Tuesday, July 31, 2012

New Website: disruptivethinkers.org

Disruptive Thinkers has moved to a new location!  Today marks the unveiling of our new website at disruptivethinkers.org

Please update your RSS feeds, bookmarks and, if you wish to continue receiving email updates about our blogs, your email addresses.

DisruptiveThinkers.org has many new features that will advance the cause of innovation within the military and beyond.  These include:

1.  A Member Ideas Forum:  Discuss the innovative challenges with Disruptive Thinkers from across the country
2.  Membership Database:  See what projects other Disruptive Thinkers are working on, and link up with them to create ad hoc partnerships.
3.  A Comprehensive database of all of our previous San Diego Seminars
4.  A National Innovation cell list
5.  A dynamic events calendar
6.  Our upcoming projects (including the Battlefields and Boardrooms mentorship program)
7.  Photo Galleries of all our previous in-person events.
8.  Future member spotlight, highlighting one Disruptive Thinker every two weeks and see what innovative projects they are working on

Furthermore, this is an iterative project.   If you see anything wrong with the new website, please email contact@disruptivethinkers.org to let us know what to fix.  We will be adding new content on a regular basis, and as always, look forward to your feedback.

Thank you to our dedicated fans -- we hope this move will continue to improve the conversation and get you more involved than ever!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Conversations Between Scientists and Sailors: UNSCRIPTED

Dylan Ottman is a member of the Office of Naval Research's TechSolutions Program.  Their goal is to allow junior warfighters to propose solutions, fund them, and see them implemented well within the standard procurement cycle.  They have been involved with numerous innovative projects in the last few years.  One of them is detailed below.


Most Navy aviation personnel are familiar with the aviation tool room, where repair maintenance personnel find the tools and supplies necessary to keep U.S. Navy aircraft in the sky and our pilots safe. These tool rooms are normally managed using a manual logging process that is time-consuming, error-prone and inaccurate for tracking HAZMAT use. The antiquated process increases maintenance time and causes errors that lead to misplaced resources.

The maintenance tool facility is centrally managed by a Sailor who is responsible for making sure that his or her fellow maintenance personnel properly check out and check in tools. The purpose is to ensure the return and safekeeping of hazardous materials, to maintain all tools and to track and order inventory.

In late June 2011, after a long day of repairing and maintaining the Navy’s air fleet, Aviation Electronics Technician 3rd Class Warren Bennett and his crew members waited in long lines to check in tools and supplies with the maintainer. The procedure was tedious, requiring the maintainer to use a pen and paper notebook to check in supplies and materials, and the Sailors in line sometimes waited hours to return supplies after a long day of work.

For the maintainer, the work can be extremely arduous; logging in materials that need to be tracked to determine supply level, recording amounts of hazardous substances before and after use, and trying to move quickly while writing clearly and accurately.

Having been a part of the process day in and day out, Bennett had accepted the system merely because it was never questioned. However, one day, Bennett began to think that in today’s information age, the process needed to be updated. New realities require adaptation.

Bennett was resourceful and had an idea to innovate the outdated process using an inventory management software program and barcode system. The software would be custom-made for the tool room and have the ability to perform inventory tracking and supply management.

“Navy Innovation depends on you, the individual Sailors.”

Bennett had heard that one-liner from Big Navy and others but, unfortunately, had not found a channel in the Navy in which to transform innovative ideas into realities. That all changed in July 2011, when he reached out to three individuals running a program at the Office of Naval Research specifically created to accept requests from Sailors and Marines and turn them into solutions: TechSolutions.

Run by two engineers and a master chief, TechSolutions is a program that gives individual Sailors and Marines a chance to speak up about a problem or challenge that technology and innovative thinking can solve. The TechSolutions process is solely dependent upon requests from Sailors and Marines to create technology solutions — facilitating technological pull, NOT technological push.

This free-flowing, unscripted conversation between scientists and Sailors is what TechSolutions needs to exist.  Both are equally instrumental to its success.

As with every project, once the TechSolutions team decided to take on Bennett’s request, they worked closely with him and other subject-matter experts to further define the problem and the required solution capabilities. They then reached out to the naval research communities for potential solution ideas.

Keeping warfighters like Bennett involved throughout the process is a major priority for TechSolutions.

“We want to ensure when we hand the completed solution prototype to the requesting Sailor or Marine, the final product is what they need to solve their problem, to improve efficiency in the fleet/force and improve their way of life.  This is why we keep the submitter involved from start to finish,” said Master Chief Charles Ziervogel head of the TechSolutions program.

The time from start to finish may surprise you. TechSolutions delivers a working prototype to the requesting Sailor or Marine within 12-18 months of their submission. The team accepts requests from all ranks, communities and rates to develop creative solutions and push them forward to become new naval capabilities. TechSolutions often takes a wide variety of pre-existing technologies or resources, both conceptual and mechanical, and recombines the parts to create new and improved capabilities.

In order for Techsolutions to be successful, the program needs active engagement from Sailors and Marines. Please get involved via the TechSolutions website (NMCI access only). To submit a request, simply answer three basic questions:  “Who are you?” “What is the problem?” and “What needs to happen to solve it?” Every query will be answered.

In the information age, innovation is the primary driver of advances in science and engineering. TechSolutions promotes a horizontal communication chain where the lines between innovator and warfighter intersect, where the knowledgeable and determined Sailor or Marine with an idea is valued.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Drones: Barrage Balloons of the Future

Matt Hipple, recent author of Cloud Combat: Thinking Machines in Future Wars for this month's Proceedings, and I have been tossing around innovative tactical uses for drones in our spare time.  Long story short, new technologies require new tactics.  This is our projection of a possible future.


circa 2035...

The American carrier battle group had been identified.   Although masterfully concealed in a shifting sea of phantom targets and spurious electro-magnetic signals, the Chinese systems had found their prey.  The screen showed a swarm of old PLANAF airplanes refitted as drones interspersed with manned modern fighter/attack aircraft converging on the American vessels.

Occasionally, red trackfiles, denoting the attacking aircraft, disappeared from the screen.  The Chinese commander had practiced the operation thousands of times before.  The American defensive screen was eliminating the aggressors at a prodigious rate, but this was a battle of numbers rather than maneuver.  Most of those downed aircraft were merely the refitted drones programmed as mindless missile sponges. As the attackers reached their air to surface launch ranges,  the missiles were released.  Up to that moment, all had gone according to plan. Then all hell broke loose.

The manned aircraft started reporting a progressive blooming on both their air to surface and air to air sensor suites.  One contact became three.  Three became nine.  Nine became a field of dispersed and re-forming shapes.  And then the contacts merely disappeared.  Chinese sensors were not being jammed; they were working perfectly: detecting something very real, something very wrong.

Pilots started declaring emergencies – engines catching on fire, stalling, sputtering.  The red blips, manned and unmanned disappeared one by one.  The American fighters, tracked by long range radar, had retired to re-arm but aircraft were being lost by the dozen. Whole formations were lost in flitting clouds of radar scatter in and amongst the clouds, fiery explosions occasionally visible as Chinese fighters were swatted out of the sky by… something.


Drones had certainly caught the public’s eye over the past two decades: high profile assassinations initially made the news more frequently before fading into the commonplace. Meanwhile,  tacticians were quietly looking for ways to employ them more subversively.

Planners came to the critical realization that radically new technologies allowed for radically new tactics.  Microdrones had been the plaything of amateur aviation hackers for years – and their experimentation, subtly observed, became a tool of crowdsourced tactical free-play by forward-thinking military tacticians.

A subculture of primarily civilian amateur swarm warfare competitions arose.  The advent of cheap, 3D printing had allowed anyone with a few thousand spare dollars to create entire fleets, and for those with less cash, experiment on online forums that leveraged a gamification of the American culture.  A series of competetive robot battle brackets assured wide-spread and rigorous testing of new concepts and technologies at minimal cost.

The possibilities became apparent as the tacticians noticed hobbyists weren’t using the drones as manned aircraft were used -- huge unitary craft carrying massive payloads of weapons.  The drones were optimized  for specific situations, and got increasingly smaller, often doubling as weapons themselves.  They would mesh, forming large targets, only to disappear into many autonomous constituent parts.  Almost all were of the quadrotor design, and hardly any sported expensive avionics or complex propulsion systems.

Soon, four junior officer innovation fellows at the Naval Warfare Development Command got ahold of this idea, and received $10 million from the newly created Disruptive Tactics Fund.  What they created would change naval warfare forever.

They were given free reign to spend the money as they saw fit, buying whatever technology they determined would be useful within their designated funds.  As they experimented, blending open crowd-sourced technology and expertise with in-house proprietary technology, they created a three step tactical paradigm for employing their new systems:

First, Obfuscate.  The modern enemy had learned to deploy overwhelming numbers to overload the advanced defenses of capitol ships. However, advances in software and miniaturization allowed blue forces the opportunity to do the same to the enemy.  If an adversary could send 100 platforms, each costing $250,000 at a capital ship, then the defender would deploy 1000 assets costing $1,000 each.   These drones would be both collaboratively cooperative and individually autonomous, depending on the situation's requirements.  They would appear to radars and far-away observers as one entity, then at the appropriate time, split into a haze of autonomous units.  Their formations would be fluid, and seemingly random.  They could create large radar cross section entities at will, then disperse to become virtually  invisible.  Indeed, their dispersal looked to the enemy as the destruction of a target – yet, it was anything but.

Next, Obliterate.  Once directed by the Air Defense Coordinator, these drones would transition to a suicidal mindset.  These obfuscators turned into microkillers intent on fouling aircraft engines or detonating as aircraft approached.  Like an airborne, maneuverable minefield, the drones would disperse into clouds of floating debris.  They could rapidly ascend and hover for extended periods of time, maneuvering at will, either en masse, or individually, to preplanned or real time defensive locations.  When an enemy airframe was identified, the drones would explode, throwing tiny titanium pellets in a small, but devastating radius.  Radars would lose the drones in the ambient returns or ignore them while attuned to cross sections much larger.

Visual pickups were nearly impossible on 12 inch quadrotors while moving at high speeds.  Even the small explosions that threw the killer shrapnel into the sky were hard to see.  The only indications were severe engine problems as drones were sucked into intakes, or titanium pellets ripped through compressor blades.

Finally, Overwhelm.  The loss of so many drones was problematic, as only finite numbers could be carried and maintained before deployment.  The answer was off the shelf 3-D printing, which could quickly produce the majority of drone parts using cheaply obtained raw materials.  Deployed aboard ships, these printers saved space and time, producing fleets of drones on demand.  If a design modification needed to be made, changes were simply uploaded to the CAD database, and a new batch was printed from raw materials gathered and previously stored. No changes in supplier, supply chain, or vast administrative system were necessary.

While deployed in a combat zone, an entire part of a carrier’s hangar deck was devoted to the production of these defensive drones.  When the loss of one was detected, another was automatically created to replace it.  A mobile, persistent chaff cloud able to wreak havoc could be produced at will.  No en route maintenance was necessary, aside from ensuring there was an available supply of silicon, carbon, titanium, and other assorted raw minerals.

Furthermore, any ship in the fleet could be outfitted with printers capable of producing these drones.  Detached from a combined fleet, individual ships assigned to anti-piracy or counter-drug operations could deploy their own fleets of swarming, easily replaceable air assets.

An additional benefit of these drone swarms was persistent, over-the-horizon surveillance provided by evenly deployed networks.  Much as radio telescopes used in detecting the farthest reaches of the universe had been linked across the globe to create physically impossible aperture sizes, so too did evenly distributed drones emanating micro-bursts of energy allow for the world’s largest radar.   The persistent, energy saving hover mode could transform hunter-killers into passive collection platforms.

When these were first deployed in wargames, fleet commanders accustomed to traditional formations and manned aircraft tactics were incredulous.  But soon they came to appreciate the effect these utterly unorthodox tactics were having on their $450 million stealth platforms.  The most traditional ignored the results, knowing that such applications could "never happen" in the real world.  A number of curious few, however, asked to further develop the tactics and integrate them into their battle plans. They understood the disruptive effect it would have on American adversaries, and that new technologies required entirely new applications.


What the Chinese commander encountered was the first application in the next evolution of warfare.  Expecting the tried-and-true tactics of a change-wary institution, they encountered a decentralized, highly resilient system using readily available technology developed by an innovative cell of junior tacticians.  Bypassing normal vetting processes the navy was able to quickly harness advances in technology, processor speed, and miniaturization. By embracing risk, rather than managing it, the Navy stole a march on its opponents by deploying the tactics of tomorrow on today’s battlefield.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

A Proper Response to a Long Train of Abuses and Usurpations

236 years ago, a bunch of colonists took on the most powerful empire in the world.  After years of dealing with a status quo wedded to its own power, and lacking any other reasonable means of affecting change, these colonists took it upon themselves to declare independence.

This was a Disruption heard 'round the world, and forever changed the course of world history.  The men who signed the Declaration of Independence did so knowing full well that their bold proclamation decrying tyranny made them marked men -- and if caught, certain death would follow.

Sometimes radical change is necessary for the preservation of freedom.  The only way to get it is through a rag-tag band of scrappy insurgents with astounding intellectual fervor, and characters willing to undertake the unthinkable.  Their goal may take years to accomplish, and irrevocably upend the status quo, but with a cause worth fighting for, makes the effort worth the cost.

Every year on the 4th of July, I read the Declaration of Independence in its entirety.  It is a model for arguing a case, laying out a solution, and then taking personal ownership in its submission -- signing your real name to  subversive thoughts is sometimes one of the boldest acts a person can take.  Indeed, it can start a process that leads to an entirely new political order.

So, without further ado, The American Declaration of Independence:

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.--Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

The 56 signatures on the Declaration appear in the positions indicated:

Column 1
   Button Gwinnett
   Lyman Hall
   George Walton

Column 2
North Carolina:
   William Hooper
   Joseph Hewes
   John Penn
South Carolina:
   Edward Rutledge
   Thomas Heyward, Jr.
   Thomas Lynch, Jr.
   Arthur Middleton

Column 3
John Hancock
Samuel Chase
William Paca
Thomas Stone
Charles Carroll of Carrollton
George Wythe
Richard Henry Lee
Thomas Jefferson
Benjamin Harrison
Thomas Nelson, Jr.
Francis Lightfoot Lee
Carter Braxton

Column 4
   Robert Morris
   Benjamin Rush
   Benjamin Franklin
   John Morton
   George Clymer
   James Smith
   George Taylor
   James Wilson
   George Ross
   Caesar Rodney
   George Read
   Thomas McKean

Column 5
New York:
   William Floyd
   Philip Livingston
   Francis Lewis
   Lewis Morris
New Jersey:
   Richard Stockton
   John Witherspoon
   Francis Hopkinson
   John Hart
   Abraham Clark

Column 6
New Hampshire:
   Josiah Bartlett
   William Whipple
   Samuel Adams
   John Adams
   Robert Treat Paine
   Elbridge Gerry
Rhode Island:
   Stephen Hopkins
   William Ellery
   Roger Sherman
   Samuel Huntington
   William Williams
   Oliver Wolcott
New Hampshire:
   Matthew Thornton