Commander Martin is an Engineering Duty Officer currently attached to the Strategic Systems Program Office. She wrote this paper while a student at The Naval War College and was awarded The Naval Submarine League Prize for her research and writing on a submarine topic. Part One appeared in the April 2000 issue of THE SUBMARINE REVIEW.
Part II: Preserving the Option for Revolutionary Innovation in the Submarine Force
Further Impetus for Getting Out of Our Boxes: Three keys to success in modem warfare are technology, maneuver and information dominance. Today, major technological advances are spawned primarily in the commercial sector, not the defense sector, and they are proliferating on a worldwide basis at an astounding rate. 1 The U.S. holds no monopoly on state-of-the-art technology. Economic factors may serve to keep U.S. military forces more technologically advanced, on an overall basis, than those of rogue states and potential future adversaries but, given time, they, too, are sure to make advances in C4ISR, precision weapons and integrated defense systems. On an individual basis, some of their systems are likely to be very capable. Differences between our technological capabilities and theirs may become more of a case of quantity and availability rather than one of quality.
With much of our force structure coming due for modernization and replacement, the need to make difficult choices in prioritizing between modernizing and equipping the force is likely to be with us for some time. One-for-one replacement of today’s major platforms with new, even more complex, platforms will require massive increases in available funding to step up build rates or become a process extending over many years resulting in additional decreases in force structure. With funding likely to remain a significant constraint, it is prudent to investigate, and pursue, promising alternative strategies to field modem systems capable of offsetting, at least in part, the adverse impacts on our flexibility and readiness, of temporary (or permanent) decreases in force structure and manning.
Economics may play a role in making UUVs and automated networked systems attractive as a means for modernizing our capabilities and effectively multiplying our force structure. They are likely be less expensive to design and build than new manned platforms or even integrating major new systems into many existing platforms. Thus they can provide the means for rapidly fielding new systems in greater numbers than would otherwise be possible. UUV s can be important tools in reducing acquisition timelines and costs of innovative new designs for submarines and submarine systems, as well as an alternative platform for researching, developing and fielding new technologies. Modularization and interchangeability in vehicle design and payload packages will facilitate greater effectiveness and efficiency in deployment. It will no longer be necessary, for instance, to deploy or reposition fully-armed, fully-manned warships to accomplish sonar surveillance or mapping tasks. One will be able to dispatch the sonar alone, and often one configured specifically for the task and operating environment rather than a generalized multifunction system. Breaking free of the notion that all of our payload systems and warfighting potential must be confined within the bulkheads of manned platforms and shifting to a swarm architecture may result in some positive cyclic trends as well as a better equipped more capable force.
The Way Ahead: Commercial and research interest in UUVs and automated undersea systems have provided reliable, capable, systems and vehicles of varying scale and complexity and can be expected to continue to do so. A number of programs and projects developing sensors, communications systems and other technologies for undersea and sea-based applications such as the Joint Mine Countermeasures Advanced Technology Demonstration (A TD) and the Acoustic Communications ATD will produce products applicable to UUVs and undersea networks.
Many of the same technologies and very similar components to those required for these systems are also in the process of being developed and applied in various industrial robotics programs, for space and planetary exploration systems, for airborne robotic vehicles (UAVs and UCAVs) and for land based robotic vehicles (UGVs). These could all potentially facilitate development of tactical UUV systems. However, we should not expect these efforts to present us with an optimized off-the-shelf tactically ready UUV. Their programs don’t have this as an objective and most don’t have access to either the information or resources that would be required to develop a system of major tactical import.
For these technologies to reach an appropriate level of maturity to significantly influence design development of a VIRGINIA class follow-on or USMC Ship-To-Objective-Maneuver architectures and doctrine, a serious, well-guided UUV program should be initiated sooner rather than later. Many of the resources (technology, funding and technical and administrative expertise) for such a program already exists. However these are spread very broadly over too wide a variety of programs, some having no direct focus on UUVs, to be considered a viable program. For these to result in one or more integrated products, they should be brought together under a fully engaged and empowered, knowledgeable management structure, capable of supplying proper focus and direction.
Disruptive, Revolutionary Innovation vs. Incremental, Evolutionary Innovation: Distinct differences should be expected between pursuing a route toward innovation through gradual and sustained improvement of technologies and systems currently found in U.S. submarines and one that involves a discontinuous leap to new, disruptive technologies. True revolutionary or disruptive innovation is neither common nor easy. It is risky and unpredictable. The availability of technologies that make this type of innovation possible and the potential for establishing new inter-relationships between them that result in this type of innovation are difficult to recognize. This type of innovation rarely stems from a single root. Its usual source is the integration of components based on proven technologies in a novel packaging or product architecture such that they now offer a set of attributes never before possible, or enable a radically different (disruptive) change in approach. Success occurs when the technologies that make such innovation possible and requirements coincide such that the right technology-based product becomes available at the right time. The match-up is not always smooth and rarely predictable at the outset.
The initial presentation of disruptive technologies often appears in a relatively simple product form with limited capabilities initially appropriate for less advanced, low-performance applications that might appeal only to niche or emerging markets. For the main-stream, they initially do not represent performance improvement or meet the criteria established for providing incremental improvement and sustained leadership. They look like steps downward or backward and don’t match well with current concepts of useful technology or where major users feel they want to go.4 The appreciation of their implications and the requirements that define their importance all tend to evolve over time and often tum out very differently from initial anticipations. 5 Many of the Navy’s most revolutionary innovations were initially proposed as simply a new or better way to perform well established Navy tasks or missions. 6 They were proposed as technology based innovations but not as disruptive innovations. Perception of the profound discontinuous or disruptive nature of the changes such innovations would produce in military capability and the conduct of military operations or their strategic and political implications came only later. 7 Initiating and successfully managing this type of innovation requires a rare insight and/or level of experience that is hard to quantify or transfer. Significant up-front investments in attention and major adjustments or modifications to management structures and techniques may be required to support such an effort.
Organizational and Personnel Aspects: Revolutionary innovations do not look or behave like evolutionary incremental innovations and they usually can not be successfully managed using the same processes that apply to incremental innovations. Research on naval innovation in the post World War II environment, when fiscal constraints, downsizing and modernization were conflicting drives much like today, shows that successful revolutionary innovation efforts in this environment shared a number of key characteristics. A list of these characteristics, identified in the 1960s, have much in common with the results of studies conducted in the commercial sector more than twenty years later. 1 Both highlight the importance of dedicated knowledgeable individuals who care more deeply about the advancement of their organization and its mission than their own personal gain. They also show clearly that in order for innovation and innovators to succeed in achieving their full potential the organization must respond at some point by making some critical concessions supporting further progress and integration of the proposed innovative technologies or concepts. Admiral Hyman Rickover and the Naval Reactors organization he created are an obvious (perhaps overly obvious) example of many of the characteristics these studies cite as common in cases of successful revolutionary innovation. The relevant point, however, is that if someone had not emerged and done at least some of what he did, we might not have nuclear propulsion available to us today.
The recurring characteristics of major revolutionary innovation in these studies are:
1. A champion who believes in the new idea and will keep pushing for it regardless of roadblocks or adverse career implications. The champion usually emerges from the middle ranks rather than from the top or bottom of the organization. They have typically been in the organization long enough to develop a broad perception of its values and requirements but not long enough to become either cynical or mired in routine and higher level obligations. The champion is rarely the originator of the idea or innovation but usually possesses significant technical knowledge pertinent to the innovation. These people are not just sales representatives or schedule managers; they are committed believers, leaders and co-developers.
2. A sponsor, high in the organization, to marshal key re-sources such as people, money and time and direct them toward the effort. The champion can usually build what Davis terms a horizontal political alliance from among his peers to initiate an innovative effort and sustain it for a brief period. However, the broader vertical alliance building and management of higher level politics necessary for long term success are critically dependent on the involvement of the senior sponsor.
3. A mix of creative, technical minds to initiate ideas and propose concepts and experienced operators to select the most promising ideas, keep things practical and smooth out the path toward implementation. The value of such relation-ships initially emerges as the champion interacts with peers to establish a horizontal political alliance of support for their innovation and continues to grow in importance throughout the development of the innovation and the infrastructure that supports its implementation. In today’s acquisition oriented enviromnent such a group might come together in association with the more or less formalized process of establishing concept working groups and integrated product teams. Such alliances and their effort, however, can not survive forever on air, sketchpads and view-graphs. It must move on to something of substance or good people will lose heart.
4. A process that moves ideas through the system quickly in order for them to receive required endorsements, access to resources and attention from key decision makers in a timely fashion. The lack of a clearly identified and sustained means of initiating such processes to support innovation within the Navy and other large organizations reinforces the criticality of champions and sponsors. It is their ingenuity and dedication that results in the establishment and customization of an adhoc process for successful innovation efforts on a case by case basis.
The survival of a revolutionary innovation is often dependent upon the success and strength of its champions and sponsors in finding shortcuts around organizational and bureaucratic roadblocks or alternatively, at an appropriate time, establishing a stand alone organization for its continued development and support. Organizational structures and processes that exist in large organizations, within the Navy, and elsewhere, to facilitate getting work done and keeping well-established programs on course can be obstacles to revolutionary innovation. (Emphasis added by Editor.) Elaborate approval systems and excessive layering can stifle and kill good ideas before they ever have a chance to reach the attention of senior managers. Resource allocation processes can grind promising innovations to a halt by diverting key personnel and other resources to higher priority programs or by insisting on full application of various measures of effectiveness before the innovation or its potential applications are mature enough to stand rigorous scrutiny. The type of environment such technologies require is difficult to create and maintain outside of a small, dedicated organization that can roll with the punches, recognize unexpected breakthroughs, and adapt to changes.
There are valid reasons for considering a new organization, independent from the mainstream, to manage revolutionary innovations or disruptive technologies. They generally require a great deal of flexibility, lots of management attention and a greater tolerance toward initial shortfalls or developmental failures as well as a different approach toward setting performance requirements, especially at the outset, that may not be valued or appreciated by a mainstream organization’s existing customers. Both the product technology and the requirements for it will emerge simultaneously. Program managers must collect, interpret and propagate information about both the emerging product technology and its potential applications. Well-established, successful organizations involved in evolutionary innovation often can not readily afford to divert key talent or adapt to applying radically different sets of rules and management techniques to revolutionary innovation while at the same time pursuing more traditional routes on projects aimed at incremental improvement of established products.
Dedicated, total ownership can play an important role in the successful integration of concurrently emerging technologies into a successful product that might not see the light of day if the component technologies remained under other forms of management. Naval Reactors (SEA 08) and the Strategic Systems Program (DIRSSP) are examples where the Navy and the submarine community did exactly this. The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) for space based surveillance is another example where this approach proved successful in the DoD environment. It may be appropriate for Navy and USMC leadership to initiate activities, in the near future, to determine an appropriate organizational environment for the development and implementation of robotics-based, off-board system technologies for naval expeditionary warfare, how its activities should be regulated and how its progress should be measured.
A Program Office tasked with developing an integrated undersea warfare architecture incorporating UUV s and various networks of deployable automated systems will need to be properly structured and staffed to address a broad range of technical and operational issues, some of which will differ significantly from those normally seen in more traditional systems acquisition offices. Rather than following traditional formats for either implementation or justification of a new acquisition program, managers will need first to identify what critical information is most necessary to determine potential customers and the applications they may be most interested in. Strategies of this type, requiring managers to identify the assumptions upon which their plans or aspirations are based, are termed discovery-driven planning. 12 Careful initial research may reveal a sequence in which such information may be required in order to create key guiding parameters or resolve important uncertainties before expensive commitments of time and/or funding that may be difficult to reverse are made.
In dealing with the emergence of disruptive technologies, unlike the development of a follow-on variant of an existing system or capability, we often literally do not know initially what we are going to end up building or what we are going to do with it. 13 Despite the mythology that develops over time in program offices, most major revolutionary innovation efforts involve significant amounts of re-analysis, re-assessment, re-planning and readjustment. The final product is often very different from the initial sketches or view-graphs. It is probably inappropriate and perhaps even counter-productive in cases that show indications of potential for disruptive innovation to attempt to develop far-ranging detailed master plans or funding profiles at the initiation of a development effort. Many factors are going to change as things go along in the beginning and it will be necessary to make frequent choices and trades on technical issues, potential applications, operational and engineering requirements. The master plan holding such an effort together is going to have to be one that evolves over time through the efforts of those involved in the initiative with appropriate overarching guidance and focus. An open, flexible approach is required with soft boundary constraints but near constant attention and a substantial number of tripwires signaling requirements for rescopeing and re-assessing.
Nearly all of our acquisition management training and tools for assessing and managing innovation are geared toward the context of sustaining and incremental innovation in which customer needs are easily understandable and predictable. Applying these up-front or prematurely in cases of potentially disruptive innovation can be misleading. With such innovations, it is not their potential performance regarding established tasks or missions that we really should be interested in. What makes them important and entitles them to priority is their potential to effect discontinuous change. An analysis of alternatives or the various cost and effectiveness comparisons that usually form the justification for implementing an acquisition program may be mostly pointless exercises in the case of innovations where nothing akin has ever previously exited and for which the applications and requirements are unclear. Mission Need Statements and Operational Requirements will not exist, since nothing like the capability these technological innovations represent has ever existed before. Likewise, there may be no readily identifiable organization to which responsibility for generating these can be assigned. Technical performance requirements or engineering specifications for systems embodying these technologies will not be entirely available either, although some may exist that are applicable to individual components or to some of the interfaces that will be required between new and established systems to serve as a guide in building a basic understanding of issues to be addressed. An initial period of intensive experimentation with the technologies, potential applications and various potential customers, possibly requiring several iterations, is often a key strategy element in efforts of this type.
Establishing Technical Requirements and Design Parameters: Autonomous UUVs are neither manned vessels nor full-scale submarines. They will not replace submarines nor operate in the same fashion as submarines in the same environments that submarines will operate in. Because they resemble submarines and will operate in similar environments to submarines employing some systems similar to submarine systems, much of the technologies, tools and data-bases applicable to submarine design will be applicable to the design and development of tactical autonomous UUVs. However, there will be differences between design of these vehicles and design of a full-scale manned submarine that we must be aware of. Some new tools and technologies will also be needed.
As is the case in submarine design, a set of mission dependent systems engineering performance requirements that tactical UUVs must be capable of meeting will need to be specified. These will most likely include parameters similar to those required for submarines; speed, depth, range, lethality, survivability, flexibility and affordability. However, parameter values selected, here, must be appropriate to a tactical UUV. These will not be the same as those appropriate for a full-scale manned submarine. Performance requirements will need to be established for the tactical UUV’s onboard control system. Functions to be performed remotely by human controllers must be determined and performance requirements set for shipboard systems that will facilitate their execution of these functions. Performance requirements must also be specified for those critical systems providing interfaces between the UUV and human controllers.
Many of the technologies being discussed and developed with the objective of reducing manning, maintenance and logistics requirements for full scale ships and submarines have obvious applications and implications for the development of better, more affordable UUVs needing less maintenance and logistics support. These include development of control technologies and embedded sensors for marine applications, modularization of components, standardization of components and interfaces, new hull materials, lubricants and preservation techniques. New component materials, precision manufacturing techniques, open systems architectures, condition-based maintenance, extensive automation with continuous monitoring and greater access to expert maintenance and repair advice should decrease the frequency and duration of major upkeep and refit periods and make it possible to keep ships and submarines on-line and at sea. They should do the same for tactical UUVs and deployable undersea systems. Being unmanned provides the additional advantage that a tactical UUV will have no significant ties to a homeport or other requirements to keep it from remaining pre-positioned or deployed to remote forward areas for extended periods. Large tactical UUVs can be expected to have to make at most a very few long open ocean transits over the course of their life cycles. This has important implications for a number of design performance factors especially with respect to propulsion and navigation systems.
Whenever technically feasible and economically practical, components and technologies common to ship or submarine design, commercial undersea systems, or manned undersea systems such as the Advanced Seal Delivery System (ASDS) should be considered for use in tactical UUV systems. Modularization in component and systems design should make it possible to readily reconfigure UUV s to meet mission requirements making the most out of scarce payload space. Even so, it may be desirable to look at the cost trades in grouping similar mission requirements to facilitate developing a family of simpler low cost tactical UUV s rather than a single vehicle capable of satisfying all range, depth, speed and payload requirements.
Experimenting with Applications & Testing the Validity of Premises: An initial approach leading to the development of networked undersea systems and autonomous or semi-autonomous vehicles may be expected to entail the development of various models employing these technologies for use in various expeditionary warfare simulations and wargarnes. Systems and components developed for commercial, academic or military research might be employed in demonstrations, exercises and experiments allowing both system performance and operator reactions and comments to be documented. More extensive demonstrations and investigations involving various combinations of currently existing technologies and simulations of potential future systems such as those commonly seen in various Advanced Concept Technology Demonstrations may also help in developing understanding of the interplay between potential undersea battlespace capabilities and broader littoral requirements.
Initial experimental efforts should be supplemented and followed by detailed concept development and serious mission analysis. This should include a careful and open analysis of our present capability to execute expeditionary warfare operations in the littorals and potential for performance improvements. It should also bring into play projections of the world geopolitical situation. potential future threats and their access to advanced and asymmetric technologies. The objective of this effort should be an update of roles and missions and doctrine to bring them into alignment with projected warfare requirements and identify and prioritize requirements for new undersea capabilities. This should not be a closed or isolated Submarine Force or submarine community effort. Rather, it should draw on the full spectrum of resources and experience available to both the Navy and Marine Corps. Clear articulation of a well-educated and informed fleet’s priorities, sound engineering assessments and thoroughly executed and documented mission analysis are required to create a common future vision of undersea battlespace objectives and a wisely balanced technology investment program. Performance requirements derived through these processes should constitute a key pan of legitimate and well supponed systems engineering efforts coordinated across the broad undersea community to develop and mature needed technologies for future installation in submarines and off-board adjunct systems. A broad framework for networking the processes of such an effort was outlined by the Submarine Technology Assessment Panel.
Revolutionary Innovation in Today’s Fiscally Constrained Environment: The Defense Acquisition System is currently under enormous pressure to cope with residual effects of regimented observance of obsolete standards and practices and accommodate to post-Cold War drawdowns. The net results of the many stresses inherent to pursuing reorganization and reform initiatives aimed at streamlining acquisition processes and eliminating practices that add unjustifiable costs are manifested in increasingly dysfunctional internal dynamics within the system as a whole and within individual program offices. The politics of this world drive the vast majority of acquisition program managers to avoid drawing attention to their programs by staying well within established boundaries and guidelines of normal practices and timelines promulgated as standardized model paths for acquisition programs.
Properly supported and executed standard acquisition programs ensure a steady flow of evolutionary modernization and incremental improvements in systems and capabilities. The atmosphere right now is one that is very supportive of such sustaining innovation.
In the past, standard programs were supplemented by a number of non-standardized, less regimented special projects run at least partially outside the standard regulations of the acquisition system resulting from time to time in significant revolutionary leaps by pursuing the development and integration of disruptive technologies. Today, this is not the case. Institutionalization of written and unwritten policies favoring an evolutionary, incremental approach toward modernization, sustaining powerful current organizations and contracrual relationships, and precluding revolutionary innovation and discontinuous change in our key warfighting systems is inherently dangerous and out of sync with the stated objectives of Defense leadership. Without at least some discontinuous change in our means to wage war, there can be no near-term revolution in military affairs but only a slow, steady evolution of new approaches, which, lacking sustained coordination and carefully defined interfaces may fall short of anticipation. (Emphasis added by Editor.) At the same time, the wide-spread commercial availability of potent modem technologies with potential military applications raises the specter that the next great disruptive-technology-driven leap in military capability may originate outside the United States. If such were to be the case, the prospect exists that the revolutionary military capabilities stenuning from it might circumvent or nullify our efforts at evolutionary innovation. By emphasizing evolution and incremental improvement so strongly we may be pursuing a path that offers short-term savings and stability but leads to bankruptcy in the long run.
Summary Remarks: The potential near-tenn development of both mission specific and multi-mission capable unmanned vehicles offers an attractive alternative for achieving substantially increased submarine payload capacity and introducing new undersea capabilities faster and with less expense, avoiding the need for design or modification efforts involving major marmed warfare platforms. They also offer a unique promise to expand our potential to conduct littoral operations in ways it has not been possible to consider with only major manned warships.
Determining whether a manned platform or robotic vehicle is employed should depend on the functions it is expected to perfonn and the overall warfighting environment. In designing a force architecture in which both options will be available, the overall mix of manned and automated systems comprising the warfighting system of systems should be optimized from both a performance and cost perspective. There are many potential benefits in shifting our emphasis for the future away from larger more complex platforms and toward a distributed, networked system of systems or swann, where appropriate systems are automated and moved off-board to UUVs. A more aware, more capable submarine is of greater value to its commander and crew and also to the expeditionary force commander and his forces. Its payload of weapons, sensors and communications systems will be increased and distributed to provide wider. sustained coverage and will be capable of being easily adjusted or reconfigured to meet the requirements of its environment and employment in support of the expeditionary force.