Category Archives: New Initiatives

New projects and initiatives at CIMSEC.

Members’ Roundup: April 2016

By Sam Cohen

Welcome to the April 2016 members’ roundup. Over the past month CIMSEC members have examined several international maritime security issues, including the strategic implications of China’s land creation in the South China Sea, Russia and China’s testing and deployment of offensive hypersonic weapons, the U.S. Navy’s development of the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program, India’s maritime ambitions in the Asia-Pacific and finally, increasing maritime tensions between African coastal countrie,s and the resulting naval build-up taking place on the continent.

Beginning the roundup in the Asia-Pacific, Lauren Dickey for the Asia Unbound Series at the Council on Foreign Relations analyzes the current political turmoil challenging the stability of Taiwan’s government. Ms. Dickey explains that Taiwan’s ruling Kuomintang (KMT) party has retreated from an agreement with the country’s opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) to conduct an item-by-item review of a service trade pact arranged with mainland China. The resulting breakout of severe protests by citizens, unions, and the DPP have demonstrate the harmful affects approval of the trade pact would have on Taiwan, including an increase in Beijing’s influence over domestic Taiwanese policy and the ability for large corporations to increase control over Taiwanese industry at the expense of local enterprises. Ms. Dickey highlights the perspective that the KMT party’s decision is one that has and will continue to challenge democratic principles within Taiwan while also creating a public atmosphere non-conducive to cooperative cross-strait relations.

Kyle Mizokami, at Popular Mechanics, discusses the test of China’s new hypersonic weapon, the DF-ZF, at the Wuzhai missile test center in central China. The DF-ZF is likely launched by a DF-21 IRBM, which releases a Hypersonic Glide Vehicle (HGV) just before leaving the atmosphere. Mr. Mizokami explains how the HGV released in the upper atmosphere is capable of travelling at speeds from 4000-7000 miles an hour making it difficult to intercept and capable of reaching almost any target in the world within an hour. In a second article at Popular Mechanics, Mr. Mizokami continues the discussion on hypersonic weapons with Russia’s continued development of its Zircon anti-ship missile. He explains how the missile will increase the surface warfare capabilities of Russia’s aging battlecruisers by providing a new offensive capacity capable of penetrating sophisticated air-defense systems. Dave Majumdar, at the National Interest, also discusses the technicalities and implications of Russia’s development of the Zircon anti-ship missile, which you can find here.    

Harry Kazianis, at The National Interest, highlights China’s primary strategic objective in the South China Sea; that Beijing views complete control of the waters from Taiwan to Malaysia as imperative to supporting regional Chinese sovereignty. Mr. Kazianis notes that Beijing has used a process of incremental aggression throughout the region to slowly, and perhaps unnoticeably, challenge the status-quo maintained by the U.S. with the ultimate goal of achieving regional hegemony. However, as outlined by Mr. Kazianis, there is potential for the U.S. and regional allies to limit and even halt this Chinese aggression at Scarborough Shoal just West of the Philippines, where the U.S. has already begun operations with A-10 Warthogs and Sikorsky HH-60 helicopters providing air and maritime situational awareness to local forces while also articulating to China that reclaiming the reef will not be tolerated.

In a second article at The National Interest, Mr. Kazianis provides a list of different methods for confronting Chinese antagonism in the South China Sea, including a joint U.S. and allied A2/AD strategy, utilizing media and communications to demonstrate a clear U.S. regional objective and lawfare – the notion that the U.S. and regional allies should coordinate legal actions and claims against China to maximize their effectiveness.

James Goldrick, at The Interpreter, discusses the impact China’s artificial island construction in the South China Sea will have on peace and stability in the region when combined with its aggressive territorial claims under a pretense of sovereign rights. He outlines how China’s objective of creating a safe haven for its naval forces in the region will collide with the national interests of the rest of maritime Southeast Asia. He suggests that Beijing should adapt a more sensitive approach to their regional claims as to not risk international, kinetic conflict.

Alex Calvo, for the University of Nottingham’s China Policy Institute Blog, examines the sinking of a Chinese fishing vessel by an Argentinian Coast Guard vessel and highlights the incidents’ significance should China succeed in breaking out of the First Island Chain and seek an expanded posture in the Southern Atlantic. He notes that China operates the world’s largest long-distance fishing fleet and its interaction with foreign nations and their waters should merit appropriate attention considering how similar fishing related events have contributed to an increasingly tense political and security environment in the East and South China Seas.

To conclude the April 2016 Members’ Roundup, Paul Pryce at Offiziere discusses Africa’s rapidly growing naval forces in relation to the rise of piracy threats in the Gulf of Aden and the Gulf Guinea while also noting an increase in maritime boundary disputes rooted in contested off-shore oil deposits. While identifying several examples, Mr. Pryce notes increased tensions between Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire and the corresponding procurement of 40 patrol vessels by Ivorian defense officials in response as a primary example of the new arms-race on the continent. He also mentions the procurement of three HIS 32 interceptor patrol vessels and three Ocean Eagle 43 OPVs by the Mozambican Navy in addition to the procurement of seven Macaé-class OPVs by Angola.

Members at CIMSEC were active elsewhere during the month of April:

At CIMSEC we encourage members to continue writing, either here on CIMSEC or through other means. You can assist us by emailing your works to

Sam Cohen is currently studying Honors Specialization Political Science at Western University in Canada. His interests are in the fields of strategic studies, international law and defense policy.

Athena Project San Diego Innovation Jam Roundup

This piece was originally published by the Athena Project. It is republished here with permission. Read it in its original form here.

By Dave Nobles

Wednesday’s Innovation Jam onboard USS ESSEX (LHD 2) was an important and monumental moment for Naval Innovation.

The event was sponsored by a number of organizations, including Commander Pacific Fleet, SPAWAR Systems Center Pacific (SSC Pacific), the Office of Naval Research (ONR), and the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. The support of such senior leadership for Deckplate Innovation made the event a resounding success, demonstrated in spades through awarding not one but two Sailors $100,000 to fund their concepts through prototyping and transition.

That’s the important part. Ideas born out of frustration, perseverance, and a quest to make the Navy better have been funded. However, the significance of the Innovation Jam is beyond the funding.

During the Innovation Jam, the assembled crowd of Sailors and government civilians listened to senior uniformed leadership within the Navy, like the Commander of the Pacific Fleet, Admiral Scott Swift; The Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Readiness and Logistics, Vice Admiral Phil Cullom and the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Mike Stevens. The three military speakers kicked off the event with a volley of support for The Athena Project, Tactical Advancements for the Next Generation (TANG), The Hatch, The Bridge, and other efforts to bring about positive change.  Each message resonated with the entrepreneurial and intraprenurial philosophies.

The voices of those senior leaders, combined with civilian thought leaders such as Dr. Nathan Myhrvold, the first Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of Microsoft and founder of Intellectual Ventures and Dr. Maura Sullivan, the Department of the Navy’s Chief of Strategy and Innovation, all echoed the a consistent theme:

Innovation is about taking risks.

The sponsorship, collaborative support and allocation of resources serves as a beacon of thoughtful risk taking by senior leadership in the Navy. And, funding two Sailor concepts serves as inspiration to empower all Sailors at all levels to share their own ideas and as a clear signal from the Navy’s top brass that they’re not only listening but that they’re also ready to act.

Sailors and engineers work together to reframe their concepts during athenaTHINK at SSC Pacific.

Over two days in San Diego, six Sailors who presented ideas through innovation initiatives such as The Athena Project, TANG, and The Hatch, were given the opportunity to interface with scientists and engineers at SSC Pacific and ONR to reframe and refine their concepts at an athenaTHINK event before presenting their ideas at the Innovation Jam to a panel of experts, who would decide a winner.

On the panel Dr. Myhrvold and Dr. Sullivan were joined by Dr. Stephen Russell of SSC Pacific, Mr. Scott DiLisio of OPNAV N4, Dr. Robert Smith of ONR, Mr. Arman Hovakemian of Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) Corona Division, ETCM Gary Burghart of SSC Pacific and the Commanding Officer of the host ship, USS ESSEX, CAPT Brian Quin.

The panelists evaluating the pitches onboard USS ESSEX (LHD 2).

The panel heard the six pitches and, after deliberation, Dr. Russell announced the results:

First Place: LTJG Rob McClenning, USS GRIDLEY (DDG 101)

LTJG McClenning and Dr. Russell.

LTJG McClenning presented his concept which he originally pitched at Athena West 3.0 called the Unified Gunnery System (UGS). The system would provide ballistic helmets equipped with augmented reality visors to the Sailors manning machine guns topside on a warship, and command and control via tablet in the pilot house. Commands given on the touch screen would provide indications to the gunners displaying orders, bearing lines and more. The system would be wired to prevent cyber attacks. The augmented reality capability of the system would mitigate potential catastrophic results of misheard orders due to the loud fire of the guns, and improve accuracy and situational awareness. LTJG McClenning received $500 for his concept, and $100K to develop the idea in collaboration with SSC Pacific.

Second Place: LT Bill Hughes, OPNAV N96

LT Hughes and Dr. Russell.

LT Hughes flew in from Washington, DC to pitch his concept, also from Athena West 3.0. The idea, CosmoGator, aims to automate celestial navigation through installed, gyro-stabilized camera mounts and small-scale atomic clocks to provide redundant Position, Navigation and Timing data to shipboard navigation and weapons systems. LT Hughes’ concept would continually update inertial navigation systems to enable continued operations in the event of GPS denial. Previously, this concept had been explored by the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell. LT Hughes received $300 and in a surprise move, OPNAV N4 funded his idea with $100K as well.

Third Place: GMC Kyle Zimmerman, Afloat Training Group Middle Pacific

GMC Zimmerman’s concept, originally presented at Athena West 4.0, intends to bring virtual reality to the Combat Information Center. Through the use of commercially available headsets, GMC Zimmerman proposed streaming a live optical feed of a ship’s operating environment to watchstanders to increase situational awareness and provide increased capability in responding to casualties such as Search and Rescue. GMZ Zimmerman received $200 for his idea.

Honorable Mention: LCDR Bobby Hsu, Commander, Task Force 34

LCDR Hsu pitched an idea from Theater Anti-Submarine Warfare (TASW) TANG for a consolidated information database for the litany of data required to effectively manage the TASW mission. The concept, Automated Response for Theater Information or ARTI, would leverage voice recognition software like the kind found in the Amazon Echo or Apple’s Siri, to enable watchstanders and commanders alike rapid access to critical information.

Honorable Mention: LT Clay Greunke, SSC Pacific

LT Greunke presented a concept that he began developing during his time at the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) and pitched at Athena West 9.0. His concept leverages virtual reality to more effectively train Landing Signals Officers (LSO) by recreating the simulator experience of an entire building in a laptop and Oculus headset. LT Greunke demonstrated his prototype for the panelists and described a vision for the LSO VR Trainer, called ‘SEA FOG,’ as the first piece of an architecture of virtual reality tools to improve training in a number of communities and services.

Honorable Mention: OSC Erik Rick, Naval Beach Group ONE

OSC Rick first presented his idea for a combined site to host all required computer based training on The Hatch, though he acknowledged that the concept had been a highly visible entry on The Hatch, as well as in previous crowd-sourcing initiatives such as Reducing Administrative Distractions (RAD), BrightWork and MilSuite. His concept is to make universal access tags for civilians, reserve and active duty personnel to enable easy tracking of completed training as well as required training. In his proposal, the host site would combine the requirements of the numerous sites currently hosting training requirements and deliver an App Store-like interface to simplify the experience for users.

All of our presenters and panelists. America.

Not enough can be said for the courage that all of the presenters demonstrated to take the stage in an nerve-wracking setting and present their ideas. In another good news story, the panelists and the assembled crowd provided feedback to all the presenters, which will assist in the further development of all six concepts.

With the success of the Innovation Jam in the rear view mirror, the process now begins to build on the ideas that received funding. We’ll continue to provide updates of the future successes of the two funded concepts right here on the blog.

This milestone for Naval Innovation is nothing short of monumental. Many can relate to a near exhaustion with the rhetoric surrounding innovation: Agility, fast failure, big ideas, consolidating disparate efforts, getting technology to the warfighters, and certainly partnering partnerships with non-traditional players.  When actions are weighed against rhetoric, it is action that wins, taking the initiative, assuming the initiative to act and moving the needle. And Wednesday, we saw that happen.

This inaugural Innovation Jam will not be a one-time thing. As stated by VADM Cullom in his Keynote Address the event will be coming to every fleet concentration area in the future. Here at The Athena Project, we’ll continue to push initiatives like the Innovation Jam to inspire the creative confidence to present ideas and aid in any way possible to turn concepts into reality.

And, for those wondering how they might get involved in an events like this, support your local Athena chapter, submit your ideas to The Hatch and participate in workshops like TANG! Participation in these, and any innovation initiative will make you eligible for your regional Innovation Jam!

The future looks bright indeed not only for innovation but for action.

And we’re damn proud to be a part of that.

Dave Nobles is a member of the Design Thinking Corps at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory and the founder of The Athena Project. He is also a Navy Reservist with the Office of Naval Research.

Featured Image: September’s Athena East Event at Old Dominion University.

Members’ Roundup: March 2016 Part One

By Sam Cohen

Welcome to part one of the March 2016 members’ roundup. Over the past month CIMSEC members have examined several international maritime security issues, including an increase in Russian naval activities and deployments, recent U.S. naval exercises demonstrating the Fleets’ application of the distributed lethality concept, laser technologies and the U.S. defense acquisition program and as usual, the increasingly tense security environment in the Asia-Pacific.  

Paul Pryce begins the roundup in the Asia-Pacific with a discussion, on what he refers to as, the new era in Singaporean defense procurement. In his article at Offiziere, Mr. Pryce highlights that previous procurement strategies for the country’s Navy have focused on acquiring mainly European designed vessels, either built specifically for Singapore or purchased following a short period of service in the initial European country. However, the planned construction of eight indigenous Independence-class littoral mission vessels beginning in 2016 and the expected procurement of a domestically built light aircraft carrier through 2021 suggests that the Singapore’s shipbuilding capacity and overall maritime force projection capabilities are becoming increasingly strengthened – a significant implication for Singapore’s role in South East Asian security dynamics.

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Alex Calvo, for Asian Military Review, discusses the challenge Taiwan faces in securing a replacement for its four aged hunter-killer submarines (SSKs), two of which are vintage Tench-class World War II boats while the other two were commissioned in the Netherlands in 1987 and 1988. Mr. Calvo explains how Europe has become reluctant to support Taiwanese military procurement needs for fear of angering China while the United States no longer produces SSKs. He suggests that Taiwan may look to Japan as an alternative source for its SSK replacement largely due to recent efforts by the Japanese shipbuilding industry to win the contract for the Royal Australian Navy’s SSK procurement requirements while also noting a lack of other feasible alternatives.

Kyle Mizokami, for Popular Mechanics, discusses China’s plans to establish aircraft carrier battle groups tasked with defense of the country’s territorial sovereignty, maritime rights and overseas interests both regionally and perhaps globally. Mr. Mizokami highlights the nature of China’s first operational aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, as he explains its training role and limited capacity to carry large numbers of combat capable aircraft. However, he also notes that China has confirmed the construction of the Dalian carrier, which will have more hangar space for support and combat aircraft – but will still only displace about 50 000 tons, or half that of a modern U.S. carrier.

Leaving the Asia-Pacific, Dave Majumdar outlines the implications of Russia’s planned massive live-fire nuclear exercise being conducted by two Project 955 Borei-class ballistic missile submarines deployed with the Northern Fleet. In his article at The National Interest, Mr. Majumdar explains how one of the missile boats will sequentially launch all sixteen of its RSM-56 Bulava missiles at a depth of 164ft while highlighting that such an exercise, whether a U.S. or Russian ballistic missile boat, would only launch their entire payload in conflict as part of full-scale retaliatory or offensive nuclear strike. In a second article at The National Interest, Mr. Majumdar discusses the spotting of a Russian Project 667 BDRM Delfin-class ballistic missile submarine near French territorial waters – the boat carries sixteen missiles capable of carrying four nuclear warheads each with a range of 7500 miles.

Bryan McGrath, for the War on the Rocks, provides the ‘First Principles’ that will help guide the difficult task of structuring the U.S. Navy’s future fleet. Mr. McGrath emphasizes that the Navy must be sized and shaped into a fleet that allows for both combat-credible and presence forces to be positioned globally in a manner that secures national interests while effectively deterring major power conflict. He also mentions the implementation of the distributed lethality concept, where individual platform lethality is increased even as the force becomes geographically dispersed. On this point, Mr. McGrath argues that an individual combat capacity increase should not compel policy makers to reduce the size of the fleet, as one does not necessarily balance the others strategic importance. On the same topic at The National Interest, Dave Majumdar describes a recent test of the SM-6 missile where it was revealed that the system now retains effective anti-surface capability, a major step for distributed lethality implementation across the fleet.

Members at CIMSEC were also active elsewhere during the first part of March:

CIMSEC has also recently (February) published a compendium discussing a range of strategies, challenges and policy options concerning Distributed Lethality. You can find a download link for all of the articles here.

At CIMSEC we encourage members to continue writing, either here on CIMSEC or through other means. You can assist us by emailing your works to

Sam Cohen is currently studying Honors Specialization Political Science at Western University in Canada. His interests are in the fields of strategic studies and defense policy and management.

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Members’ Roundup: February Part Two

By Sam Cohen

Welcome to part two of the February 2016 members’ roundup. Over the past month CIMSEC members have examined several international maritime security issues, including a rapid increase in naval modernization in the Indian Ocean, China’s recent South China Sea military deployments, challenges within the U.S. defense acquisition program and the evolving China-Taiwan political and security relationship in East Asia.

Beginning the roundup at Popular Mechanics, Kyle Mizokami discusses the U.S. Navy’s interests in the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) and the importance of acquiring the weapon system quickly. Mr. Mizokami explains that the increasing threat of modernized surface fleets with advanced weapon systems, particularly from Russia and China, requires the U.S. Navy to deploy a weapon more capable than the current U.S. Anti-Ship Missile (ASM) – the Harpoon missile. He also outlines technical features of the missile, including its use of Artificial Intelligence, data links, an ability to avoid static threats by use of fluid way points and the platforms that can deploy the weapon system – currently the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, F-35C, B1 and the U.S. Navy’s standardized Mk.41 Missile Silo.

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Bryan Clark, for the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, explains that the U.S. Military’s defense requirements need to be balanced with realistic and appropriate budgets and schedules. He highlights that since 1970 major DoD Defense Acquisition Programs have increased in cost from 20-60 percent while new weapon systems are on average fielded 20 percent later than originally planned. Mr. Clark suggests that eliminating overly ambitious requirements for new capabilities is key to reducing acquisition malpractice while the limitations of competition within the defense industry need to be understood to allow for DoD’s buying power to improve.

Entering the Asia-Pacific, Harry Kazianis for The National Interest explains that Washington’s FONOPs in the South China Sea are not intended to halt Chinese dominance in the region, but rather to defend freedom of navigation and maritime legal principles. Mr. Kazianis highlights that regardless of the intent of the operations, China has remained firm on its artificial island construction and militarization in addition to strengthening its security apparatus in the region. This has been evident with the deployment of the HQ-9 air-defense system atop the newly constructed islands and the drastic increase in PLA-N deployments in the region. In a second article at The National Interest, Mr. Kazianis identifies the possibility that China may deploy several of its 24 recently purchased Russian Su-35 fighters to the airfields that have been constructed on these same islands.

Lauren Dickey, for The Council on Foreign Relations, provides the perspective that China’s recent deployment of surface-to-air missile launchers and radar systems to the contested Woody Island not only represents China’s ambitions for challenging U.S. regional presence but also to forward a broader agenda of modernizing the capabilities of the PLA. Ms. Dickey also highlights President Xi’s planned reforms for the PLA likely to result in a leaner, stronger fighting force, an enhanced power projection capability and an increased ability to deter threats along the country’s periphery.

Michal Thim, for The Diplomat, discusses the recent meeting between foreign affairs officials from both the Chinese and Taiwanese government. Mr. Thim explains that these representatives have met before in other unofficial non-governmental forums, but this meeting represents the first time in six decades that officials from the two governments have met in their official capacities. He also notes that although this meeting may reflect a positive change in the dynamic of China-Taiwan relations, significant security tensions still exist between the two countries with the Taiwan Strait missile crisis still fresh in-mind and current Chinese missile deployments near the Taiwan theatre threatening Taiwanese regional defense posture.

To conclude the roundup, Vijay Sakhuja for Nikkei Asian Review discusses the high-tech naval buildup in the Indian Ocean from a regional perspective, focusing on India, Pakistan, Iran, South Africa, Australia and Indonesia. Mr. Sakhuja notes that these powers have been supporting diplomatic multilateral institutions, such as the Indian Rim Association and the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium, to jointly address piracy concerns and to train for potential mine countermeasure operations.

Members at CIMSEC were also active elsewhere during the second part of February:

  • Shawn VanDiver, for Task and Purpose, discusses the threat climate change poses to U.S. National Security, noting its destabilizing effects in hotspot regions and its resulting security implications for nearby deployed personnel. He also explains how climate change poses a direct threat to the homeland, with increasing sea levels, larger wild fires, longer and more frequent droughts and heating-cooling strains on the domestic power grid.
  • Robert Farley, for The National Interest, provides an analysis on a recent RAND wargame exercise that demonstrated NATO’s inability to prevent Russian forces from occupying the Baltic States if it relied only on conventional forces currently available. However, Mr. Farley highlights that NATO’s primary deterrent is not necessarily its ability to counter any initial attack, rather to escalate any notional conflict beyond the parameters of Russian tactical abilities or political will.
  • Ankit Panda, for The Diplomat, discusses China’s Ministry of Defense statement that construction on support facilities for the PLA-N in Djibouti, on the Horn of Africa, has begun construction. Mr. Panda highlights that the Chinese government has refrained from calling its Djibouti facility as a ‘naval’ or ‘military’ base. In a second article at The Diplomat, Panda discusses South Korea’s interest in deploying Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile systems in response to North Korea’s recent nuclear and satellite tests.
  • Sam LaGrone, at USNI News, explains how China’s deployment of an advanced high-frequency radar array as part of a wider detection network in the South China Sea may put U.S. stealth aircraft at risk while reducing their operational capacity. In a second article at USNI News, LaGrone discusses comments released by U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM) suggesting that the U.S. would ignore a Chinese Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ).
  • Dave Majumdar, for The National Interest, highlights the U.S. Navy’s ‘undersea crisis’ with only 41 attack boats planned to be in active service by 2029 while China plans to have nearly 70. Even more concerning, the article suggests that while Russia and China are both continuing to build the volume of their undersea fleet, Russia has already begun construction on higher-end submarines that pose specific operational issues for the U.S. submarine fleet.

CIMSEC has also recently published a compendium discussing a range of strategies, challenges and policy options concerning Distributed Lethality. You can find a download link for all of the articles here.

At CIMSEC we encourage members to continue writing, either here on CIMSEC or through other means. You can assist us by emailing your works to

Sam Cohen is currently studying Honors Specialization Political Science at Western University in Canada. His interests are in the fields of strategic studies and defense policy and management.

Donate to CIMSEC!