the space business, including through commercial segments that traditionally haven’t been involved in the space business.

We’d love to have you in the Space Force. A lot of parents come up to me and say, “I wouldn’t want my son or daughter to join the military, but I want them to join the Space Force.” And we think there’s an opportunity to tap into a broader population. I’m excited for the opportunity to build a relationship with Stanford and other schools.

Read the entire transcript of General Raymond’s talk and watch the video below.

If you can’t see the video click here.

Lessons Learned

  • Historically the U.S. treated space as a safe haven for the few exquisite, billion-dollar national assets that we owned (imaging, communications, navigation) that no one else could approach
    • They became the backbone of how our DoD functions
  • Space is now a contested domain
    • Potential adversaries have targeted all our existing assets
  • Space Force was started as a separate military service to own everything 60 miles above the earth
  • It is trying to do things differently, building a lean and agile organization
    • Flatter organization, with a COO and CTO
    • Deeper partnerships with commercial providers
  • Space Force has the excitement of NASA, but with the mission focus of keeping us safe and secure at home
  • In an existing organization, when you when you have something disruptive and new almost everybody wants to strangle it in its crib
    • General Raymond has managed to thread the needle to make this a service

Technology, Innovation, and Modern War – Class 11 – Cyberwarfare –– Sumit Agarwal

We just held our eleventh 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 Military Applications of Cyber.

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


Some of the readings for this week’s included:

DoD Cyber Strategy, How to compete in cyberspace, Defense Primer: Cyberspace Operations, Geopolitical Impact on Cyber Threats from Nation State Actors, Divided by a Common Language: Cyber Definitions in Chinese, Russian and English.

Our guest speaker was Sumit Agarwal, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense and Senior Advisor for Cyber Innovation. Out of MIT, Sumit joined the US Air Force as part of Cyber Command and was one of the first officers in network warfare. He’s spent almost 20 years in the National Guard. But in the private sector he’s done a number of amazing things; he headed up mobile at Google, then went back into the Pentagon where he was the youngest Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense ever in the Pentagon. Then most recently, he co-founded Shape Security, one of the leading cybersecurity companies in the country. Earlier this year, Shape Security was sold to F5 for over a billion dollars.

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

Safety and Security Online
The way we are going about creating safety and security online in cybersecurity and defending against cybercrime isn’t quite rational. In cybersecurity, any individual, any business of any size, from a small business all the way up to a giant bank, is at the end of the day subjected to the worst that adversaries of any sort – foreign nations, organized criminal gangs – can throw their way. And that makes no sense.

The thinking about online security is absolutely at odds with how we think about security on the land, sea, air and space. Our Army, Navy, Air Force defend our borders. So the result of no defenders in cyberspace is what one would predict. It’s a mismatch. The result is that we are less secure. You end up with companies that are losing more money online, losing more assets that belong to them and more customer data that they’re in trusted with, than they would ever lose in an offline context. And so that’s a really strange thing in the domain that we created, we are having a harder time safeguarding and securing ourselves than we do in the national domains.

I think that it’s a matter of understanding who has the authorities and the norms to defend. Who has the right to defend? Who has the obligation to defend? So that was my thesis when I left the Pentagon in 2011.

How Would You Architect a More Secure Environment?
It’s not okay the way it is. it’s as if the military said, “Hey, we protect U.S. citizens as long as they’re hanging out on a military base. I’m sorry, but if you’re not on a military base, you are totally exposed to any form of threat that can possibly exist in the world.” That is absurd in the real world.

I think that there are two or three fundamental components to it. The first one is, we as a society have spy agencies like NSA that have the preponderance of cybersecurity expertise and capability. At the national level, there really are not a lot of other agencies that have that level of expertise. What you end up with is a choice that we as a society have been unwilling to make. Which is, do we let a spy agency safeguard us domestically at home on the internet? Or do we say, it’s the DHS, the Department of Homeland Security who is the only one chartered with the mission and has the authorities to safeguard U.S. persons or people at home?

That choice is profoundly broken because DHS does not have the necessary level of capability. So with the benefit of hindsight, I think what we need is an agency that has every bit the level of technological expertise that NSA does in the area of cybersecurity, that is not a spy agency. And that agency would need to have the titles and the authority, and the charter to protect U.S. persons. And you see that same dichotomy in the FBI versus the CIA. The CIA is externally facing, it’s effectively a spy agency. FBI is all about domestic issues that exist primarily at home. So that is a very clear, bright shiny line, which we didn’t really realize in the ‘80s and ‘90s, was going to become such a problem. But at this point, we have two unpalatable choices. You can let a spy agency be in charge. Or you can let DHS which has the charter be in charge but doesn’t have the expertise. And so what you end up with is no defense. So that’s what I would do at the national level in terms of creating an agency and organizing things differently and better.

On the second piece, which is how do you create a little bit more clarity between what’s real and what’s fake? That is very challenging, because anonymity is a key, cherished belief system and value online. We all prize privacy and anonymity. So if you swing the pendulum over to say, we would have a lot more secure online experience if everybody had a hard identity. And you needed to basically jack your driver’s license into a little key card reader in order to get online, you would have a more secure environment. (A CAC card for civilians.) You would have a lot less vitriol, you’d have a lot less trolling, you’d have a lot less of the nasty things that we don’t like online, including crime. But what you would lose is anonymity and privacy. A CAC card is what we use in the military.

I’m not sure if there’s a good answer to how would I balance the reality that it’s a totally insecure, wild, wild west on the Internet, with the idea that the privacy and anonymity of the Internet, in many countries, is really important. It’s allowed the Internet to be a tool of great good, not just great bad.

What Trends Are You Seeing That Attackers Are Doing?
Attackers are always going after the softest targets. So in many ways, the softest target is everybody in society. The people who are least capable of defending themselves against sophisticated attackers are not the large corporations that have billion-dollar cybersecurity budgets, that have IT staffs and teams of professionals. It’s either small businesses, or individuals.

The number one thing that we see attackers doing is emulating real people. This is my work in identity and the idea of real versus fake on the Internet. You know, in 1993, there was that old New Yorker cartoon with the dog logging onto a computer and it said, “On the Internet, no one knows you’re a dog.“ But ironically, 27 plus years later, on the Internet, no one knows if you’re Joe dot Felter at Gmail, or Raj Shah, at diux.co, or whatever.

Identity and Truth on the Internet.
Online you can be almost anybody you want to be. And it is so easy to social engineer, to phish, to put malware on someone’s machine and to gain access to the things that represent their identity. If you know someone’s username and password, you’ve effectively got their identity. There’s no holographic mark in the upper left corner. There’s no signature in the background, there’s no watermark, there’s no special place that can validate those photos. I mean, it’s literally less secure than college kids cutting photos out to get into bars with identities that don’t belong to them on a driver’s license. It’s that insecure.

And so amazingly, the Internet still works despite this profound lack of true security. But the trend that I always follow is, how do you tell what’s real from what’s fake? Is the thing interacting with you a human or a nonhuman? So much of what criminals do is really about writing programs and bots that simulate human behavior to do human-like things. They then use those stolen identities to have what is truly a fully synthetic actor.

It’s a little bot that has some aspect of your identity, and it will run around on the Internet trying to log into something or trying to represent itself as you. And the impact of this is far worse than the economic harm of losing $1,000. Banks are probably losing hundreds of millions of dollars on a quarterly basis. No consumer knows about it, because those funds are silently put back. No bank wants you to know how porous the banking environment is. They simply want to absorb those losses so that you don’t lose confidence. And that’s actually okay from a societal point of view.

Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior
A far worse aspect of the usage of synthetic identities is what we call Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior, CIB. For example, bad actors getting on Facebook, Twitter or TikTok and creating what appears to be a groundswell of activity and effort and belief around a particular ideology, a particular idea or a concept, none of which are true.

Even right now in our election there is coordinated inauthentic behavior that is pushing ideas and concepts that are driven by actors that are trying to interfere in our election. (In 2016, it was absolutely rampant. There’s less of that happening in 2020.) So what happens when there’s interference by Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior? When there are millions of actions, likes and posts and clicks and forwards that are inauthentic, you end up with a perversion of democracy. So this idea of real versus fake is incredibly pernicious. And it’s something that I think, is worthy of a lot of time and attention by anybody that that wants to pursue a career in cybersecurity.

Deep Fakes
Deep fakes are a really, really challenging problem. So far, there are a few technological solutions that can do frame-by-frame and pixel-by-pixel comparison and figure out when various kinds of algorithms are being used to make a mouth move saying words other than what was said in the original video. Same for images.

I’m not aware of what the fundamental long-term defense is going to be against deep fakes. However, we can create more security around official communication. If I wanted to have an official White House video, or even an official video from me, I could create that. There are long-standing concepts that have nothing to do with cyber security that you could use.

I think what we’re going end up with is the following: Official communication, like a video of Biden or Trump is eventually going to have enough watermarking and fingerprinting technology, that the major social media platforms will be able to verify authenticity. You could even use blockchain-related concepts to say, here’s the original source of that video that’s been uploaded to the public blockchain. And we know how to verify against that.

The part I have a lot more difficulty with is user-generated content. What if the video we care about is not necessarily that of a famous person? How do you solve the problem that there is no real authentication mechanism when a video or a photo is being shared and propagated and virally explodes on social media? There is no one thing to say, is this authentic? Does it have the right watermarks and digital fingerprints? When it is content that’s being generated by individuals I think it’s going to be hard for us to decide whether that video is real or fake. So a very, very complicated space that’s still emerging.

What Are Some Developments in Cyber That Might Change Offense and Defense?
I think there are two. The first one is homomorphic encryption (fully encrypted communication, without having to decrypt the underlying data.) We’re getting to the point where the compute burden on being able to take two numbers – just take the number one and the number two – and let’s encrypt them. We don’t want anyone to know what two numbers we’re adding together. And we want to add them to get the solution, which is three. In the traditional way you share keys, exchange secrets with whoever you want to be able to perform that computation. They decrypt the two numbers, add them up and get the solution – three. And they encrypt the answer and then they transmit that back to you. So that’s the old school way of doing things. And it has two fundamental problems. One, it’s vulnerable, because you have to decrypt the things that were meant to be secret. And anywhere in the process, if you have to decrypt them, that’s problematic. And the second is, you have to exchange secrets with anybody that you want to do business with.

That is fine at a limited scale, when you have a small number of partners. But when you want to have a heterogenous environment, maybe an international coalition, it doesn’t scale very well. So for a long time, DARPA has been chasing after this idea of being able to perform computation on encrypted data without decrypting it. And the problem was that as of 2010, when I was at DoD, there was a 10 to the sixth compute penalty. So a million x compute penalty on adding the number one and the number two together if you left them encrypted. And so over the last 10 years, we’ve been knocking down that exponent, and I think we’re right on the verge of being at the level of 10 to the first or ten the second. And that’s a very tolerable cost for fully encrypted compute, without having to decrypt the underlying data. That’s one exciting area.

And the other one is quantum computing. We’re getting very, very close to the point that quantum computing, certainly for defense may be available. And that is going to change everything about security online. Because at the core of security online today is about computational expense of factoring very large prime numbers. And quantum computing gives you so much more capacity, that you can in fact find many more such primes.

Do our Constitutional Protections in the U.S. Put Us at a Disadvantage Compared to Adversaries That Don’t Share Our Values?
I think the answer is 100% yes, at a tactical level, some of those constitutional freedoms put us at a slight disadvantage. But the answer is less about cybersecurity and more about liberal democracies. I think that the question that is, do liberal democracies do better than more authoritarian regimes over a much longer period of time? Because when it comes to getting something done, you don’t need to develop political will in an authoritarian regime to the same degree as in a liberal democracy.

What Do You Think Needs to Happen for Liberal Democracies to Prevail and Feel Safe?
I think that the future of warfare is going to be less and less overt, less and less hot. It’s going to be less and less about putting kinetics on a target. It’s going to be about influencing large numbers of people in very subtle ways. If you can influence people, it’s that old thing about winning hearts and minds. If you can just influence them in a certain direction, you may be able to win without fighting at all. And so you end up with a war of ideology and a war of culture in open countries.

I think that the big challenge for liberal democracies is, how do we ensure that the conversation we’re having is a real and authentic conversation with the people we think we’re having it with? I think the conversation happening on Facebook right now is incredibly polluted by people who have ill will and Ill intention. And I worry. I’m going to devote a large number of my career years to figuring out how to kind of stem that tide of inauthentic.

In terms of what the government can do, I think we’re going to have to take a more active role. We’re going to have to figure out a contract with American society that does that in a way that you’re comfortable letting us help create a lot more safety and security.

There’s a distinction between policing what happens on a social media platform – that seems very active and heavy handed – versus saying, we can ensure authenticity without compromising security and privacy. There are a lot of companies that are failing to take steps that are readily attainable that would help with this problem. And so I think that there’s also a regulatory component that says, you have to safeguard yourself using these technologies that we’ve identified. We need a much more robust framework that says, if you’re going to have an online system, this is what security means.

I’ll give you one of my favorite examples. The doors that separate your bedroom from the hallway, or the hallway from the garage are rated for a certain number of hours that they can burn in the event of a fire. So the idea of safety and security in the real world is baked into every component of the physical world with which we interact. That level of intensity has got to go into constructing a major website or a major web platform if you have any hope of it being safe or secure. Instead of the current regime, which is really everybody do their best and we’ll hope it doesn’t turn out too badly.

What Gives You the Greatest Optimism Looking Forward?
Over the long haul a freer and more open, more liberal society can suffer a lot of bruises and bumps but can find its way back to a civil discourse. As much as the brand-new tools of communication and aggregation and finding community are creating craziness like QAnon and extremist behavior. I think that there’s still an opportunity for some better version, some good version of communication, collaboration and people coming together to exist. It’s hard to point to quantitative examples of that right now, but I do believe that we will get there. These are growing pains, and growing pains take a decade or two to work their way through the system. But the entire Internet, the way we know it, is barely 25 years old. So it’s barely a young adult. There’s a lot of stories still left to be told.

Read the entire transcript of Sumit Agarwal’s talk here and watch the video below.

 

If you can’t see the video click here

Lessons Learned

  • Cybersecurity for U.S. civilians and business is not protected by the government
    • The U.S. military protects only its systems and people
  • Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior
    • Ideas and concepts that are driven by bad actors around a particular ideology, a particular idea or a concept, none of which are true
  • Deep fakes are a really challenging problem
    • Solvable for official communications through watermarking and fingerprinting
    • Really hard to solve otherwise for user-generated content.
      • Worse when it goes viral
  • The future of warfare is going to be less and less overt
    • It’s going to be about influencing large numbers of people in very subtle ways
    • if you can just influence people in a certain direction, you may be able to win without fighting at all.
    • And so you end up with a war of ideology and a war of culture in liberal democracies

Technology, Innovation, and Modern War – Class 10 – The DOD and Modern War –– Michèle Flournoy

We just held our tenth 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 DoD and Modern War.

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


 

Some of the readings for this week’s introduction to AI and modern war included: War on Autopilot? It Will Be Harder Than the Pentagon Thinks, Considering Military Culture and Values When Adopting AI, Swarms of Mass Destruction, Joby Aviation raises $590 million led by Toyota to launch an electric air taxi service, Linking combat veterans and Valley engineers.

With Michèle Flournoy, former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy joining us, we also assigned her recent article in Foreign Affairs, “How to Prevent a War in Asia”and CNAS report “Sharpening the US Military’s Edge: Critical Steps for the Next Generation”

Michèle Flournoy is rumored to be Joe Biden’s candidate for Secretary of Defense.

She served as the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy from February 2009 to February 2012. She was the principal advisor to the Secretary of Defense in the formulation of national security and defense policy, oversight of military plans and operations, and in National Security Council deliberations; and led the development of the Department of Defense’s 2012 Strategic Guidance. She’s currently Co-Founder and Managing Partner of WestExec Advisors, and former Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), a bipartisan national security think tank.

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

On China
Throughout the 1990s, we were focused on how to integrate China into the global system so that it would become a responsible stakeholder.

And we did everything we could, WTO membership, all kinds of collaborative efforts. That worked for a while, but at a certain point, particularly under President Xi, China decided that the hide-and-bide strategy was over. It was time to take their claim, their rightful place in the international community. Be more assertive in pursuing their agenda in an international forum. And in particular in the Asia Pacific. And it became clear then that we have a number of areas where we really don’t see eye to eye – our interests and objectives are in conflict. Whether its economic, technological, military there are very important competitions that we’re going to have with China over the coming years that will determine the US ability to protect its own economic vitality, but also our security and that of our allies.

That said, there are also problems when you look around the world, whether it’s the next pandemic or climate change or Non-Proliferation where if the United States and China don’t figure out how to cooperate with one another we will both be in deep trouble. So there has to be a cooperative element of the relationship as well. And so that’s why I don’t like the Cold War frame. I think the name of the game is managing this competition, fostering cooperation where we can. Really focusing on deterring conflict between two nuclear powers, which by definition would be a disaster.

Is China becoming more confident in their capabilities and doubt of our own?
They definitely are becoming more confident in their own capabilities. They’ve invested a lot in an anti-access/area denial strategy. And you see thousands and thousands of different kinds of precision munitions, rockets and missiles. They are doing a pretty good job of trying to create a situation where it will be very costly for us to go inside the first island chain or even a second island chain. But they’re not 10 feet tall; they have a lot of challenges as a military as well.

But the thing that worries me most is the narrative that’s taking hold in in Beijing about the United States, particularly in the wake of our mishandling of the pandemic, the onset of another recession, the sort of divisions and protests you see on the streets. It’s given rise to a narrative of US decline. US self-preoccupation. US turning inward. And to the extent that Chinese leaders start to believe that and really believe that we have not done what is necessary to counter their A2/AD system, they could gain a sense of false confidence that might get them to take more risk-taking behavior. To push the envelope a little too far. A little too fast. Maybe cross some red lines they don’t know they’re crossing.

So it’s on us to be very clear – the United States – about our resolve, our commitment to defending our interest and allies, and how we define those. And to make really clear investments in the capabilities that will ensure our ability to project power and protect those interests in the future.

How Should the DoD Spend Smarter?
I think the real long pole in the tent is in developing new operational concepts, in light of a clear-eyed assessment of what we’re going to face from either China or for example Russia’s A2/AD network in Europe.

It forces us into an uncomfortable position. We like to be dominant in every domain. We like to be the one to beat. Here in every case, we’re going to have to be the asymmetric challenger. You’ve got a resident power with a huge set network of capabilities. They’re going to have more quantity than us. We’re going to have to figure out how to fight it asymmetrically for our advantage.

And so that means, first and foremost, that we really do have to think about new concepts. We have to have much more competitive processes for developing those concepts. Not sort of building consensus on lower common denominator, concepts where everybody gets an equal share of the pie. Not interested in that. We have to link that to a lot of prototyping of new capabilities, experimenting with those new capabilities. See how they can inform the new concepts and vice versa.

And so this very agile, iterative process of bringing new technologies and prototyping systems. Playing them in war games, playing them in simulations, playing them in different experiments taking that feedback, those learnings. Bringing it back to inform the next iteration of the design and so forth. This is the process that’s going to get us to the right place. And it’s something that’s just really, really hard for the Department of Defense to do. We’re not set up to do that quickly or well or at scale.

How Should the DoD Realign its Concepts, Culture, Programs and Budgets?
Well first, the sense of urgency you do hear at the top among the Pentagon leadership is not necessarily fully shared throughout the bureaucracy – surprise, surprise. We’ve started to adjust our acquisition approach. And the departments have put out some very useful new guidance on how to approach software acquisition in a very different way than hardware acquisition. But we haven’t necessarily trained our acquisition people, incented them to have a greater risk tolerance that’s required for this agile development of emerging technologies. Nor have we created real rewards promotion paths career paths for that.

And so there’s a huge human capital effort to be done here to raise the overall tech literacy of all of the folks- from the program managers to the operators. But also, to bring more tech talent into government to really help speed the transformation process.  And that requires again some culture change. You’re not going to keep tech talent if they walk into a typical Pentagon office today. You got to create a different operating culture. And I do think there’s some great examples – Kessel Run in the Air Force or the Joint AI center and parts of SOCOM. These are pockets where they’re trying a different approach, different culture, and having some success attracting the kind of tech talent the department needs. We just need to do all that at a much greater scale and with greater urgency.

Innovation Versus Innovation Adoption
Thanks to organizations like DIU we’ve gotten much better at tech scouting; finding promising technologies that might have a military application, getting them on that initial contract – on a SBIR contract or an OTA prototyping contract.

But the real problem is that almost everybody hits the famous “valley of death.” So you’ve done a great prototype, you’ve won the demonstration, everybody loves you. And then they say, “Well, the next time we can actually insert you into the program and for a production contract is 2023, two and a half years from now.” And for a startup that’s like, “What do you mean? I’ve got to have access to recurring revenue to survive until then.” And so they get pressure from their investors to forget the national security side, just go commercial. It’s this terrible situation. So what do we need to fix that?

Number one, you need a more flexible set of funding authorities to bridge that gap. One idea is to allow the services to have some greater reprogramming authorities within mission areas or across portfolios, so that at the end of the year, when they’d have something that didn’t work, they can scrape up money there and put it into the next iteration of development for the thing that does work, and maybe get another year of bridge funding to get to that production contract.

That obviously requires some working with Congress to get them comfortable that they’ll have the transparency and oversight, but they need to give the department that kind of flexibility. I also think it involves bringing the ultimate end user into the earliest contact. So you have a program manager who’s watching this thing like a hawk from the beginning. And is already thinking about how it’s going to disrupt and be integrated into something he or she is responsible for. And you have to incent that. Rather just rewarding this rigorous, we only care about cost and schedule. You’ve got incent program managers if you can get better performance at lower costs, you got to be a disrupter yourself. You got to bring new ideas into what you’re managing to do that – which is a very different approach. It’s not easy to do. But we have to try to figure that out.

How Can We Work More Closely with Allies and Partners?
For each of the key priority areas, whether it’s AI or robotics or Quantum or hypersonics, whatever it is, we could do some mapping of which of our allies really has cutting edge work going on, either in their research universities or in their innovation base. And look for opportunities of where we perhaps get farther faster by sharing some of that. There are all kinds of ways to do this. One is to cross invest. I know In-Q-Tel has started investing in UK companies, Australian companies, for example, with certain priorities in mind. I would love to see DIU get into the business of starting to bring some of those allied companies in.

I think this needs to be a topic of policy discussion of where we collectively go after some of these areas with joint ventures or joint technology development and more efforts like that at scale. It’s a very important area. Particularly given that both China and Russia are going to be leveraging these technologies in ways that are really counter to our Western values in terms of surveillance systems and without respect for personal privacy and all kinds of things. And I think the more we have a common values-based approach to technology with our allies, the stronger we can be in showing up at an international forum where standards are being set or norms are being set and so forth.

What Legacy Programs Should be Downsized to Fund Investment in Emerging Technologies?
It’s a great and necessary question, because the DoD always has more programs than budget. But I think with COVID and with the recession whoever wins the White House in November, you’re going to see a flattening of the DoD budget. The sort of assumptions of 3% to 5% growth over and above inflation, that’s not going to hold no matter who is in the White House. So you’re going to have to make some tough tradeoffs. I can’t give you an answer off top my head, but I can tell you how I would think it through.

I think we need to look mission area by mission area and look across services at portfolios of capabilities to ask, “What is the mix that we need so that we have the platforms we need, but also the money to invest and incorporate the emerging technologies that will make those legacy platforms survivable, relevant, combat effective in the future?” And so it really has to happen on a mission area basis.

I think in some cases you may find redundant capabilities within or between services. Sometimes you’ll say, I don’t want that redundancy. I’m going to make a determination and one is going to be a winner and the other is going to be a loser. But sometimes, for the sake of resilience, for the sake of complicating adversary attack planning, you may want redundancy. You may want multiple different ways to accomplish a particular task. So this has to be done with very strong analytic grounding. Looking at both performance and capability, but also cost, and so forth.

My bias is that we have to be much more aggressive in going down the road of human/machine teaming and in gaining mass, gaining capacity and complicating the other side’s planning process by incorporating unmanned in all domains. More unmanned undersea, on the sea, in the air and beyond. If we can crack the code on that integration that is going to give us for the cost of the system a lot more capacity and capability.

What Should be Done to Enhance the Recruitment and Retention of a Technologically Superior Defense Workforce?
We’re finding one of the most important things we’re doing – who knew – is creating a handbook for the DoD folks to say, “Here are all the authorities, you may not know you have for bringing tech talent is. Here are the best practices in terms of how to approach the hiring process. Here are the kinds of things you need to have in place to make those folks successful.” And give them the tools they need to really contribute. So trying to take all the learnings of where it’s been tried and failed, or where it succeeded and why. And put it in a handbook for the DoD hiring authorities to say, here’s your own learnings that you can build on to get that tech talent in at greater scale and with greater speed.

One of the key barriers is still the clearance process. That seems to hold people up for a bit. But I think the department is seriously working on trying to reduce some of those barriers. Then the second piece, I would say, is career path. The services are actually sitting on a lot of STEM talent, but they don’t manage them as STEM talent. You know they forced the young captain who is the Air Force AI specialist to leave and go out and be on a squadron staff in order to check the box, so he can get his next promotion. The services need to design career paths for technologists, so that they can get rewarded, promoted, and reach leadership positions as technologists. Otherwise, we will under leverage the people who are already in the force.

What are Some Potential DoD Problems or Operational Concepts That You Would Like Our Best and Brightest Here At Stanford’s Address in Class – Now and in the Future – and Why?
I think the long pole in the tent is this notion of joint all domain command and control in an environment that will be constantly contested. So the analogy is how do you build the equivalent of a resilient electrical grid as your command and control network? So that if on part of it you have an electronic warfare attack and one end of it goes down, the system automatically reroutes and is connecting shooters and sensors in a different way that allows them to keep operating without missing a beat.

So it’s coming up with how the key elements of stitching together a network of networks that has that resilience and an ability to connect and operate at the edge, even during periods where there’s disruption and you can’t call back to headquarters. That to me is the long pole in the tent for  future multi-domain operations this very distributed approach to warfare, that will be necessary.

The second piece is the technical aspects of human machine teaming, and how that really works – and again, in multiple domains, whether it’s undersea or on the sea or in the air or above. That is another key point. And then just lots of applications that can increase the accuracy and speed of our decision-making faster than that of the other side. Just humans still making the decisions, but getting the right information, the right analysis to them at the right moment in time, where we can make the decision and gain that advantage in the cycle of competition.

How Can the Defense Department, and Our Leadership Unify the US Against These Threats in a Highly Partisan and Divided Political Environment?
It’s a great question, and it points to this question of leadership. We need a president and a commander in chief to step forward and provide a vision to make the case, to provide the sort of nature of the challenges, the threat assessment, why it’s important to the prosperity and security of Americans at home. And what we need to do to go after it. I would love to see a moonshot moment kind of speech, a Kennedy speech that sort of says, We’re in this competition, and this is really going to matter to our way of life. But we’re America, we know how to do this. We came out of the Great Depression. We came out of World War Two. We came out of Vietnam. And we have good done this before. We are we are in crisis. We’re going to come out of this, and we’re going to be stronger and all of us need to help. So how are you going to help drive investment in the drivers of American competitiveness?

And some of it will be by doing great work in STEM in our research universities. Some of it will be investing in 21st century infrastructure. Some of it will be developing these new technologies that can transform both our society and our economy and our military. But really inspiring Americans to say, we need your talents. We need everybody to step up and help. That’s what I’m looking for. And, and I haven’t seen it recently, but I’m looking for that kind of leadership.

What Advice Would You Give America’s Best and Brightest, at Universities Across the Country on How They Can Serve and Make a Difference – Short of Joining the Military or Other US government Organizations?
I think we should all feel some desire, but also an obligation to serve. I mean, to be partaking of all the incredible freedoms and benefits of this country. What can we give back? For some of us, it’s going to be going into government service or serving in the military.

But there are ways to serve in other parts of the US government. There are ways to serve in nonprofits. There are all kinds of ways to get involved in enriching society and helping to serve the United States. And so find whatever that area of passion is for you, find the time to do that. Maybe it’s going to be through your work, but maybe it’s going to be through some of the activities you do when you’re not at work. If we all stepped up to that, sort of drive to serve, it doesn’t have to be in government, we’d enrich our society so greatly.

So the homework assignment is – find that passion and that path to service, whether it’s going into government for a stint, advising or helping or investing in some other way that’s going to make your community or the country or the world a better place.

Read the entire transcript of Michèle Flournoy’s talk here and watch the video below.

 

If you can’t see the video click here

Lessons Learned

  • Michèle Flournoy is an experienced former senior defense official who is thinking deeply and critically about how to best address emerging national security challenges
  • She would be a great SecDef
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