Are wartime innovation principles relevant after the war?

Joint explosives organization faces an uncertain post-Afghanistan future, but its CIO hopes that the culture it created will survive and continue to serve the government.

The Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization faces an uncertain future as the war in Afghanistan winds down and funding begins to run out, but its CIO hopes the work it has done can continue to be applied across the government.

JIEDDO’s access to wartime funding has helped the agency make innovation an internal creed. It’s also helped forge unique relationships across government, industry and academia, as well as foster a faster acquisition process that fields critical tools more quickly.

But there’s still important work to be done, according to JIEDDO CIO James Craft, including continuing to improve acquisition and applying best practices to other government agencies.

“We all know Afghanistan is going to wind down for America…and it may well be that JIEDDO" may not continue as it is, he said. "Regardless, there have to be enduring capabilities, which means we need to fine-tune what we’re doing that’s working and have those capabilities survive.  So how do we take those abilities and make them work in other parts of the government?”

Craft made his remarks Aug. 28 at an AFCEA event in Vienna, Va.

Craft said JIEDDO has relied on – and benefited from – a solid relationship with industry. But as the enemy increasingly uses commercial technology as well, that relationship needs to improve, he said.

Adversaries are "using technology effectively, and it’s proliferating. We have to innovate faster than they innovate; we have to learn faster than they learn. These networks and their capabilities are from the private sector, so we have to partner with the private sector to fight this threat,” he said.

That means being tool-agnostic and company-agnostic, and harnessing innovation beyond just JIEDDO – and also beyond the private sector, he noted.

One example of that is new software that identifies the location of weapons caches using a mathematical model, based on the research theory of geospatial abduction. According to the Defense Department, the software can predict with significant accuracy where an IED depot is based on previous attack locations and other intelligence.

SCARE, or Spatio-Cultural Abductive Reasoning Engine, was created by a team at West Point and could soon be headed into the theater. The interdisciplinary effort was created by a team that included West Point cadets and faculty and staff from numerous different areas at the academy. The collaboration illustrates how key partnerships can help solve critical problems.

“We’re dealing with global networks…we have to fight these networks with a network of people who don’t want to stand for this business,” Craft said. “This requires a new way of doing business, and we need help.”

A major part of that involves changing the way DOD buys weapons, tools and services. While JIEDDO has been able to take advantage of some rapid-acquisition efforts available for combat purposes, it’s not enough – both the government and industry have to make changes, Craft said.

“The current way we innovate doesn’t work in DOD. If I can’t get a current phone before it’s obsolete, how the heck am I going to get big data analytics?” he said. “We’re going to constantly refine [our tools] with measures of effectiveness. We need a business case analysis, and we need to know the mission impact. I want the number of days it takes to get a bomb-maker to drop. I want the casualties to drop; I want the detection rates to go up.”

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