This session, concerning technology advances and enablers, will address selected innovative technologies and how they can be effectively brought to the fleet. The Submarine Force, in my opinion, has always been a leader in innovation. Examples include stealth, advanced sensors and processing, expanding mission capability, and special if not very special operations-which we rarely get a chance to appreciate in open sessions. Perhaps innovation-or at least its focus-was easier in the Cold War era, where there was a clearer understanding and priority of needs, such as quieting, acoustic superiority, and ship performance. This urgency allowed for a concentrated and protracted plan for science and technology, and a sustained evolution in improved performance and payoff. Clearly things are different now, maybe even more so after September 11th, with broader mission requirements and associated technical challenges, and the need for rapid technology insertion and adaptation to changing military needs. Commensurate with this is a wealth of new and emerging technologies, including possible commercial technology that will ultimately help address these needs, some of course not as yet defined.
In my opinion, the Submarine Force and its tech base has responded well to the past and recent changing needs. I look at the changes even over the 11 years ago since last I was the Program Chair. There is a whole new class of SSN on the ways; a substantial payload reconfiguration has been made to the third unit of the Seawolf class; an SSGN class is emerging from converted Tridents; and already significant hull changes are being imagined for the Virginia class-specifically an advanced sail and possibly a large reconfigurable payload bay. Of course, one could go all the way back to nuclear propulsion and submarine launched strategic missiles as seminal examples of submarine innovation. These examples reflect a submarine technical community willing and able to make dramatic changes to adapt to emerging national needs. Nevertheless, some feel the Submarine Force or the system is too slow in its willingness to accept new technology, and may not adapt sufficiently to the new world order .. .if that phrase still applies.
In discussing this session with Rear Admiral Brickell, he mentioned that he had recently read Clayton Christensen’s book titled, The Innovator’s Dilemma, which deals with how some companies-even very successful ones-have suffered in the presence of what he refers to as “disruptive technologies”, that is technologies that do not emerge from a well-planned and forecasted understanding of the future, and displaces existing markets and companies. A broad range of examples is cited, from the computer disk industry, discount retailing, the automobile market, steel industry and the pharmaceutical industry. At his recommendation, I quickly read through this book, and pulled out some key points that might have analogies to the subject at hand. These include:
1. The process or emergence of disruptive technology is fundamentally different from the otherwise more evolutionary process involved in improving or sustaining current technology.
2. Current customers (read users) are not the best source for future requirements or markets; they have their current beliefs that tend to be tied to current practices.
3. One needs to be flexible and highly adaptive to changing markets and technology; e.g., make flexibility a part of the enterprise, and, furthermore, sufficiently invest in both time and money to allow for failures and 2nd and 3111 tries. One seldom gets new ideas fully right the first time.
4. Similarly, don’t expect immediate payoff … the initial users of new technology may be an outlier set or new user, but as the technology matures and is recognized, the crowd will follow.
5. Finally, timing is important. It is critical to get new ideas/capabilities into the market. .. to try them out. .. to allow them to be used, even in ways not originally intended.
Christensen cites, for example, that IBM almost went out of business for failing to move beyond the mainframe computer, when the personal computer was the disruptive technology. Its traditional large-business base did not see PC’s as a requirement, so IBM did not make the move. Sears stuck with its traditional business plan and merchandise, while failing to recognize the trend towards discount merchandising and home improvement products-and as a result also almost went out of business. Other provocative examples are cited.
There are probably real differences between experiences in the commercial market place and the military; however, I suspect there are similarities as well. The most fundamental point is that the future is difficult to predict, disruptions will occur and in fact be essential for success, and that flexibility, risk, persistence, and adaptability are essential characteristics of the innovation process. It is important that there be both mechanisms for fostering disruptive technologies, to easily insert or accommodate them when they appear valuable, and get them in front of the operator, who may then use these technologies in ways not originally appreciated.
There are certainly examples of attempts to foster disruptive technologies for the Submarine Force. DARPA, for example, has had several programs over the past decade and a half, which I bring up mostly because of my direct familiarity with them. These include the Advanced Submarine Technology Program in the late ’80s which looked into a broad range of new HM&E technologies including propulsion, materials, and automation; the A TSOL program of the mid ’90s that examined advanced sail concepts and stealth technologies for expanded littoral operations; the Submarine Payloads and Sensors Program, which is now leading to some novel payload demonstrations, and the Multi-Element Buoyant Cable Antenna program, which in conjunction with ONR is examining an advanced concept for comms at speed and depth. Collectively, these programs are consistent with many of Christensen’s precepts, in that they are targeted to new concepts or paradigms, solicit ideas from in and outside the traditional market base, are prepared to accept high risk in order to achieve high potential payoff, and seek early prototypes or demonstrations to not to only test, but to expose the technology to potential users. The success of these programs must be measured in not only what they have produced, but also the opportunity for new ideas they have provided.
The Submarine Force is making significant steps to help accommodate new and potentially disruptive technologies. They are committing to more versatile, flexible systems and platforms, such as open system architectures, making accommodations of COTS, and seeking far more flexible payload volume. Each of these attributes is accommodating of an unpredictable future and sets the stage for new, if not disruptive technologies. The Advanced Rapid COTS Insertion, or ARCI, program is an example of an essentially new business model for rapidly developing and testing new ideas, in this case acoustic processing, and speed them to the operator. Navy leadership is exploring ways of extending this build-test-build or rapid prototyping approach to other areas where it makes sense. The Navy is exploring new ways of expanding and executing its missions via forums such as the N77-sponsored Future Studies Group, which is looking at ways to extend the payload capacity of the platform and the reach of submarine sensors. These clearly are innovative steps, and hopefully will allow for new, even disruptive, technologies to be identified and more readily incorporated.
But we have to be aware that the adversary is innovative, if not disruptive as well. They are perhaps even more likely to seek unconventional ways to disrupt, defeat, or just bypass our more conventional military means and methods-such as we have seen with the USS COLE and September 11th. We have to be highly imaginative and forceful to stay ahead of or at least quickly respond to, these pop-up threats. The submarine is clearly a unique platform-in fact a disruptive technology in its inception-and continues to be so today, by virtue of its stealth, endurance and survivability. But times are changing, and like IBM and others, the submarine needs potentially to change as well-as it is. Platforms such as the SSGN and future Virginia class offer a fertile ground for attracting and fielding disruptive technologies, along with efforts to backfit these high-payoff technologies to the 688 class. In addition, we have to be sure that the overall process-from requirements, S&T, to acquisition-is vital, flexible and responsive enough to take full advantage of this disruptive potential. Maybe provisions for a skunk works like approach is sometimes needed, one that is focused and intense enough rapidly to respond to disruptive ideas when not adequately accommodated by the otherwise evolutionary mechanisms … we could call this the disruptive fund. I felt that the SSN Security Program of several years past was an example of such a program-at least on a limited scale.
So with this background, this session will present several examples of advanced and perhaps disruptive technologies and system concepts, and some of the issues associated with their transition and insertion. The first four papers address specific technologies, these being advanced digital control and automation, micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS), the use of smart materials for platform control and quieting, and advanced propulsion concepts. The second and third paper, I might point out have involved DARPA efforts. The final paper then addresses the need for more comprehensive and timely tactical and operational analyses, to pinpoint technology needs and maximize their operational employment, and in general support the overall technology life cycle.