Tag Archives: cric

Sea Control 38: War Gaming with the CRIC Podcast (1 of 2)

seacontrol2From the entertainment of the risk board to the grand scale of international exercises… war games of varying types and scale inform and misinform us in learning about war and conflict. For the first in a two-part series on wargaming, CIMSEC jumped onboard with Jeff Anderson and the CNO Rapid Innovation Cell Podcast to discuss the CRIC’s Fleet Battle School game as well as a more general group discussion of the benefits, tripfalls, potential and limitations of wargaming. Chris Kona discusses the Fleet Battle School game and some larger wargaming programs. Jeff nerds out on Starcraft, and I talk a bit about the first world war.

Download: Sea Control 38:
War Games (1 of 2)

Speaking of wargames… remember, CIMSEC is running our “Sacking of Rome” series starting 16 June! Instead of talking about securing the commons, maintaining global security… using historic examples, modern-day developments, or predictions of the future, red-team the global system and develop constructive answers to your campaign. If you were an adversary, how would you seek to subvert or tear down the global system and how could we stop you? Paul Pryce is our editor for the week: (paul.l.pryce -at- gmail.com).

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Sea Control 31 – 3D Printing

seacontrolemblemSea Control discusses 3D printing this week with James Lambeth from the Navy’s Dam Neck facility and… almost, James Zunino, of Picatinny Arsenal in NJ (if the computer hadn’t eaten the audio). In the latter case, we go over some of the broad-strokes. From simple part adapters for ships to painted-on radios for soldiers to the pains of product certification, we cover what’s going on in two military 3D printing facilities trying to push their new capabilities out to the force.

Download: Sea Control 31 – 3D Printing

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Innovation Collaboration between CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell and Naval Undersea Warfare Center Newport

The CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell (CRIC) had an opportunity to meet with the Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) in Newport, RI in November, 2013. The CRIC is a group of 15 junior officers and enlisted in the Navy who explore the range of ideas and technologies being employed in the military, government, and commercial sector, and then experiment to see if they could be applied in the Navy. NUWC is a Department of the Navy Warfare Center, which develops and supports undersea capabilities. The objectives of the visit included building a greater understanding of operators’ concerns among scientists, engineers, and analysts at NUWC and link some of those concerns to products that could be used as potential project ideas, and provide warfighters information on technologies currently available or under development. Below, we discuss the approach and high-level results from the event.


Two separate sessions were held to generate ideas. The first was a facilitated “ideation,” or idea-generation, session in which CRIC members were interspersed with scientists, engineers, and analysts from across NUWC to brainstorm challenges and opportunities facing the undersea force. The somewhat hectic sessions produced a wide range of ideas, it also helped to develop a broader perspective about problems at various stakeholder levels before jumping into the weeds during the second session.

The second session consisted of small groups (2-3 people) of CRIC members and NUWC personnel touring some of the technical innovation underway across NUWC. These tours were structured to encourage discussion – the small groups and time available allowed for the CRIC to be easily shift between topics or delve into deeper detailed discussions based on a potential concept’s applicability. The visit was augmented for CRIC participants with visits to other NWC and NUWC groups: the Halsey Groups, Gravely Group, and Wylie Group, which helped to establish strategic context in which new ideas would be applied.

Brainstorming Results

Over the course of the event, there were a number of ideas (methods and technology solutions) that drew interest, but most intriguing were the differences in how the CRIC members and NUWC employees approached the same problem – in some ways a variation on the truism that “where you stand depends on where you sit.” CRIC members (principally junior officers and enlisted) tended to view the elementary fighting unit in the Navy as the sailor and tended to focus on solutions that centered on or leveraged human elements. They tended to seek ways to create change among people, but favored solutions that implied they had less power to create change in technical systems. On the other hand, NUWC employees tended to view the elemental fighting unit as the platform itself and tended to focus on solutions that employed systems to address problems at a higher level of warfare. From this perspective, NUWC participants’ ideas presumed an ability to easily change systems, but had little control in how these systems were used by people.

Most of the solutions identified by the CRIC focused on bio-inspired systems, autonomous systems, or systems to assist the individual operator. NUWC, on the other hand, focused on solutions for the ship or technical networking solutions (to create more of an operational-level effect). Brainstorming across these two perspectives provided a variety of responses, and also helped each group of participants better understand the perspective and strengths of the other.

Also noteworthy, when asked to vote on the ideas generated during the ideation session, CRIC and NUWC participants all tended to more heavily favor technology-based solutions.

Big Takeaways

The problems identified in the brainstorming session tended to fall into three categories: survivability, cognitive loading, and deckplate experimentation. Survivability problems dealt with improving the fleet’s performance against a capable adversary. Cognitive loading issues looked at how to increase the operator’s bandwidth to process and understand information, along with using technology to decrease the drain on the operators from stress or tasking. Deckplate experimentation problems focused on the desire to provide more opportunity for technical as well as operational experimentation onboard ships. Several times the idea of sailor-led innovation or experimentation was brought up, and that these innovations need not be material-based. Participants broadly agreed that any time a sailor tries a new way of accomplishing a task, it creates a potential for innovation. Both groups showed great interest in finding more ways to enable sailor-led innovation (with the understanding that this task is much easier said than done).

The event’s greatest benefit was the opportunity to close the gap between the warfighter and technologist, if even only a little. It is not always easy to completely understand the problems facing the warfighter or the solutions offered by the technologist. The lists of requirements and priorities are only as helpful as the understanding of their own problem. (An adage in systems analysis says the customer never understands his own problem.) The CRIC and NUWC Newport demonstrated that there is no substitute for a face-to-face exchange to help better understanding of the realm of the possible.

Christopher Kona is a warfare analyst at Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Newport, RI. He is a member of the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell (CRIC), and a former submarine officer in the U.S. Navy. He was project lead for the CRIC’s Fleet Battle School wargame project.

Fortune Favors the Bold

unnamedHow risk can be good, and why we need more of it

Fortis fortuna adiuuat.  So wrote the 2nd-century B.C. playwright Terence of the Athenian general Phormio who, facing a numerically far superior Peleponnesian fleet, tricked them into self-defeat through an unusual, highly risky corralling tactic.  Once the enemy fleet’s oars were hopelessly tangled, Phormio seized the advantage, rushed in, and won the battle.

Fortune favors the bold.

More recent naval history agrees.  Stephen Decatur’s gamble of a sneak attack on the captured USS Philadelphia in the early 1800s was termed “the most bold and daring act of the Age” by no less than Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson – an officer who knew something of bold and daring naval acts, having triumphed at Trafalgar with highly unconventional tactics of his own.

In World War II, Admiral Nimitz rushed barely patched-up ships to the Battle of Midway in a chancy yet ultimately successful move that defeated a numerically-superior Japanese force, thus turning the tide in the Pacific theater.

It’s clear risk can be good.

However, in the half-century since our country was last seriously challenged in combat at sea, our military has developed what Tim Kane in The Atlantic terms a “zero-defect mentality.”  This relentless insistence on flawless performance induces upwardly-mobile leaders to cling to safe, middle-of-the-road blandness, shunning risk.

Today’s enemies are bold and daring, often blatantly unconstrained by the rules of engagement, red tape and resource constraints that entangle us.  If we do not seize the initiative early and often, they will win.

Our Sailors, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen continue to innovate, defying convention to defeat our foes.  Yet our military has become so confused about risk that a successfully innovative leader is more often punished or pushed out than promoted, while paradoxically, thrill-seekers get cheered for dangerous demonstrations of “confidence.”

We must dramatically change our approach to risk.  Instead of implying all risk is bad, we must carefully educate our corps on the difference between good and bad risk.  Then, as leaders, we must encourage innovation and good risk while eradicating bad risk and recklessness.

The first objection to bold, innovative leadership stems from this zero-defect mentality we’ve cultivated.  Won’t risky actions cause mishaps, resulting in casualties and property damage?

The obvious answer is yes, sometimes: sometimes risks fail, and sometimes lives and property suffer.  Admiral Nimitz, when an ensign, ran his ship aground.  Admiral Nelson’s career was littered with failures, including the stinging defeat that took his right arm and many lives.

But, over time, intelligent innovation saves lives and prevents injuries.  This is evident not only in large-scale operations like Decatur’s raid, accomplished without a single casualty, but in more localized innovations like the Holley stick.  Essentially a long stick using simple means like a hook to catch IEDs, this simple yet highly effective tool, invented recently by a Marine in Afghanistan, prevents serious casualties every day.

“If we are too risk-averse to adapt, then in the long run, we make ourselves more vulnerable,” says Marine Corps Capt. Jerome Lademan, a member of the Chief of Naval Operations Rapid Innovation Cell (CRIC).  “The enemy won’t wait on us to develop better weapons, systems or tactics.”

But surely, risk wastes money.  As budgets shrink, can military services afford to take risks?

The better question is, how can they afford not to?  In the long run, innovative processes and products save the military significant quantities of money. 

Six years ago, Navy Lt. Rollie Wicks, innovation cell member and a Chief Network Scientist at the Under Secretary of Defense, Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, urged the Navy to replace its towering stacks of hard-copy maps, charts and targeting imagery aboard ship with equivalent online resources.  Sailors were so overburdened and short on storage space, they often threw out new materials as soon as they arrived.  Yet, the tradition-bound Navy was highly reluctant to risk relinquishing these trusted paper copies.  Wicks ultimately won, and the resulting electronic Geospatial Product Library now saves the military millions of dollars and thousands of personnel hours annually.

“Now is the time to quit throwing funds at bad ideas and the wrong people,” Wicks says.  “The military needs to identify the ‘risk takers,’ surround them with the right mentors, and fund them to innovate.”

A final, frequent, objection to risky action is that it defies convention. The military, papered over in piles of checklists, often worries innovation is nothing but insubordination.  So, why promote it?  Won’t risky behavior undermine the military’s good order and discipline?

It is true that even such an impressively successful leader as Nelson was often tarred by his superiors as insubordinate.  In the Battle of Copenhagen, trusting his tactics, Nelson famously disregarded a command signal to retreat, claiming he never saw it…after intentionally putting the telescope to his blind eye.  Nelson prevailed, in the decision and in the battle.

Innovative military leaders probably will never leave their superiors completely at ease.

But by educating our forces on the different types of risk, we can keep leaders from fearing their subordinates’ potentially unpredictable actions.  Instead, leaders can trust their subordinates will confidently seize the initiative, acting boldly on a solid basis of experience and skill learned from their elders, and employing a keen intuition honed by repeated front-line faceoffs with their foes.

They will know and trust that fortune favors the bold.

Too often, we define “calculated risk” as simply avoiding risk.  Common military risk-assessment tools use numerical scales that suggest high risk is always bad, and low risk always good, often leading to a “green-washing” of all situations as low risk.  Then, without proper understanding of risk, reckless behavior tends to proliferate while innovation is discouraged.

We must reverse this debilitating trend if we intend to outwit, outmaneuver and ultimately conquer our many 21st-century opposing maritime forces.  Instead of reducing risk to a simplistic equation of numbers or, worse, a series of stoplight colors, we need to educate our troops on the important difference between good and bad risk.  Then, we must relentlessly encourage innovation while working tirelessly to eliminate recklessness.

It is time to replace “risk reduction” with “risk promotion.”

As Navy Petty Officer First Class Jeff Anderson, CRIC member and Electronics Technician on the USS Independence, points out, “Wars require the risk takers in charge, not the risk-averse.”

In other words, fortis fortuna adiuuat.


U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Heather Bacon-Shone is a member of the U.S. Navy’s Chief of Naval Operations Rapid Innovation Cell (CRIC).  The CRIC, hosted by the Naval Warfare Development Command, is composed of hand-picked junior officers and mid-grade enlisted personnel and civilians who partner in innovation with leaders in business, industry, and the military in order to solve tomorrow’s naval problems today.

The views expressed herein are those of the author and are not to be construed as official or reflecting the views of the U.S. Coast Guard or U.S. Navy.