Army Science Conference 2008
Official Remarks - General Peter W. Chiarelli
2 December 2008
Orlando, FL

I want to thank the Army Science Conference for inviting me to say a few remarks to you all. I'll make sure we leave some time for some questions at the end. No doubt, my comments will pale in comparison to those who have already spoken.

From what I understand this year's conference theme is centered on the 'Harnessing of Disruptive Science and Technology for the Soldier'. In this year's conference, you are exploring the leading edge of technologies such as Autonomous Systems, Bio and Nano Technology, Networks, Quantum Information Science.

If that's what you're talking about, maybe I should be sitting in the audience listening to you, rather than you listening to me. Probably learn a helluva lot more.

So instead of using the scientific method of Observing... maybe doing an Experiment or two, and then giving you a Hypothesis to test out 'How'-too of harnessing 'disruptive innovations'...

I'll take the old soldier approach and tell a story instead.

But before I start, I just gotta do one thing. Let me thank you for all you are doing for our Soldiers who are serving in harm's way - and for all you are doing for those who have been wounded. You make miracles happen. It is your dedication, your willingness to serve in a special way - many times at a fraction of what your peers make in private labs that have no connection to the Military effort - that I find simply inspiring.

I am a words guy - you are all mostly numbers and hard science people that quite frankly I find intimidating but so essential to fighting this war. It is you that will always ensure the American Soldier has the edge. It is you, your work, and your imagination that I find awe inspiring. And I thank you. So please, join me in a round of applause.

Now to the task at hand.

As I understand the theory, 'disruptive innovations' almost always appear initially as lesser performing products. They don't quite yet live up to expectations. But the potential, if cultivated, could be 'game-changing' in nature.

Yet, it was Clayton Christensen, the Harvard Business School Professor who surmised in his book the Innovator's Dilemma the possibility that powerful forces of organizational inertia and bureaucracy, resident in large companies, like the Army, can squash the 'disruptive innovation' before it is ever given a chance to become a reality.

That reminds me of two young Major's up the road from D.C. who experienced first-hand the powerful forces of organizational resistance to an emerging, potentially 'disruptive' innovation that could of radically 'changed the game' if the institutional antibodies hadn't kicked in.

These two Majors had commanded together. Lived next door to each other. Their families spent time together. They became great friends. The first Major was flamboyant, confident, outspoken. The second Major normally calm and reserved, but hidden below the exterior was a fierce sense of resolve.

The units they commanded together were considered backwater endeavors to the rest of the Army. The first time they were employed during the Global War the technology they were using was considered 'marginal' at best. The return on investment was considered nothing short of abysmal. Even the senior leadership of the Army during that year's Defense Authorization Act deliberations decided the investment in the technology was not worth the price.

The two Majors had different ideas though. They tinkered with the technology. Literally and figuratively taking it apart and putting it back together again. Together they debated late into the evenings around the dinner table about the potential value of the technology to the future fight. Each decided it was their duty to contribute to the intellectual debate -- they decided to publish.

The flamboyant, confident Major published the first salvo in the branch journal by simply stating in powerful prose: "It is distinctly a new instrument [to be] added to the full chorus of the military band."

The second, more reserved Major published a more conservative article in the same branch journal about 5 months later. He wrote: "many officers are prone to denounce [the technology] as a freak development...they simply ignore it in their calculations and mental pictures of future battles. [It is], in point of development, in its infancy, and the great strides already made in its improvement only point to greater [improvements] still to come."

The two Majors had created a buzz - they saw beyond the 'Now' into the realm of the 'Possible' and saw something amazing. The debate had now been flamed.

To comment here, this is what I would deem a 'disruptive innovation' - one that had not yet proven itself, yet in its initial development the potential impact it could have on warfare could be only described in terms of revolutionary... game changing.

The chief of the Branch was a fellow named Major General Charles Farnsworth. A true warfighter who had earned the Silver Star and the Distinguished Service Medal. As you probably know, Branch Chiefs hold a lot of weight in the Army. Major General Farnsworth read through the Branch Journal and was intrigued by the articles written by the two Majors. So much so that he called the second Major into his Washington D.C. office for a 'quick' chat.

Well, the chat was more like a one-way conversation. As the Major recalled: "I was told that my ideas were not only wrong but dangerous and that henceforth I would keep them to myself. Particularly, I was not to publish anything incompatible with solid... doctrine. If I did, I would be hauled before a court-martial."

Court-martial! You can imagine the effect such a statement could have on young impressionable minds. It's almost like having your rights read to you.

Which brings us to what Clayton Christiansen surmised as the basic truth of the Innovator's Dilemma: Incredible organizational forces can and will, in the interest defending the establishment, seek to crush potential 'disruptive innovations' that have not created value well before they ever get a chance.

The two Majors took their cue from Major General Farnsworth and toed the line. They swallowed the recommendation and put to rest for the time their seemingly breakthrough ideas.

We'd call that 'scared straight'. And the impact of being 'scared straight' by the well meaning establishment literally delayed the advancement of the technology for a generation.

These two Majors who lived next door to one another were stationed at Fort Meade. The year was 1920. The Global War was World War I. The seemingly 'disruptive innovation' was the Tank in its infancy. The two Majors who were dressed down by the Chief of the Infantry Branch were, believe it or not, George Patton and Dwight D. Eisenhower.

As a result, it would be almost a decade later before someone seriously considered the revolutionary nature of the Tank again. It wasn't until General Chaffee took up the mantle in 1927 by predicting that mechanized armies would dominate the next war.

It is General Chaffee today who is conventionally known as the 'father of the Tank Corps'. We all know what happened in World War II. We know what happened next. What if... just what if the ideas that Patton and Eisenhower had envisioned in 1920 were given a leg to stand on. The United States would have had an additional 7 years development before the outbreak of World War II.

The idea of 'disruptive Innovations' - game changing ideas - and their potential is not new. It is whether we are willing and able to cultivate, harness, test, and explore the potential impacts of technology before it has reached a developmental maturity to actually make a difference.

It's sort of ironic, during this week, the first week of December in 1913, the Ford Motor Company introduced the first vehicle assembly line. How disruptive was that. You ask any good Cavalryman in 1913, there was nothing that would outdo a good horse.

Even after World War I, there were concepts that envisioned trucks carrying horses to the front. Seems we just couldn't let go of the value of the horse as a weapon of war - just the same we we couldn't see the potential of a mechanized force.

Defending what we know, not what is possible.

The visions of two Majors in 1920 could very well be the visions of some of you in the audience today. There are countless technologies and ideas emerging that are in a forming stage... that could quite possibly be on the low end of the value curve but with time and development could fundamentally change the way we do business.

The trick from my perspective is how we keep ourselves from pulling a 21st century version of a Chief of Infantry move' How do we keep ourselves from unknowingly relegating the 'Tank'-like idea of 2008 or 2009 as not only 'wrong, but dangerous' as Dwight Eisenhower recalled from his conversation with the Chief of Infantry years later.

We need perspective to not only find and cultivate the 'Tank' of the 21st Century, but to keep our own corporate antibodies in check so we don't squash an idea unknowingly before it has a chance to prove itself.

We need to put it in the hands of our Soldiers and watch the creativity and imagination of the Patton's and Eisenhower's take over.

Some of the ideas coming out of the demands of the war today are as disruptive - as Christensen defines it - as the Tank was during World War I.

As I think about it, one area I believe could be potentially 'game changing' is how the enabling capabilities of information technologies today should be forcing us to look at how organizations literally function. It is demanding we relook the first principles of 'command and control'. Collaboration, as a rule can empower the ideas, the knowledge and the decision of groups and organizations like never before. It can redefine how we can create tactical, operational, and strategic advantage. And taps into the fundamental truth that the 'Strategic Corporal' is a reality. And what we do to empower that Corporal will do more to create a comparative advantage today than anything I know.

TIGR, the Tactical Ground Reporting system is a small example of the flattening quality of collaboration through leveraging the network. It is a virtual notebook, with significant events, pictures, video, census data, infrastructure, personal observations. Connected and geospatial in nature where fellow patrol leaders can tap into the virtual notebooks of their peers to draw their own conclusions, building context, building awareness. It empowers our front line leaders like never before. It taps into the creative capabilities of the American soldier. It arms the Strategic Corporal with what he needs, how he needs it, when he needs it.

Systems like TIGR are allowing us to move beyond the mantra that 'every soldier is a scout'. Now every soldier is an intelligence asset uniquely empowered by the connective tissue of the network to conduct their own Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield.

Yet, as Stephen Ambrose stated of the Army's position towards Patton and Eisenhower in 1920, you could apply it to the Army's position towards TIGR in 2007: QUOTE: 'The Army was not pleased'.

TIGR has grown out of the experiences of soldiers in OIF II and was but an idea. A few enterprising soldiers took what they saw with systems like CPOF and asked DARPA for some help. It became so powerful to the soldiers on the street of Iraq that it spread like a virus. Three years after it was conceived, in spite of the defense mechanisms of our own POM process and well intentioned staff officers who thought they knew what the Soldiers really needed ... 15 BCT's are using it in Iraq... it's being fielded in Afghanistan today.

It has literally trumped the conventional way we do business. Turned 'Command and Control' on its head. The Army could not see the potential game changing nature of the system because we were too busy defending the already existing programs in place.

As we all know, we are very comfortable defending the Horse.

I see the same potential today in some of the great work out there in 'self-correcting autonomous networks'. Where we are literally 'changing the game' again by leveraging the research and development cycle of the commercial communications sector to create a cheaper, disposable off the shelf self-adapting networks that can connect an entire Army.

Yet as amazed as I am at the potential these technologies bring to the table, I am equally amazed at how quick we are as an institution to shut down an idea in the interest of bureaucratic positioning. Or defending the process rather than defending the idea.

We see this in the systems oriented planning, programming, budgeting, and execution cycle - or POM cycle for many of you here - that has become so ingrained in our institutional DNA, that we can't see that innovative demands from the field are outstripping the antiquated acquisition process we have in place.

The ideas being presented as part of the conference today could potentially be the Tanks of the 21st Century.

Aca,!Ac Incredible advances in regenerative medicine - regrowing tissues and organs. Literally using what you are learning to save Soldiers in the fight. Bio-inspired and manipulated sensors and materials.

Aca,!Ac Healing the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder through Immersive Technologies. Engrossing our Soldiers in virtual scenario environments that involve all the senses... exposing our Soldiers before they are ever really there to the complex dilemmas they may encounter on the modern battlefields. Healing them when the effects of PTSD become overwhelming.

Aca,!Ac Pushing the boundaries of network and neuro-science to redefine the operating environment that we will never really truly understand for years to come. Once the rudimentary forms of self-healing networks and mind communication evolve - I suspect we will see our approach to the very nature of operations change.

These are potentially 'disruptive innovations' that if we even put one ounce of creativity against we may see the unbelievable potential they bring towards the way we do business. They may change the game.

The fundamental balance to me as the Vice is not only serving our core business, but finding and harnessing new ideas that prevent blindspots from developing like they did in 1920. With the incredible rate of change that is impacting us all; the wars we are fighting today and we may fight tomorrow - there is no time to drag our feet defending the Horse Cavalry.

Our Soldiers, their Families, and the American people demand it.

Thank you again for allowing me to be a part of today's events. As I said at the beginning of these remarks, you are making an incredible difference. You are an inspiration. I look forward to seeing the displays today. And with that, I'll open up the floor to questions.

Army Strong.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16