Tag Archives: Innovation

Nextics: Flak is Back

Two should cut it, right? We’ve all got guns and the Germans are just rolling around in glorified trucks!

The tanks of the French 3rd Republic have become an unfortunate mascot of doctrinal stagnation. While the lessons of the Blitzkrieg are well taken, few note the incredible amount of time, the 25 years between the invention of the tank and WWII, during which tacticians could have developed new tactics. The real crime wasn’t ignoring the border with Belgium, it was ignoring technological developments for so long. By 1939, the Blitzkrieg concept should have been understood, countered, and re-developed by all sides. Tacticians must strive to provide their weapons with new tactics. Nextics, a combination of “next” and “tactics” is the development beyond that cutting edge: the weapons of tomorrow countered by the tactics of the day after. Drone swarms are a technology that, with a potential to be a near-term reality, we should prepare to counter as well as use.

The U.S. does not have a monopoly on the use of autonomous drone groups; a technology like drones using primarily open-source commercial and academic sources will soon be available to our competitors. Our technological advantage, experience, and know-how can keep us on the cutting edge, but we should be prepared to counter our own innovation before it is even brought into the field.

Traditional countermeasures will not work against drone swarms. Kinetic interceptors such as missiles and 20mm CIWS are designed to intercept single targets and groups of limited size. Drone swarms, numbering from dozens to hundreds of individual units, would overwhelm any kinetic system when attacking ships and aircraft. Typical chaff and electronic countermeasures will have difficulty countering drones using optical or infrared systems that recognize platform shapes, and chaff would not linger long enough to out-last a large drone cloud. The best countermeasure for a large formation of small, agile units is a weapon we have long left behind.

Same swarm, same problem, but processors instead of pilots.

Flak cannons and other aerial saturation systems are the day after’s countermeasures against the weapons of tomorrow. In the 1990s, Oerlikon designed the Millennium Gun, a close-in weapon system designed to intercept missiles with a shotgun-style area-effect blast. Such a system is a model for future drone-swarm countermeasure systems. Larger aircraft with the ball-turret style weapons of old could be deployed to protect high value units, or even drone swarms themselves from their opponent swarms. On land, soldiers could use a modified Trophy system to defend themselves from drones designed to combat men and vehicles. “Going stupid” saves on vital space that would be required for higher-level processors and detectors designed to combat individual miniature drones.

The urge to fight fire with fire is a strong one. Newer and better technologies are available to help us over-think problems. The coming age of automated warfare has us obsessed with hacking, spoofing, and otherwise electronic befuddlement. However, Gordian’s technological Knot does not always require complicated detection systems, guided weapons, or coded backdoors. On occasion, a really big Mossberg 500 will do.

Matt Hipple is a surface warfare officer in the U.S. Navy. The opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy. 

LCDR BJ Armstrong’s Innovation Presentation

If you weren’t in Virginia Beach, Virginia for the U.S. Navy’s Navy Warfare Development Command Junior Leadership Innovation Symposium earlier this month, you might have read LCDR BJ Armstrong’s posts on the career of Rear Admiral William Sims at the U.S. Naval Institute Blog, here, here, and here.

However, if you’re like me and functionally illiterate, you’ve been missing out. Well no longer! The videos are now available:

 

My friend BJ has also invited commentators to “talk about how goofy I looked trying to talk to a circular room. What was Shakespeare thinking with the “in the round” stages?” Fire away.

Gladiator vs. Ninja, or, The Innovation Discourse

Navy Warfare Development Command’s Junior Leader Innovation Symposium was a great success. Thanks to LT Rob McFall and LCDR BJ Armstrong for their presentations – they were truly a highlight of the day and both presenters graciously plugged the NextWar blog. Also, the Naval Institute’s Sam LaGrone was on hand to talk about USNI’s new “News and Analysis” platform. This is a daily must-read, especially today’s piece by Dr. John Nagl on the submarine force. As a proud USNI member since 1997, I find the speed at which USNI is adapting to the new media landscape is truly impressive. Finally, the staff at NWDC is consistently welcoming and encouraging to junior naval professionals. Rear Admiral Kraft even took time out of a busy day to chat with this humble blogger. If you have an idea to make the navy a more combat-effective organization, NWDC is the most fertile place I’ve seen to grow that idea into something tangible. Get in touch with them!

But the title says this is about gladiators versus ninjas, you say. Where’s Russell Crowe? Allow me to digress…

Another of yesterday’s speakers gave me some food for thought – the Office of Naval Research’s Dr. Chris Fall. During his talk, he discussed using social platforms to vote for innovative concepts. Similar to the “like” function on facebook, these web applications promote innovative proposals based on the votes of other users. Dr. Fall specifically cited the Transportation Security Administration’s IdeaFactory as an example of this type of system. One aspect of the platform Dr. Fall mentioned raises several questions about innovation: all IdeaFactory proposals must be submitted publicly, using the employee’s real name.

To what extent does innovation have to occur in public? Does anonymity promote or inhibit innovation? What is the career consequence for those who make more radical proposals in this system? As these questions came to my mind, I likened the public option to being a gladiator: your work is intensely scrutinized in full view of an audience. Anonymous writers are like the ninjas of feudal Japan, striking from the shadows.

We always seem to start discussions of professional writing and innovation with a discussion of career risk. As a writer working in both web and print, I want to throw out the disclaimer that the decision to speak, write, or blog publicly or anonymously is deeply personal and depends on circumstance. I don’t begrudge anyone who writes under a pseudonym, which has a venerable lineage extending far before “Publius” and The Federalist Papers. That being said, I think that writing publicly carries some advantages:

  • Attaching one’s name and reputation to a piece of writing creates a drive for excellence difficult to replicate when writing anonymously. None of us wants to be criticized, so public writers have more incentive to hone their arguments; ultimately, the better arguments will stand the best chance of adoption and implementation.
  • Writing anonymously allows people to speak truth to power, but it also diminishes responsibility. As a result, anonymous writings can often devolve into mere complaint and invective. Public writing, while less able to challenge authority, also produces more measured, balanced prose and often proposes solutions instead of merely lamenting a problem.
  • Being creatures of ego, we want credit for a winning concept. Public writing best enables that credit to be given fairly in the marketplace of ideas.

In other words, public writing may be a means to mitigate career risk rather than the source of that risk. There is certainly a time and place for writing anonymously, but if you have something to say about the Navy, consider your subject and your objectives. The smart move might involve attaching your real name to a point paper or blog post. We romanticize both the gladiator and the ninja in art and cinema. But each only makes sense when rooted in their particular historical and social circumstance. So it is with professional writing. If you have an innovative idea, the smart bet might indeed be to step into the gladitorial ring.

LT Kurt Albaugh is a Surface Warfare Officer and Instructor in the Naval Academy’s English Department. The opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy.

Reminder: NWDC Junior Innovation Symposium

With so much to read in the naval blogosphere this week, don’t forget about Navy Warfare Development Command’s Junior Leader Innovation Symposium. The event is this Wednesday, and all the other details are here. Importantly, you don’t have to be in Hampton Roads to attend – you can also do so virtually via Defense Connect Online.

Events such as these provide an opportunity to network with like-minded officers and Sailors and build the intellectual and social capital to advance the art and science of naval warfare, particularly at the operational and tactical level. The author of a recent USNI Blog post on tactics, LT Rob McFall, will be there as will many other important people. Don’t miss this opportunity!

If you can’t make it, I will definitely be writing up some thoughts in a post later this week.