Tag Archives: U.S. Military

Bureaucracy and Politics versus Innovation

Bureaucracy and Politics versus Innovation

Innovation in military hardware is really hard.

I wanted to call this article “Corruption versus Innovation” but I sailed back from the precipice to a more forgiving title to give the government and military contractors the benefit of the doubt that the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program – aka Little Crappy Ships – was not corporate welfare but merely a poorly executed military contract.

Back in 2004 the Bush administration decided it wanted to increase military spending.

One of the ways they decided to do this was to initiate a new shipbuilding program that benefited Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics. The initial phase of the project called for two ships of each design to be built at an estimated cost of $220 million each. The initial phase of this suspect shipbuilding program went so poorly that congress canceled the second ship each company was scheduled to build and re-opened bidding.

The government pushed for fixed price contracting, and despite agreeing to a fixed price of $432-437 million each, the first ship set sail at a price of $637 million and the second at a whopping $704 million. This for a ship that was initially envisioned to only need a crew of forty sailors (eight officers and 32 enlisted) to operate. This was later changed to a crew of 73 sailors and 20 airmen to operate helicopters, UAV’s or other special equipment.

After beginning the LCS program in 2004, it wasn’t until 2013 that the initial LCS achieved its first deployment – to Singapore. That’s nine years from initiation to product launch. Think about how much has changed in the last nine years – we’ll come back to this point later.

The continuing poor performance of both the program (never-ending cost overruns), and the ship itself, forced the US Navy to reduce its orders from 55 of the ships to 32. Despite this reduction in the number of ships, the Navy chose to still take delivery of all 120 of the helicopters designed to pair with the ships, deeming it more expensive to cancel the contract for the excess helicopters than to go ahead and take delivery.

You can probably see now why I was going to call this article “Corruption versus Innovation” as the billions of dollars siphoned from the taxpayers to the military contractors and their shareholders pile up.

What’s worse, not only have the ships proven to be THREE TIMES more expensive to acquire than advertised, but they break down all the time and cost nearly as much to operate annually as an Arleigh-Burke Destroyer AND they have still yet to deploy their mine countermeasure and anti-submarine warfare capabilities.

The situation is so bad that the Navy is abandoning the program and looking to replace its little crappy ships (LCS) with a new Frigate program – the FFG (X) to be constructed by an Italian shipbuilding firm.

So, what went wrong?

Through the eyes of both a U.S. Navy Veteran, and as an innovation professional, here are my thoughts about how the U.S. Government can require its contractors to leverage more innovation best practices in their provision of services on behalf of the American people. Here are five places to start:

1. Pick the Right Time Horizon for Your Design Challenge

One of the biggest mistakes that organizations make is not consider how long it takes to develop, launch and market a new product or service without considering how an identified customer insight might change over that timeframe. For example, if it takes you two years to launch a new product and you’re developing that product based on a customer insight identified today, there is a chance that two years from now the customer may no longer value the key elements of the solution you’re designing. So, you must make sure that you’re designing against a customer insight that will still be relevant at the end of your product development and launch timeline.

Innovating for the Future Present

For more, see my article Are You Innovating for the Past or the Future?

2. Make Sure You’re Solving a Problem Worth Solving

It is really easy to latch on to a single problem and decide to solve it. But is it the right problem to solve?

Smart organizations don’t jump to problem solving too soon, but instead start with problem finding in a divergent manner before converging via problem prioritization, then diverge again in a problem deep dive and finally converge into a problem summary and a research brief focused on a carefully chosen problem worth solving.

Preparing to Solve the Right Problem

For more, see my article Picking a Problem Worth Solving From a Sea of Problems

3. Identify Potential Fatal Flaws

No idea is perfect, and so when you can identify the potential fatal flaws or the high hurdles that have to be overcome, you can challenge them, you can solve for them, you can unleash the passion of your team on trying to find a way around them.

The fatal flaws are always there, and the wise innovator doesn’t ignore them or assume that they will overcome them at some point in the future, but instead invests energy upfront into both trying to identify the fatal flaws of their idea and into identifying whether they can isolate the solutions before moving the idea forward.

For more, see my article Innovation and Entrepreneurship Fatal Flaws

4. Create an Experimentation Strategy and a Plan for Learning Fast

When it comes to innovation, it is not as important whether you fail fast or fail slow or whether you fail at all, but how fast you learn. And make no mistake, you don’t have to fail to innovate (although there are always some obstacles along the way). With the right approach to innovation you can learn quickly from failures AND successes.

The key is to pursue your innovation efforts as a discrete set of experiments designed to learn certain things and instrumenting each project phase in such a way that the desired learning is achieved.

The central question should always be:

“What do we hope to learn from this effort?”

The Experiment Canvas

My Experiment Canvas is a great free tool you can download from this web site to help you design and execute a series of carefully selected experiments to help you get the right learning and to help identify early on whether or not you can realistically solve for the potential fatal flaws – as early as possible – while investments are low.

For more, see my article Don’t Fail Fast – Learn Fast and download your free Experiment Canvas poster to print or to use as a background to lock down and put virtual sticky notes on top of in online whiteboarding tools like Miro, Mural, LucidSpark or Microsoft Whiteboard.

5. Design for Modularity to Reduce Obsolescence

The LCS was promised to be a modular warship capable of performing multiple missions, but the contractors have failed to deliver on this promise.

It takes a really long time to put a new ship design to sea and into service. So, if you get it wrong, like with the LCS program, it will be many more years before you can replace a faulty design with a new design.

We rarely successfully predict the future, so it is important to design in the capability to adapt solutions as they are developed to match emerging realities. Otherwise, you can end up designing a solution for a problem that goes away.

To reduce the chances of designing a new ship for a mission that may no longer be needed by the time it is put to sea, it is imperative that each ship is designed to be intentionally modular. It is imperative that each ship is designed as a platform of platforms.

The automobile industry has gotten really good at designing in this way. Different trim levels have different stereo options, for example, or a dealer can install a spoiler or a luggage rack pretty easily if a customer desires it.

Designing with modularity and upgradeability in mind to change out key components to different mission needs that may emerge over time or new technologies that may create new or enhanced capabilities, is an incredibly powerful way to extend the usefulness and lifespan of each new maritime defense hull.


The U.S. Navy is in a quandary about what to do with the Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) it already has.

So much so that it has reached out to fleet commanders to inquire what missions the ships should be deployed against – according to Naval Surface Forces Vice Adm. Roy Kitchener.

The Navy should consider opening up their queries for help even wider, perhaps to the global innovation community.

But, with that said, as a U.S. Navy veteran I think the perception of the success or failure of this program would be seen much differently if they had successfully deployed the Anti-Mine Countermeasure and Anti-Submarine Warfare capabilities BEFORE the Surface Warfare capabilities.

Frigates and Destroyers are much more capable surface warfare platforms, and in hindsight the billions of dollars wasted on this program could have been much better spent for the benefit of the American people.

So, I hope that military contractors and the U.S. Government will improve their ability to deliver increased value at a decreased price as they pursue future shipbuilding programs and leverage some of the innovation best practices above.

Grabbing a copy of Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire would also be a great place to start.

Go Navy!

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons (ship photo)
All other images: Braden Kelley (All Rights Reserved)

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We Have the U.S. Military to Thank for the Internet and Other Key Technology

Why We Thank the US Military for the Internet

GUEST POST from Howard Tiersky

From the computers that are used to develop your app to the AI that’s incorporated into your chatbot, many of the technologies that are foundational to our digital world were either massively moved forward or funded by the military. Let’s go over some of those technologies.


The microchips that we know today are composed of millions of transistors which were first developed by Bell Labs in 1949. Through military funding, microchips were further improved and incorporated in airplanes and missiles for complex communication and guidance systems.

Today, microchips are one of the basic building blocks of modern electronics, from calculators and cameras to hearing aids, pacemakers, and spacecraft guidance systems, they’re found almost everywhere electronics exist.


Did you know that the very first computer was funded by the US Military? The ENIAC, built between 1943 and 1945, was the first large-scale computer to run at electronic speed without being slowed by any mechanical parts. It enabled the military to calculate complex wartime ballistic tables, decryption, etc.

Apart from our phones and laptops, computers can be found in our cars, washing machines, manufacturing companies, 3D printers, power plants, banks, and more.

Cellular Technology

The original versions of cellular phone technology were heavily backed by the military for point-to-point soldier communication on the battlefield since they were more beneficial and secure than conventional radio technology.

Today, 80% of the US population owns a smartphone, and our ability to text, call, and video chat with others is a direct result of improved cellular technology.

The Internet

What we know as the internet today started out as the ARPANET. Backed by the US Military, it was initially used for military and academic communication for joint development projects and as a means of communication in the event of a nuclear attack.

As of 2020, 4.66 billion people around the world are internet users. This interconnectivity gave rise to our digital world and serves as the backbone behind almost all digital transformation initiatives today.


Originally developed for the military to help them navigate terrain and develop weapon targeting systems, the first 20 satellites launched for GPS were funded and driven by the military.

Without GPS technology, we wouldn’t have Google Maps, Waze, or Uber. Depending on your business, there are many ways you can incorporate GPS technology to streamline processes and collect data.

Digital Cameras

The digital sensors used by cameras were developed by the military because of their need to capture and send images wirelessly from satellites in space for terrain mapping and espionage operations.

DSLRs, mirrorless cameras, product advertisements, and face recognition technology all came as a direct result of these digital sensors.


While there are a lot of non-military applications for drones today, the development of drones was initially funded by the US military to avoid any risk to pilots, fly undetected, and provide real-time footage of an area.

A common use for drones is to help farmers scatter seeds, deliver goods to customers, and collect photos or videos of different places, but there are plenty of other ways we can incorporate them into media, architecture, construction, and emergency response.

Artificial Intelligence

The defense sector is projected to spend about $2 billion in Artificial Intelligence this year. The ability to play out simulations, analyze and understand satellite communications, and improve disaster preparedness are just a few of the many ways AI can be utilized by the military.

Commercially, we see AI in digital assistants like Siri, Bixby, and Google Assistant; chatbots on websites and messaging apps; disease mapping; automated financial investing; virtual booking; and social media monitoring.

So the next time you use your smartphone, Alexa, computer, or GPS, remember to say thank you to a soldier!

In my Wall Street Journal bestselling book, Winning Digital Customers: The Antidote to Irrelevance, I walk you through a simple five-step process to successful digital transformation. This methodology is proven and has worked for many companies that I’ve helped in the past. You can access the first chapter for free here or purchase the hard copy here.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

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Challenging Orthodoxies – Flying High

Challenging Orthodoxies - Flying High

With a new Top Gun movie coming out soon, I thought this might be an appropriate share.

It used to be in the early days of military aviation that a pilot’s head only served as some level of protection during a crash or a battle. Then with the introduction of radio communications an additional function was added to allow the pilot to communicate with the ground and then eventually with other pilots. The arrival of jet airplanes necessitated the integration of breathing capabilities via a facemask attached to the helmet.

Things remained relatively unchanged for many years until miniaturization and advancing computer science and display technologies made it possible to introduce heads up displays for pilots, first into the cockpit and then into the visor of the pilot, allowing pilots to see key flight data in their field of vision without having to find the relevant instrument on their instrumentation panel.

But pilots still had to look out all of their different windows and event turn the airplane in order to see what was going on around the aircraft.

The latest helmet for pilots of the F35 changes all of that now however. Designers have challenged this orthodoxy that a pilot has to look out the window or turn the airplane to see what is going on outside the airplane AND the orthodoxy that a pilot must put on night vision goggles to see what is going on at night by creating a helmet that uses sensors on the outside of the airplane and feed the visual data to the pilot in their new $400,000 helmet for the F35 that allows them to see in every direction just by looking around, day or night. The pilot can now effectively see right through the walls and floor of the airplane with this helmet.

This helmet challenges orthodoxies, but it also leverages two other lenses from Rowan Gibson’s Four Lenses of Innovation to achieve the solution – harnessing trends (sensors, etc.), and understanding needs.

Despite Lockheed Martin holding the primary contract for the F35 Lightning, the helmet will be manufactured primarily in Israel by Elbit Systems with some final assembly work done by Rockwell Collins in the United States.

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