Tag Archives: featured

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.

US Secretary of the Navy Talks LCS, Partnerships, and the Future of the USN

Last Friday the Secretary of the Navy, the Honorable Ray Mabus, participated in the latest Military Strategy Forum discussion organized by the DC-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). Ever vigilant, CIMSEC dispatched a fearless one-man delegation to the discussion. Below are some of the highlights of the event with the SECNAV.

With a few topics off the table, including the situation in Ukraine and the ongoing fiscal year 2015 budget negotiations, the central theme of the discussion revolved around the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) and its future. In contrast with the speech made by the Secretary of Defense on 24 February, the SECNAV presented a more optimistic view of the contested vessel design and its prospects. By 2016, four LCS are expected to be on extended deployment. The Secretary further argued that the LCS should continue to be built through the current five-year defense plan, and, once complete, that further decisions should be taken based on the ship’s record, taking in account the costs of replacing it. As the LCS is only now beginning operational tests, there is no reason why the next flight of the LCS should not be modified. The Secretary cited the example of the subsequent flights of the DDG 51 and the Virginia class attack subs, which differ greatly from the original design. However, if modifications ultimately prove inadequate, the LCS will have to be replaced.

The second topic of discussion centered on the future of the U.S. Navy’s ‘Rebalance to the Pacific.’ The branch plays a crucial role, as it can brings presence and capabilities to regions in a way that the Army or Air Force cannot without more permanent basing or training agreements. However, according to the SECNAV, in order to ensure presence the Navy needs four elements: People, platforms, power, and partnerships. All are important, but none more so than partnerships. The United States relies on information provided by its partners, and fused from a variety of sources. That requires constant communication, relationships, trust, and familiarity. It is therefore crucial that the United States should reassure its partners in the Asia-Pacific that its rebalancing towards the region is real. To this end, the share of the fleet in the Pacific will increase from 55% to 60% by the end of the decade, and the contingent of Marines in Darwin, Australia, will grow to 1000 over the course of this year. Significantly for those keeping an eye on Washington’s rebalancing to the Pacific, the SECNAV emphasized that their role will not be restricted to training with Australian forces, but will include greater engagement in that part of the world.

The third, and perhaps key, point of Friday’s event focused on the future of the U.S. Navy in general, along with the sustainability of its current size and operational capacity. Secretary Mabus is convinced that the Navy’s size will reach 300 ships by the end of the decade, and that once reached the number will be sustainable. He did, however, add that the era of unlimited budgets, common a decade ago, has come to an end. Despite emerging constraints, he believes a combination of measures can cut costs and keep a 300-ship Navy afloat in the long term. This includes relying on mature technology (and crucially, not forcing expensive immature tech on new ships), disciplining requirements to keep them somewhat constant, fixed-price contracts, greater transparency in procurement, and relying on stable and tested designs. Here, the decreasing prices of the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers was cited as an example to emulate; as an increase in bids from two to three ships per year cut unit costs, without sacrificing quality. Other measures include increasing the share of biofuel used by Navy ships, for which the branch is cooperating with the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Energy. Here, the U.S. “fracking revolution” will likely not prove much help, as oil and gas are globally traded commodities. Every time the price of oil increases by a dollar, it ends up costing the Navy and the Marine Corps another 30 million. The Navy hopes that at least half of all fuel used will be biofuel by 2020. Four biofuel companies are set to provide 163 million gallons, priced at 4 dollars a gallon. Although not expanded upon at the event, this initiative forms part of the “Farm to Fleet” program unveiled in December 2013. Although designed to contribute to America’s energy security, provide jobs to rural communities, and ensure a supply of low-cost fuel for the Navy, the program has already proven controversial due to its mounting costs, amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars.

Cost-cutting measures will become increasingly important as the size of the fleet increases. A new amphibious group is set to be ready in the Pacific by 2018, providing Marines – not only those in Darwin, but all over the Pacific – with a spectrum of new options, including an improved resupply capability.

The event concluded with a few interesting tidbits, including on the need for a national debate on the upcoming – and expensive – Trident nuclear missile modernization; the deployment of laser weapons (coming into use this year); and, the F-35C (the SECNAV sees no problem with it being delayed, as the Navy was always the last in priority and the Initial Operating Capability has not changed).

Miha Hribernik is an Asia-Pacific security analyst and researcher, currently working with the Atlas Economic Research Foundation in Washington, DC. He is also an Associate of the European Institute for Asian Studies (EIAS) in Brussels. Miha’s research mainly focuses on the foreign and security policy of Japan, and maritime security in East Asia – with an emphasis on counter-piracy information sharing networks such as ReCAAP.

Sea Control 25 – Crimean Crisis

seacontrolemblemSea Control discusses the Crimean Crisis, with three CIMSEC writers: Dave Blair, Viribus Unitis, and Robert Rasmussen. We discuss Russia’s aims and tactics, the Maidan movement, Ukrainian governance and passive resistance, and what this crisis means for Russia and the EU/NATO.

DOWNLOAD: Sea Control 25 – Crimean Crisis

We are available on Itunes, Stitcher Stream Radio, etc… Remeber to subscribe, leave a comment and a 5-star rating.


CIMSEC’s DC March Meet-Up

Our DC Chapter will be heading to Union Pub near Union Station for our March DC-area informal meet-up/happy hour on Wednesday the 19th. We hope you’ll join us to meet some interesting people and discuss all things maritime. We will also be polling attendees with questions submitted from our audiences. If you have a maritime question you’d like polled, whether related to current events or not, let us know.  

Time: Wednesday, 19 Mar 5:30-9pm; Happy hour 5:00pm-Close
Place: DC Union Pub: 201 Mass Ave NE, Washington, DC
Metro Stop: Union Station (Red Line)

All are welcome – RSVPs not required, but appreciated: director@cimsec.org