The Marines largely did away with large service-level experiments that focus on new ideas or concepts, but recently brought them back as a means of out innovating adversaries.
The acquisition community is now leveraging experiments such as Sea Dragon and the recent generate requirements and feed mature systems into programs of record.
Following the S2ME2 ANTX, Marines were able to put some contracts in place after identifying some systems worth pursuing.
For other technologies and experiments, the service might be able to buy some systems that are ready for fielding or use what was learned through that experimentation to feed into requirements generation.
Marines are working to generate rapid requirements, then buy a few capabilities, put them in the experiment and then use that to take a concept of operations and inform requirements fed back into the process and eventually into a program of record.
Marines have opportunity for engineers to take technologies from mature experiments and put them in the hands of Marines.
“When we put it in their hands, they figure out how to use it and they come back and tell us this is how we need to use this thing, this is how we to develop the concepts of operations and the concepts of employment and the tactics, techniques and procedures to put it out there and field it.”
“It’s up to us as the headquarters to say OK, got it. We’re going to figure out how field it to you and get it to you.”
The Marine Corps is looking at ways to insert new technology into its forces earlier in order to prepare for future battles. Key to this effort is experimentation.
Last year, the service introduced a new operating concept called, “How an Expeditionary Force Operates in the 21st Century.” The document — which focused on how Marines will fight in 2025 — put an emphasis on the need for the service to return to its seafaring roots, conduct maneuver warfare and fight as a combined arms force.
“We have a campaign of Marine Corps Force 2025 and within that campaign we have a Sea Dragon 2025 experimental process. The goal is “to get our force postured for 2025, to be agile, lethal, naval and expeditionary, and we found that as we go through the experiment process, we’re building closer and closer relationships with the research-and-development enterprises.”
Testing new technologies with Marines in live experiments allows the service to realistically see if a particular system is fit for the battlefield.
“We understand that warfare is inherently, despite all of the technologies, … a human endeavor. “We want to recreate the uncertainty and fear and the danger associated with that so that we can get the best picture.”
The first phase of the experiment concluded in the fall of 2017 when the service took an infantry battalion and established it as an experimental force.
“We put them in the construct of a sea-based Marine Air Ground Task Force and we reorganised them, changed some of their training, their equipment, and over 18 months we conducted a series of operations and experiments before operationally deploying them in this configuration.
Much thought went into creating an adaptive enemy red team that reflected not what today’s threats look like, but what tomorrow’s would resemble based on how fast U.S. adversaries are adopting new technologies.
“Our experiment force could lose and could lose repeatedly during our experiments and we could learn from those losses.
The service looked at the size of squads, contemplated how to incorporate manned-unmanned teaming and examined mobility issues.
History shows that mobility often is key to determining whether a unit will accomplish their mission or not, he said. Forces with the greater tactical and operational capability have an advantage.
One of the biggest takeaways from the experiment was that the individual Marine is a “tremendous innovation engine.
“The creativity of our Marines and small teams gives us a significant advantage.
“The Marine that grows up with access to the education we have, when compared to the rest of the world … is a factory for good ideas.”
When exposed to new tools developed by industry and other research-and-development partners, Marines often find unique ways to employ the technology in a way that has a strategic effect.
Other efforts the service embarked on recently include its first advanced naval technical exercise experiment, where it asked industry to develop new ways to move Marines from the ship to the shore in contested environments.
How these innovations would be implemented was open for debate. “We won’t necessarily do it the way we did it in the past. We’ll take your ideas and try them out.”
The service built a “playground,” where industry had access to sailors and Marines from the amphibious force.
“What we ended up having was a playground with young Marines, young officers and a lot of industry engineers and scientists … solving the problem.
The Marine Corps benefits from bringing warfighters and industry together.
“There’s something special when the engineer and the young Marine put their resources together and come out with a better product right on the spot.
Defense Innovation Unit-Experimental, better known as DIUx, is pushing forward new technology that will give the service added capability by focusing on several technology areas including autonomy, artificial intelligence and machine learning, information technology and human systems.
The unit is meant to cut through the Pentagon’s red tape and make it easier for firms in tech hubs to do business with the Marines. Officials hope the outfit will speed the acquisition of cutting-edge warfighting tools.
DIUx has been working on a number of technologies that can be used by the service,
“We’re really quite satisfied with what’s going on there for the Marine Corps. The service pushes for “projects that tend to be more practical, more physical. One promising program is known as the electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft, or EVOTL platform.
The platform will be able to travel 200 nautical miles at 200 knots and carry four passengers or 800 pounds of payload. The system uses six rotors to fly. It takes off vertically and is able to immediately transition to forward flight and take a Marine company landing team and break them into smaller, four-man teams and put them ashore in separate aircraft.
“That enhances your mobility, it lets you surprise the enemy … and it really de-risks the force because instead of six aircraft you can now have 35 aircraft,” which makes the invading troops harder to target.
The organisation is also working on giving the system autonomous capabilities. “Initially it will be piloted, but we’re paying to get the autonomy developed.
For now, the company is “living on the DIUx dime” because it doesn’t have commercial customers. They will eventually, but this is a great example of someone who is reliant on us.”
The Marine Corps turns to its Warfighting Laboratory to help counter threats. The lab’s divisions—Futures Assessment, Concepts and Plans, Wargaming, S&T, and Experiment—all play a role in shaping future needs, trends and technologies as well as the operating environment the Marines will face. “We are the headlights of the Marine Corps modernisation effort. We are looking out a little further than other Marine Corps offices.”
The warfighting lab is currently looking into autonomous systems and robotics; artificial intelligence; counter-unmanned aerial system capabilities; lasers; electronic warfare; and systems coordination, among other technologies. The lab considers size, weight and power issues “in everything they do to support a mobile, agile Marine Corps.
The warfighting lab has been looking at autonomous systems and robotics for quite some time now. “We’ve always recognized that autonomous systems, whether they are in the air, on the ground or at the surface, are going to play a role in the future landscape and future warfighting environment.
The big question is how best to incorporate the technology so that it becomes a force multiplier rather than a burden. Naturally, the service wants to avoid robotic technologies without the capabilities it needs to perform specific missions.
Unlike robotics and autonomous systems, AI is an area the lab is just starting to explore. We don’t fully understand yet what AI could mean or what it will mean in the future. We do have smart people looking into it, and we do recognize it as an emerging capability that we need to take advantage of it.”
Technologies are especially needed to counter the proliferation of what the Marines are calling “U-Excess,” unmanned aerial, ground, surface and subsurface systems. “We now are living every day with the fact that unmanned aerial systems are flying pretty much everywhere.
We are predicting a quick migration to enemy use of unmanned ground systems, surface systems and subsurface systems.
“Envision a future where you have a patrol that is looking for an aerial system, and instead a ground system comes up or is sitting along a trail. It could be in a sleep mode and camouflaged and then activates based on vibration or voices. Then it does what it is designed to do, which could be a collector to listen to discussions and stay quiet, or it could become basically an improvised weapon.
To combat this risk, the warfighting lab is broadening its work in unmanned systems. “Based on our experience from the counter-IED fight, we recognise that as we start to develop capabilities to counter air systems, it is only logical that the enemy will start to look at other capabilities. Our goal is to stay one step ahead and anticipate what is coming.”
New tech will allow the Marines, for example, to walk into a operational theatre and already know where the hot spots are, potentially shuting down these connections in advance and turn them back on when they leave. “It is important for that tactical unit to be able to have immediate effects as they are experiencing them.
The warfighting lab will take fast growing technologies and put them to the test in several experiments,, including smaller events called “limited object assessments as well as larger events, giving Marines opportunities to put technologies into the hands of operators in the field, along with other lab partners, to gain a common understanding of potential capabilities and technologies.
“These experiments are crucial in sorting out useful technologies and capabilities.”
The technological renaissance is providing a lot of options, and with all the technologies you could make a case for each one. But they cannot all be pursued. “The problem is that we can’t afford to buy everything so we have to make an assessment of capabilities and to make recommendations on capabilities that will have the greatest return on our investments.”
The lab has developed processes that allow senior leaders to make smart decisions about the technologies they need for programs of record, the technologies they do not need and the technologies that may be obsolete in three to five years. But making choices can be challenging, he says, because people are swayed by technology and the “bright, shiny new object.
“The hardest part is trying to make sure that the people who are in love with their technologies understand what it is that they are in love with. It is difficult to convince people that, ‘Yes, it is a great capability, but is it greater than this other capability over here?’
“Everything we consider has to get a fair shake. There have been technologies that nobody liked that turned out to be pretty effective.” And at the end of the day, when the Marines are kicking in the door, those technologies could make all the difference.
Innovative ideas from all levels are helping to reshape and modernise the force. “No rank has a monopoly on good ideas”. You don’t need to develop a ground-breaking new project to channel an innovator’s idea process. Continuous improvement or incremental change contributes equally as transformational change. Let’s focus on how you can bring innovation into your everyday work, and foster a culture of creativity in your team.
Generate your idea and link to innovation cell strategy. Identify the problem statement and the expected benefits of implementing a change. Identify if the idea is in the category of: 1) Just Do It (problem is known and the solution can be implemented with extant resources); 2) Continuous Improvement Initiative (an improvement activity where the solution is not known and the problem requires further analysis); or 3) Project (more complex and affects multiple units or Groups). To gain momentum and sponsorship, link the initiative to innovation cell strategy at the capstone or individual unit level depending on the scale of the proposal.
Seek out your champions. Engage your mentors, sponsors, and champions to help refine your concept and give your draft pitch a sense of urgency. Clarify how the future will be different from the past if the innovation cell embraces your idea, and how you can make this future a reality.
Choose a methodology and design your plan. There are a number of tools available for working out your concept and planning your strategy. Small projects just require sound judgement, but success in selling your idea still depends on the background knowledge of a structured approach.
Pitch your idea. Make sure your vision and strategy is clear and refined prior to pitching to your chain of command. Remove as many barriers as you can to make it easy for them to support your idea. With your chain of command’s approval, consider a trial of your proposed new process or source a prototype of your capability idea early in the innovation stage to demonstrate how it could benefit Marines.
Move at the speed of change. Operational Tempo will only move faster; so this is the time to inspire your team and direct their mindset to identifying opportunities for change. Change management is complicated, and cultural reform at an organisational level even more so. As a leader you can foster an innovative culture.
Know your team dynamics. If you understand the unique knowledge, skills and attributes of your team members, then you can leverage them to get better outcomes. An innovative team with strong leadership can be invincible. Host a brainstorming session with your team to identify their own strengths and weaknesses, and discuss how you can apply these together to the opportunities and challenges for the upcoming year. Look beyond rank or assumed skill sets. Create a sense of healthy competition for innovative ideas and ways to do business better.
Incentivise and reward innovative behaviour. Include goals relating to improvement initiatives when drafting performance reporting expectations. Highlight these in the end of year reports. Bid for extra training funding for courses that help your team develop critical thinking skills, apply change management methodology etc. And most importantly, ensure that credit for innovative ideas is attributed to the individual or team that created them, not to yourself.
Create the space your team needs to innovate. Communicate to your team the ways in which you can support them with their ideas. Follow through by continuing to assist them in developing concepts, committing resources within your remit and using your own networks to help reach champions.
Ensure they’re not spending their own money in the development of the concept as they get more invested in the success of their idea. And most importantly, avoid crowding them through the process, just empower them to develop their own ideas and offer them the time for creative thinking.
Good ideas are only the start point of innovation. Passion, drive, utilisation of networks and some savvy business acumen are essential to ‘challenging the status quo’ and getting your innovation off the ground. The execution is what matters – and the journey can be risky and frustrating. But by focusing on ideas within your sphere of influence you can develop innovation skills to generate positive change, as well as build your reputation as a valuable forward thinker.
Engage innovators in their areas of expertise. You’ll see world leading results in rapid time. By engaging them as a team, you will see world leading capability. Creating change in a large, capability-driven organisation like the innovation cell can be overwhelming and will always come with a level of risk. Embracing innovation is vital in ensuring the innovation cell evolves faster and smarter than its adversaries and overcomes the challenges ahead.
Stimulate both top-down and bottom-up approaches to innovation. By focusing on the command post, you can provide top-down direction against a key problem your command could solve. Then, harness the innate, bottom-up ingenuity of Marines, through venues like open-mic nights, against their everyday problems.
Build units’ efforts by telling the world what they learned. Despite this clear call, pinning down a definition of military innovation is tough. One definition has been promoted as “development of new warfighting concepts and/or new means of integrating technology.” Crucially, this definition captures that innovation takes forms beyond technology.
From this broad definition, two axes of innovation emerge. Much discussion around innovation focuses on the disruptive or revolutionary type, which typically relates to the integration of new technologies. Sometimes the Department of Defense deliberately develops these technologies, but other times they emerge independently.
Less discussion focuses on innovation at the tactical level, where innovation is more typically evolutionary. Evolutionary innovation seeks improvements from existing concepts. The quest for innovation may merely involve “clear thinking about how to leverage the creativity and expertise of those already in the system.”
Tactical innovation leverages expert warfighters in combat units to experiment. While external actors promote a culture of innovation in national security it does little to directly help tactical units solve their most pressing problems.
Tactical innovation initiatives must both provide direction and connect experts in uniform with free time and other resources. Squadron innovation funds,” exist “so commanders can tackle their most pressing readiness and national-security challenges.
If you seek to start an innovation initiative, chances are good that you have some problems in mind. If not, consider tools like Design Generator to help better understand your desired endstate. Even if you aren’t sure which problems to tackle right away, consider unleashing your subordinates against the problems that often trip them up. Invite their bottom-up refinement and earn their trust. Early wins on problems your soldiers care about will help build your innovative culture—and may even bubble disruptive innovations to the top.
Combine Top-Down and Bottom-Up Approaches. We harness our battalion’s innovative potential through a top-down focus against our pressing operational problems, while stimulating bottom-up innovation by connecting innovative makers with time and money. Organizations that successfully innovate combine top-down efforts, which align innovation with the organization’s goals, and bottom-up efforts that engage the organization’s lowest level.
Our top-down efforts aim for revolutionary or disruptive innovation against problems our unit anticipates. In our battalion, we assign responsibility for each of our innovation areas to a subordinate company, but do not fence it off.
Instead, each company commander develops an understanding of the problem and designs a plan to solve the problem or better understand it. Generally, that commander will launch his detachments against related exercises or events. However, the commander might also identify opportunities suitable to other units and offer them up.
While commanders drive innovation forward toward their defined problems, we also recommend stimulating innovative potential at the lowest level. Soldiers know which kit works—and which does not. Harness the knowledge and interest of the lowest level solve problems that make their lives easier or advance our work toward the command-directed priorities.
Innovation comes from connecting soldiers with time and resources. A “micro-purchase” program could do this for your unit. On a regular basis solicit, review, and fund the best proposals at levels authorized for our command. Leveraging sustainment funds and purchase cards, we acquire equipment and services necessary for innovation. Once we approve a proposal, we prioritize purchases with the goal of delivering in time.
Our Company experimented with micro-purchases which helped the command see new gaps across the company. When one motivated detachment requested funding to experiment with an off-the-shelf drone, the company’s leaders re-assigned a similar drone to that detachment. This cost-free reallocation of equipment demonstrates how sensitizing your unit to a demand for innovation improves outcomes at low cost.
Build an Innovative Culture. With both top-down and bottom-up programs in place, you must build a culture that supports innovation. Soldiers are unlikely to trust any new initiative until they understand the intent, see sustained command engagement, and are rewarded for their efforts. To educate the battalion, we plan to organize a significant launch event, host regular “collaborate and innovate” sessions, and dispatch battalion “makers” to innovation hubs.
Our collaborate and innovate sessions will to educate our soldiers about innovation generally, the battalion’s focus areas, and resources available. These sessions should be personally rewarding and avoid conflicts with training. We aim to bring in a mix of speakers from the military, industry, and elsewhere.
As an innovation culture gains traction, a transition to sessions led by internal innovators updating the unit on what they have learned should be made. This will reduce the burden on a unit’s busy staff and knock down innovation silos between units. But building an innovative culture is more than just education.
Troops are naturally skeptical of new initiatives, as commanders change frequently and sometimes are overcome by events. Commanders must demonstrate sustained engagement to a variety of audiences: the staff, subordinate leaders, and Marines on the line. Every unit is different, but we include micro-purchase statuses during command and staff briefings, while company command teams brief innovation updates at training briefs. The battalion commander also discusses innovation when they visit the teams, especially when an innovative system is at play.
For an innovative culture to take hold, it is imperative to highlight success. At regular “innovation convocations,” commanders can update interested stakeholders on their progress, micro-purchase winners highlight their successes and lessons learned, and outsiders can learn about what is feasible at the tactical level. Special focus on rewarding Marines willing to engage is important. Though internal motivation drives Marines, they often view new programs with suspicion. Leaders must set incentives properly to reward innovation.
Avoid Groupthink by Seeking Diverse Viewpoints. Bringing in diverse, external viewpoints will help your unit avoid groupthink. In our battalion, we plan to launch an innovation council chaired by our battalion commander. The council aims to provide an outside perspective while informing the battalion’s leaders of developments in innovation. The board will regularly in conjunction with the battalion’s innovation groups. While the ideal composition of your innovation board may differ, drawing in people with different viewpoints and careers may challenge your internal assumptions and improve your program.
Share What You Learned. Innovators in our ranks must share their progress and lessons learned. Consider the right ways to share lessons learned internally to adjacent units and externally to the broader community of defense innovators. Connect with doctrine writers. Write blog posts and post videos on your unit’s boards. However you do it, sharing of successful and unsuccessful efforts builds a broad-based innovative Marine Force.
Invigorate both top-down and bottom-up approaches to innovation. Build a culture of innovation through education, emphasis, and rewarding innovators. Solicit outside feedback as goal checks. Your unit and our Military will be better for it.
- Action. Ability to act quickly upon an idea in uncertain or unclear situations includes risk-tolerance
- Problem definition Asking the right questions and solution brainstorming mapping out a set of potential solution
- Ownership. Mindset and habit of taking responsibility for individual and team outcomes includes being proactive and results/solution-oriented.
- Prototyping.. Ability to turn abstract concepts into tangible and testable artifacts. This includes the instinct to and skill of rapid prototyping.
- Goal-Setting. Ability to think ahead to a future point and set ambitious but attainable goals.
- Task Management. Ability to break complex projects into smaller, interdependent and sequential tasks with deadlines done on schedule
- Prioritization. Ability to determine the most important / valuable work and focus on it until completion.
- Feedback. Ability to give and receive feedback in a way that promotes growth includes avoiding conflicts and effectiveness in difficult conversations to resolve conflict.
- Intent: Discipline of working deliberately/independently towards a goal
- Motivation: Possessing the ambition, curiosity and determination motor behind self-directedness and perseverance.