WASHINGTON -- A crowdsourcing effort that launched in November to inspire creative thinking inside and outside the Defense Department on key operational challenges has produced two primary submissions and several others that will be presented for consideration directly to top officials in the department.

The Operational Challenges Crowdsourcing Initiative was developed by Mara E. Karlin, deputy assistant secretary of defense for strategy and force development, and chaired by Karlin, Steve Welby, assistant secretary of defense for research and engineering, and Army Brig. Gen. Randy George, deputy director for regional operations and force management on the Joint Staff.

"We knew that there was a lot of creativity and experience out there amongst operators, academics, technologists, researchers and others that wasn't being drawn upon because there's not really a mechanism for [getting] their ideas directly to senior leaders inside the Pentagon," Karlin said.

The project was intended to provide that access, she added, to take the best ideas, wherever they came from, and connect the ideas to leaders who are in a position to effect change.

"We launched the initiative to try to inspire creative thinking inside and outside the department on some key operational challenges that face the U.S. military, and to try to contribute to the department's ongoing third-offset efforts," she explained.


Karlin said the initiative got nearly 100 submissions across five operational challenges for which the department is seeking innovative approaches.

"We pulled these together based on our thinking about the challenges the U.S. military will face as we look to future conflicts -- the things that worry us -- and we posed five questions," she said.

The questions were as follows:

1. How can the U.S. military more effectively and efficiently project power in the face of massed or mobile precision attacks -- for example, cruise and ballistic missile salvos and swarming?

2. Given current U.S. global military posture and potential changes in the character of war, how must future U.S. operational battle networks change to accomplish counter-power projection operations in contested theaters against large state adversaries?

3. How must joint force operational and organizational constructs change to allow combat operations involving multi-domain battle against adversaries with battle network/guided munitions parity?

4. How must joint force operational and organizational constructs change as adversaries exploit crowdsourced information and commercially available intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance technologies such as drones and commercial space systems?

5. How can the U.S. military ensure that the speed of its decision-making continues to keep pace with the accelerating speed of action on the battlefield due to automation, artificial intelligence, hypersonics, cyber weapons and other factors?


Submissions came from across the department and from industry, think tanks and academia, Karlin said, and the three chairs chose two top papers and several others that provided useful solutions.

The two top proposers met with senior departmental leaders Tuesday, and, she added, "we've told [Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work] about their work and have given their proposals to him."

Work was a big supporter of the initiative, the idea behind it and making it happen, Karlin added.

One proposal was developed by two researchers at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment. Timothy A. Walton and Ryan Boone proposed specific changes in posture and investment priorities that could improve the U.S. military's ability to conduct sustained operations in the Asia Pacific.

"This fell into that first operational challenge," Karlin said, adding, "At the strategic level we say the U.S. military must be able to project power and win decisively, must be able to go anywhere, be anywhere at any time, and their proposal very much focused on that as they were thinking about logistics throughout the Asia-Pacific [region]."


The second proposal, by Army Maj. Christopher M. Baldwin and Army Capt. Nicholas W. Cimler, was for an innovative operational concept for amphibious assault.

"What was neat about theirs is that they were thinking about how you modernize amphibious assault, how you project combat power over the shore, and they were thinking about autonomy and how we can use it smartly, … particularly as we think through denied or degraded environments," Karlin said.

"Using autonomy for logistics makes a lot of sense and … what's particularly interesting about that is it doesn't just have an operational impact, it can influence how you think strategically about a challenge," she added.

This proposal straddled the first and second operational challenges, projecting power and thinking about future operational battle networks because logistics is such a key node in battle networks, Karlin said.

"What I like about their idea is that it forces you to rethink what your battle network looks like and how you can make it succeed," she said, "not just in a cost effective way but in a way that could influence [minimizing] the loss of human life."


Proposers of the two papers were invited to the Pentagon this week and attended a meeting with senior leaders. Their ideas have been passed along to the officials throughout the department who work on issues addressed in their papers.

The officials will include combatant commanders and engineers from the DOD Strategic Capabilities Office, Karlin said.

"We're connecting a good percentage of authors of other top papers with senior leaders in the department," she added, noting that a paper on space issues, for example, was connected with Defense Secretary Ash Carter's top space policy adviser.

Some of the top project participants also will be offered access to department workshops and training seminars, Karlin said, "and we're going to stay in touch with them and work to develop the authors and their ideas."

She added, "This has been a really successful project. It's very much exceeded our expectations and we've been able to reach folks and hear thoughts that we hadn't before. What we'll need to do is think about how else we can continue to take the best ideas, wherever they come from, and move those forward through the department."