The technology world is accelerating at faster and faster rates – a development that has major implications for the U.S. defense establishment.

Many of the best military-technology innovations of the past decade have stemmed from the intersection of operational insight and technical know-how catalyzed by active combat operations. Groundbreaking technologies such as DOD’s first wide-area electro-optical surveillance system, the Army’s Constant Hawk, and the first fully automated, tip-and-cue imaging system, the Persistent Threat Detection System, were the direct result of design-based approaches that capitalized on feedback from the tactical edge combined with inputs from the research and development community. The organizations best suited to produce such innovations are those where local interactions between multidisciplinary individuals and teams produce serendipity – the chance coalescing of ideas in new ways that create value. Serendipity by definition is a product of happenstance. It cannot be scaled in the manner of industrial, top-down approaches; however, innovation-minded organizations can engineer the conditions under which serendipity is most likely to occur. Building such an innovation environment requires the deployment of business processes, incentives, and tools that facilitate collaboration and information sharing.

If words were stocks and you’ve been investing in ‘innovation’ for, say, the past two decades, you may have noticed that you are sitting on a non-performing investment. The problem with ‘innovation’ is not that we have enough of it, but that its potency has progressively been degraded by gross simplification and overuse. In fact, the term has been stretched so much that it has lost its basic meaning across several domains. We now have endless debates about what ‘innovation’ means, or doesn’t mean. Worse, the term is often being used to mask serious structural deficits and serve as a convenient pretense for “doing something” without actually doing much of anything.

Now, before you sell your ‘innovation’ stock (TKR: INÖV), you might ask what you’d want to buy instead. Indications are that ‘resilience’ (TKR: RE$L) is hot! It has been trending upwards for quite a while now. The rediscovery of ‘resilience’ as a virtue was reinforced recently by the near-collapse of the global financial system and the realization that the world is replete with shifty and unpredictable threats. Word analytics of American publications reveal that an uptick in the use of the term ‘resilience’ was also registered at the time following the Great Depression and WWII. So, if the words we use, read, or write are any indication, we are of a state of mind that is more akin to the WWII period (box 1) than that of the Cold War era (box 2).

The need to build resilient structures and systems is indeed necessary given the volatility of conditions in a world where the concept of distance as a safety buffer has long become obsolete—from fiscal crises to Ebola to ISIS. Resilience is especially required knowing that we are increasingly subject to unanticipated events that are outside of our control. For commercial industry, failing to adapt can be mercilessly punished by the marketplace. Government, on the other hand, is less responsive for a number of reasons, including ironically the resilience of its status quo and legacy systems. As a friend would say: “This is where we need to separate the wheat from the chaff.” Resilience in the form of static resistance is not what is desired, but rather resilience in an adaptive form that shapes and scales according to the challenge at hand. And that is why innovation is a key ingredient to adaptive resilience—the kind needed to defeat the dynamic and diversifying threats we face.

So, wait, don’t dump those ‘innovation’ shares just yet!

While Super Bowl XLIX served plenty of excitement for Football fans across the globe, one interesting strand of dialogue among the commentators and ‘experts’ worth further consideration was the role of ‘lady luck’ in deciding key outcomes for both teams. For example:

  • Was it lucky that Seattle ended up with an unknown talent like Chris Mathews late in the season to help them clinch the NFC Title and almost repeat as Super Bowl champs?
  • Was it lucky that New England ended up with arguably one of the best Quarterbacks in NFL history out of the 6th round of the 2000 Draft?


  • Was that catch late in the game by Seattle’s Jermaine Kearse lucky?
  • Did the Patriots get “lucky” on that last play call by Seattle?

While many may attribute these events to “luck”, the organizations (and most specifically their scouts and coaches) would undoubtedly disagree and instead argue that it is all the result of diligent preparation and the rendering of a well-designed system.

They would be right! They would also find truth in the words of Wesley Branch Rickey, an iconic innovator in the Sports World. Mr. Rickey—who was responsible (among other things) for breaking the color barrier in Professional Baseball by signing Jackie Robinson and for “creating the framework for the modern minor league farm system”—explained: “Good luck is what is left over after intelligence and effort have combined at their best.” He continued: “Negligence or indifference are usually reviewed from an unlucky seat. The law of cause and effect and causality both work the same with inexorable exactitudes. Luck is the residue of design.”

The quality of organizational decision-making is not accidental and neither is the ability of organizations to succeed against determined adversaries and volatile conditions—including when a “lucky” breeze intervenes to nudge them slightly forward. This is as true for sports teams as it is for the United States Department of Defense!

Although some innovations in the world of Defense R&D can be accidental, serendipity as a strategy is a product of what Mr. Rinckey describes as “negligence or indifference”. Technology domain awareness and the ability of DOD to stay ahead of complex and dynamic threats by maintaining a superior technological edge cannot be left to chance in the ever-shrinking corners of the Defense R&D budget. Like those organizations that succeed at the highest levels of their craft, DOD should address its technology scouting and knowledge management efforts through a deliberate design that (among other things) is equipped to find the ‘Chris Mathews’ of the world in a garage somewhere, while moving the enterprise to act decisively against its adversaries.

Build to Adapt!

In an environment where new media and information technology can summon the world to live in real time the fear and pain of distant communities, nefarious groups are empowered to strike in earnest for maximum impact and global exposure. Non-state actors, in particular, thrive in unstructured, unregulated, and unconfined settings. Their ability to remotely inspire, network, and direct action comes without the burdens of personal or professional accountability that guides the behavior of modern states and civilized communities.

What is more, they do not carry nor assume the burdens of governance; hence, the responsibility to deliver tangible services and benefits to their proclaimed ‘constituencies’. And there in lies one of the important differences between a threat like ISIS and one represented by groups like AQAP. The latter can hunker down in small sanctuaries and focus on harvesting the broader cyber space, whereas the former seeks to conquer and hold on to large swaths of territory. As the responsibility for governance kicks in and the hollowness of the rhetoric is exposed, disenchantment and ultimately desertion follows. Put simply, ideological fervor is a great motivator when it doesn’t have to put food on the table. In that sense, ISIS is a threat that will be degraded and defeated, in part, by its own inability to provide for the people it pretends to serve. To be sure, ISIS is a grave security and military threat that cannot be underestimated, but one that is going to be done-in by its own territorial ambitions. The remnants of that threat, however, will retreat into that ambiguous space occupied by groups like AQAP using cyber as their vehicle for inciting, inspiring, and enabling autonomous terror.

So, despite the current prominence of battlefield engagements, the long-term struggle is being waged on the cyber domain.

Unfortunately, cyber threats and security risks are enduring because we live in an interconnected and flat world where innovation is not the exclusive property of any one group. But, that reality should not translate into a sense of inevitability. Nefarious activity can be deterred and threats thwarted by adopting multilateral cyber strategies that:

  1. Enlist the private sector and innovation community into the fight;
  2. Enhance threat information sharing with stakeholder communities and coalition partners;
  3. Strengthen cyber security infrastructure and build resilience and adaptability across people, processes, and tools within the cyber enterprise.

The proliferation of information technologies is enabling a range of bad actors to cause significant harm through networked and remotely-guided activities. Past engagements and recent events make it increasingly clear that contemporary threats require collective awareness and persistent multilateral action. One of the key insights gained by the U.S. and its coalition partners in Overseas Contingency Operations is that “it takes a network to beat a network”. In the 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance (DSG), Gen. Dempsey argued that success in encountering increasingly dynamic and diversifying threats will depend on the ability of the U.S. to build “a stronger network to defeat the networks that confront us.” The new ethos calls for flatter structures to tap into expanded resources for knowledge discovery, innovation, and collective action. Existing structures must also be retooled to address organizational decay and adapt to new realities, including:

  • It is about who learns fastest. The cycle time for learning must continuously be accelerated to stay ahead of dynamic threats. Acculturating learning behaviors within Defense organizations is vital to achieving tactical advantage and operational resilience.
  • Shift from ‘Need to know’ to ‘Need to share’. Transactional knowledge communities are needed to gain expanded situational awareness of emerging threats and the opportunities to address them with broad coalitions based on ‘shared value’.
  • Know and test your environment. Planning and decision support activities must account for contextual meaning (not just the ‘what’ but the ‘why’ of things) and continuously test ideas/solutions in relevant operational environments without being bogged down or overwhelmed—an objective that is only truly achievable through coalitions with shared intensity of purpose.

It is much easier and cheaper to cause harm than guard against it! No one entity or nation has the scale or capacity to subvert disruptive forces across the globe with nothing more than an Internet connection and a 3D printer. Therefore, networked capabilities and coalition activities are critical to threat mitigation and defeat in a world of diversifying security risks.

This article outlines the innovation imperative facing the U.S. Department of Defense and details current and future plans pursued by the DOD Information Analysis Centers to develop a defense innovation operating system that sustains the United States’ military-technology edge in the face of persistent operational, technological, and fiscal volatility and uncertainty.

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On December 21, 2013, a small Japanese robotics start-up called Schaft claimed top honors at the DARPA Robotics Challenge. With minimal funding, team Schaft’s robot was the only performer to successfully complete all of the challenge events and beat robots built by companies like Boston Dynamics, who delivered a competing system through a $10.8 million contract from DARPA. In 2013, Google purchased Schaft and six other robotics companies as part of a new broad scale robotics initiative.

In May 2011, D-Wave Systems, a start-up spun out of the University of British Columbia, announced they had created the world’s first quantum computer. The current generation D-Wave Two is benchmarked to solve some computational problems 3,600 times faster than conventional computers. A complete D-Wave Two system can be purchased for $10-15 million.

At the 2014 International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago, Local Motors, a company that uses advanced manufacturing techniques and open collaboration to drive rapid product innovations, unveiled the world’s first 3-D printed vehicle. Over a 44-hour period on the floor of the trade show, Local Motors “printed” and assembled an entire vehicle, showing how direct digital manufacturing can quickly and cost effectively produce complex systems.

The genie is out of the bottle. Today, global commercial markets increasingly set the pace for advanced technology innovation. Enter Technology Domain Awareness (TDA) – a defense innovation concept that uses knowledge of the technology commons (i.e. the place where non-defense R&D intersects with defense applications) to incorporate the high tech outputs of the commercial marketplace. In the first of a series of three articles on this topic, we explored the underlying factors and goals of the TDA mission to develop a robust defense innovation base that cooperatively aligns the non-defense R&D marketplace with emerging defense capability needs. In this second article, we turn our attention to how TDA is accomplished.

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What region is most likely to shape the military conflicts of the near future? Is it China, or the Middle East? North Korea? Maybe Russia?

Try Silicon Valley.

On today’s battlefields, the Department of Defense (DoD) must contend not only with the friction and fog of tactical engagements, but also with the complexities of a threat environment in constant technological flux. Against this backdrop, innovation fueled by commercial market forces in places like Silicon Valley has come to play an increasingly decisive role. Recognizing the opportunities and challenges of the contemporary innovation environment, the DoD Information Analysis Centers (IACs) are undertaking a new initiative called Technology Domain Awareness (TDA), which uses knowledge of the global technology commons to create a resilient defense technology enterprise that fully incorporates the high tech outputs of the commercial marketplace. In this first of three articles, we explore the underlying factors and goals underwriting the TDA mission to develop a robust defense innovation base that cooperatively aligns the non-defense research and development (R&D) marketplace with emerging defense capability needs. The second and third articles will respectively address the TDA business process and the ways in which TDA complements the defense acquisition system, leading to a more effective, efficient and adaptive defense innovation posture.

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