In the modern Defense industry, “innovation” is often tied to a shoots-and-ladders style Acquisition System, and to anticipating an unknown, Third-Offset advantage. The segmentation of innovation as an outcome of the acquisition process shifts the autonomy of agencies and service branches into increasing external dependencies. Further, the dramatically competitive contracting environment barricades the emerging creativity and thought-diversity found in small businesses and start-ups, instead producing a homology of services that compete at the lowest price. The responsibility to steward public funds reinforces the entropic tendencies of an aging Colossus, incentivizing defensive and competitive behaviors over creative change-making. We acknowledge the importance of innovation; yet we struggle to clear space within the Defense organization to cultivate and to mature a steady stream of organic innovation, internally.
Currently, the Department of Defense (DoD) employs its integrated, joint-service Acquisition System in an effort to capture, manage and deliver capabilities responding to war-fighter requirements. In seeking to process service requirements through one, integrated process, the DoD eliminates funding redundancies across services branches. However, the glaring problem in using the joint process as a replacement to specific service-branch acquisition processes is that each branch can no longer effectively advocate for their specific end-user requirements — they must compete for vital support. Because this process collectively considers its service branches, unique service functions, cultures and requirements fail to be accurately reflected in the delivery of capabilities. Furthermore, the capabilities acquired en masse often demand intense investments of time and resources, which produce a highly-competitive atmosphere for vetting requirements.
Rapid Acquisition, while essential, must be balanced by a longer view of continuous improvement – one not injected, but rather that grows from the inside, out. Novel innovation belongs to the acquisition process – let the risk and the costs be explored through milestone development, over time. But let there be lateral channels for continuous innovation networked throughout the DoD’s agencies. Let these channels innately foster improvements from the bottom, up. Let these improvements reflect directly and incorporate the needs of the war-fighter into iterative solution prototypes. Let there be thresholds wherein the enterprise not only tolerates failure as vital learning, but let the successes rapidly iterate into service-led programs of record. Through practices of rapid sustainment aligned to cycles of deployment, the need for defense innovation may be continually facilitated at the service-level.
As an adaptive enterprise, Hendrick Motorsports orients its business processes around one objective: to win. To this objective, Hendrick has developed a heightened capacity to sense and respond to unknowable change in variable environments. A recent study conducted by BMO Logistics, United Global Group, Inc. and the USMC-HQ DC I&L for the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences assessed key differences between the business processes of the USMC and that of an industry leader engaged in rapid innovation, Hendrick Motor Sports (HMS). Using the analogy of the NASCAR race-cycle tied to the USMC deployment-cycle, this study proposed that integrating a linear, team-oriented, de-centralized innovation-maturation framework into the USMC organization brings significant benefit to deployed war-fighters and to the Marine Corps enterprise.
Within this comparative assessment, key observations highlighted Hendrick’s capacities supporting pro-active life-cycle sustainment of their race capabilities. First, HMS supports direct communication between engineers, maintainers, drivers and team leaders. Second, data-system integration across the organization enables the collaborative networking of information at all levels. Hendrick’s capacities both for robust modelling and simulation, and for continuous innovation depend upon the mass aggregation of disparate information through a single cloud-based platform. Third, HMS centers its culture around one motto: win each race. To sustain this "winning” culture, HMS empowers its team managers to make rapid, de-centralized, data-driven decisions in alignment with this strategy.
As an expeditionary “force in readiness”, the US Marine Corps acts as first responders in the face of national crises. Like paramedics responding to the scene of an accident, Marine units deploy rapidly into a variety of volatile environments, often leading the way for other service responders: they go in, apply the tourniquet, suppress the bleeding, transition the patient to the hospital, and then ready themselves for the next call. Necessarily, the needs of the Marine war-fighter differ from those of other service branches, and this is reflected in both Marine training and culture. However, despite being the “smallest service with the greatest bang for its buck” within the DoD, the USMC struggles to align tomorrow’s joint capabilities to today’s war-fighting requirements. Even with the milestone short-cuts within the integrated Defense Acquisition System that allow for the rapid procurement of existing capabilities from industry, the delivery of capabilities to the deployed war-fighter significantly fail to meet USMC needs for both relevance and timeliness.
Much like Hendrick Motorsports, the US Marine Corps must sense and respond to rapidly shifting factors in variable environments. Unlike HMS, however, the USMC requires life-cycle management for a larger density of in-service ground equipment than does Hendrick. Additionally, the USMC lacks a direct communication channel connecting integrating end-user requirements into logistics and technical capabilities. To communicate lessons learned, operators and maintainers must submit ideas and requests either locally, up the formal chain-of-command, or at Headquarters for maturation through the Defense Acquisition System. Whereas Hendricks maintains a process of continuous innovation and life-cycle sustainment, the USMC system responds to end-user and strategic requires at a much slower pace — instead of sustainment through robust design, potential Marine Corps solutions require multiple years to mature, if they are approved at all. Furthermore, the lack of networked knowledge throughout the organization encourages a culture of domination, where communities are fragmented and where improvement efforts are isolated.
Like Hendrick Motorsports, the Marine Corps must rally around a single focus aligned to the organization’s strategy: be a force in readiness. Furthermore, the practices that apply to Hendrick Motorsports lend themselves as a corresponding model for USMC management of in-service ground equipment. To evolve its capacity to sense and respond, the Marine Corps enterprise must shed its industrial-model constraint to an efficiency-oriented organization and emerge as an Adaptive Enterprise, better able to respond to unanticipated change. To do this, the Corps must evolve innovation-supporting business processes that not only provide for robust and continuous innovation, but also protect against fragmentation, insularity and domination within the organization. The USMC requires an immediate, adaptive capability supporting robust design and continuous innovation aligned to each deployment cycle. Through a collateral business process of robust and continuous sustainment, the USMC will generate an internal ability to rapidly transform war-fighter requirements into immediate capabilities, while also supporting existing capabilities as end-user requirements shift over time. Further, by releasing solution prototypes in alignment with each next-deployment, the Marine Corps will generate tested knowledge to inform the joint acquisition of capabilities supporting all of the Defense service branches.
The Marine Corps requires an immediate, adaptive capability supporting robust and continuous innovation aligned to each deployment cycle. Using the analogy of the NASCAR race-cycle tied to the USMC deployment-cycle, the projects under the Rapid Sustainment and Development Initiative demonstrate that incorporating a networked, collaborative framework into the USMC organization supports capability life-cycle sustainment, data-driven decision-making and a sustainable capacity for rapid, continuous innovation. By releasing solution prototypes aligned to each next-deployment, the Marine Corps increases both its readiness and its adaptability. The actions of generating and quantifiably testing new knowledge refines requirements for rapid acquisition, which not only benefits all service branches, it lends significantly to sustained global war-fighting advantage.