Athena Monterey 1.0 Roundup

By LCDR Kristen Wheeler

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Monterey, California -truly a mecca for Naval Innovation – held its first Athena Project Pitch Event back in August at the London Bridge Pub. In a room with a view overlooking historic Monterey bay, six presenters from both Naval Postgraduate School and Defense Language Institute took the stage and brought their big ideas out into the light of day. Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, and academics from a myriad of backgrounds filled the room not only with their presence, but also their enthusiasm and curiosity.

CDR Andy Newsome, who brilliantly brought two massive commands together and then organized Athena Monterey 1.0, emceed the event. Volunteers from the audience pulled names out of the cup for the order of the presenters… and then were subsequently awarded an Athena Monterey 1.0 custom-designed coin which was 3D-printed at NPS’s Maker Space, Robo Dojo. The presenters then each had 5 minutes to present their idea and then another 5 minutes to answer audience questions.

The evening proved to be electric as compelling insights unfolded one right after another both from the presenters and those who came to support. Here is a quick encapsulation of the concepts presented.

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LT Todd Coursey (NPS) – Maker Box

Navy LT Todd Coursey, a heavyweight in the Navy’s additive manufacturing and Maker Space movement , started the evening off by capturing our attention by bringing in a box about twice the size of a large shoe box. His concept aimed at enabling senior officer and enlisted leadership exposure to advanced digital manufacturing and coding capabilities.   Todd said that this generation is growing up in an environment where digital capabilities have become democratized to the point where seven year olds in third world nations can be taught to create micro-controllers.  Curiosity piqued, he explained to the wide-eyed audience that this box is actually a portable additive manufacturing tool that has the potential to disrupt coding and digital manufacturing education easily and widely, opening up military and civilians to endless possibilities when coupled with a cohesive, creative, and cost-effective curriculum. By giving leaders a three to five day dose of the realm of the possible when it comes to current technology and how easy it is to employ.

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Maj. Nick AionaAka (NPS) – Leadership Reimagined

Nick AionaAka delivered Athena’s first Marine Corps pitch, bringing to the crowd a very relevant and timely idea that will flip collaboration and leadership shortfalls head over heels and into the future with wings. A big believer in organization culture as the root of all innovative commands, Nick offers that giving units or unrelated groups of DoD personnel take a tactical pause and step out of the forest so they can see the trees, could prove just the ticket to help us experience and discuss key pillars such as trust, communication, collaboration, connectedness, and other cultural nuances that are necessary for next generation ingenuity to thrive. But Nick also states that stepping out of the forest proverbially can happen by stepping in an actual forest. Getting back into nature and around a campfire are the best ways to remind ourselves that authentically connecting and learning from one another has a great deal of meaning when we are doing in our most simplest environments.

Peter Ateshian (NPS) – Femto Satellite Communications

NPS Professor Peter Ateshian left the audience in awe when he explained how Femto-Satellites could rewrite the books on how we communicate. With his son by his side, Peter brought a prototype of an actual size satellite… which was ridiculously small by the way… and passed it around the audience so we could truly understand just how disruptive and enhancing this technology could be. Not only can these miniature satellite carry a signal which provide timing and position, they work in our atmosphere, in space… and can float in the ocean. Lasting 6-8 weeks, the mini-sats cost a meager $30 a pop and the capabilities that can be provided are absolutely endless.

Cpt Sarah Martin (DLI) – Aptitude Targeting

Over from Defense Language School, Army CPT Sarah Martin followed up next and presented a solution set that could increase effective recruiting of amazing foreign language instructors – The “Unicorns.” Finding exceptional language instructors at DLI is no easy task… hunting needles in haystacks, especially for obscure languages. Sarah believes we can not only find a wider selection of instructor candidates to teach our Sailors, Soldiers, Airman and Marines, but they can be found with lesser manpower… simply by harnessing the power of social media. Using sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter… even Snapchat and Instagram can be used to reach specific audiences… namely language instructors in this case. By capitalizing on public demographic information that users provide to social media sites, DLI can include this into their marketing and recruiting strategies. Targeting ads through Facebook, for example, can cost very little… as much as $0.24 a click… sometimes event less. And without being invasive, it allows people who possess the skillsets needed to teach a language to find out about employment opportunities at DLI they might not have otherwise known about. Sarah’s idea wowed the audience as she was peppered with questions and idea riffs following her presentation.

CPO John-Mark Allen (DLI) – Realizing the Paperless Navy

Chief John-Mark Allen stirred the crowd by asking anew the question every person in the Department of Defense has pondered at some point… What ever happened to the notion of a paperless Navy? His question was has been asked for over 18 years now since it was first proposed in 1998. And though there are some places where we have gone paperless, for example using NSIPS to route leave documents, we still have no shortage of blue and red folders plaguing commands. Breaking the old paradigm requires a culture shift, and Chief Allen proposes posing an internal “tax” on paper and toner. By increasing the price of paper and toner, commands will be pushed to adopt to myriad of other solutions for electronically routing documents.

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LT Jesse Iwuji (NPS)– NASCAR Recruiting
**Admiral Sims Award for Intellectual Courage**

Our last presenter, LT Jesse Iwuji, immediately captured the audiences undivided attention by taking the stage in his NASCAR racing gear. As it turns out, we have within our Navy ranks a bonafide NASCAR driver… and one of two African American drivers in the circuits. When he’s not the Director of Student Services at NPS, Jesse hits the track. Jesse proposed using his influence within the NASCAR racing fan base to promote and recruit for the Navy. Because he is the only active duty driver and a minority on the circuit, Jesse attracts the camera nearly every single race. He garners an average of $1.5 million dollars worth of airtime, which is actively promotes the Navy because he’s a proud Surface Warfare Officer. However, there is more potential. The Navy could easily capture an even bigger ROI by being the only service in history to sponsor a car driven not only by their own service member, but an active duty one at that. It’s a no brainer… which is why Jesse won the Admiral Sims Award for Intellectual Courage.

Plans for Athena Monterey 2.0 and updates on our presenters coming soon… so stay tuned!

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Innovation Jam Roundup

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By Dave Nobles

Wednesday’s Innovation Jam onboard USS ESSEX (LHD 2) was an important and monumental moment for Naval Innovation.

The event was sponsored by a number of organizations, including Commander Pacific Fleet, SPAWAR Systems Center Pacific (SSC Pacific), the Office of Naval Research (ONR), and the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. The support of such senior leadership for Deckplate Innovation made the event a resounding success, demonstrated in spades through awarding not one but two Sailors $100,000 to fund their concepts through prototyping and transition.

That’s the important part. Ideas born out of frustration, perseverance, and a quest to make the Navy better have been funded. However, the significance of the Innovation Jam is beyond the funding.

During the Innovation Jam, the assembled crowd of Sailors and government civilians listened to senior uniformed leadership within the Navy, like the Commander of the Pacific Fleet, Admiral Scott Swift; The Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Readiness and Logistics, Vice Admiral Phil Cullom and the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Mike Stevens. The three military speakers kicked off the event with a volley of support for The Athena Project, Tactical Advancements for the Next Generation (TANG), The Hatch, The Bridge, and other efforts to bring about positive change.  Each message resonated with the entrepreneurial and intraprenurial philosophies.

The voices of those senior leaders, combined with civilian thought leaders such as Dr. Nathan Myhrvold, the first Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of Microsoft and founder of Intellectual Ventures and Dr. Maura Sullivan, the Department of the Navy’s Chief of Strategy and Innovation, all echoed the a consistent theme:

Innovation is about taking risks.

The sponsorship, collaborative support and allocation of resources serves as a beacon of thoughtful risk taking by senior leadership in the Navy. And, funding two Sailor concepts serves as inspiration to empower all Sailors at all levels to share their own ideas and as a clear signal from the Navy’s top brass that they’re not only listening but that they’re also ready to act.

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Sailors and engineers work together to reframe their concepts during athenaTHINK at SSC Pacific

Over two days in San Diego, six Sailors who presented ideas through innovation initiatives such as The Athena Project, TANG, and The Hatch, were given the opportunity to interface with scientists and engineers at SSC Pacific and ONR to reframe and refine their concepts at an athenaTHINK event before presenting their ideas at the Innovation Jam to a panel of experts, who would decide a winner.

On the panel Dr. Myhrvold and Dr. Sullivan were joined by Dr. Stephen Russell of SSC Pacific, Mr. Scott DiLisio of OPNAV N4, Dr. Robert Smith of ONR, Mr. Arman Hovakemian of Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) Corona Division, ETCM Gary Burghart of SSC Pacific and the Commanding Officer of the host ship, USS ESSEX, CAPT Brian Quin.

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The panelists evaluating the pitches onboard USS ESSEX (LHD 2)

The panel heard the six pitches and, after deliberation, Dr. Russell announced the results:

First Place: LTJG Rob McClenning, USS GRIDLEY (DDG 101)

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LTJG McClenning and Dr. Russell

LTJG McClenning presented his concept which he originally pitched at Athena West 3.0 called the Unified Gunnery System (UGS). The system would provide ballistic helmets equipped with augmented reality visors to the Sailors manning machine guns topside on a warship, and command and control via tablet in the pilot house. Commands given on the touch screen would provide indications to the gunners displaying orders, bearing lines and more. The system would be wired to prevent cyber attacks. The augmented reality capability of the system would mitigate potential catastrophic results of misheard orders due to the loud fire of the guns, and improve accuracy and situational awareness. LTJG McClenning received $500 for his concept, and $100K to develop the idea in collaboration with SSC Pacific.

Second Place: LT Bill Hughes, OPNAV N96

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LT Hughes and Dr. Russell

LT Hughes flew in from Washington, DC to pitch his concept, also from Athena West 3.0. The idea, CosmoGator, aims to automate celestial navigation through installed, gyro-stabilized camera mounts and small-scale atomic clocks to provide redundant Position, Navigation and Timing data to shipboard navigation and weapons systems. LT Hughes’ concept would continually update inertial navigation systems to enable continued operations in the event of GPS denial. Previously, this concept had been explored by the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell. LT Hughes received $300 and in a surprise move, OPNAV N4 funded his idea with $100K as well.

Third Place: GMC Kyle Zimmerman, Afloat Training Group Middle Pacific

GMC Zimmerman’s concept, originally presented at Athena West 4.0, intends to bring virtual reality to the Combat Information Center. Through the use of commercially available headsets, GMC Zimmerman proposed streaming a live optical feed of a ship’s operating environment to watchstanders to increase situational awareness and provide increased capability in responding to casualties such as Search and Rescue. GMZ Zimmerman received $200 for his idea.

Honorable Mention: LCDR Bobby Hsu, Commander, Task Force 34

LCDR Hsu pitched an idea from Theater Anti-Submarine Warfare (TASW) TANG for a consolidated information database for the litany of data required to effectively manage the TASW mission. The concept, Automated Response for Theater Information or ARTI, would leverage voice recognition software like the kind found in the Amazon Echo or Apple’s Siri, to enable watchstanders and commanders alike rapid access to critical information.

Honorable Mention: LT Clay Greunke, SSC Pacific

LT Greunke presented a concept that he began developing during his time at the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) and pitched at Athena West 9.0. His concept leverages virtual reality to more effectively train Landing Signals Officers (LSO) by recreating the simulator experience of an entire building in a laptop and Oculus headset. LT Greunke demonstrated his prototype for the panelists and described a vision for the LSO VR Trainer, called ‘SEA FOG,’ as the first piece of an architecture of virtual reality tools to improve training in a number of communities and services.

Honorable Mention: OSC Erik Rick, Naval Beach Group ONE

OSC Rick first presented his idea for a combined site to host all required computer based training on The Hatch, though he acknowledged that the concept had been a highly visible entry on The Hatch, as well as in previous crowd-sourcing initiatives such as Reducing Administrative Distractions (RAD), BrightWork and MilSuite. His concept is to make universal access tags for civilians, reserve and active duty personnel to enable easy tracking of completed training as well as required training. In his proposal, the host site would combine the requirements of the numerous sites currently hosting training requirements and deliver an App Store-like interface to simplify the experience for users.

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All of our presenters and panelists. America.

Not enough can be said for the courage that all of the presenters demonstrated to take the stage in an nerve-wracking setting and present their ideas. In another good news story, the panelists and the assembled crowd provided feedback to all the presenters, which will assist in the further development of all six concepts.

With the success of the Innovation Jam in the rear view mirror, the process now begins to build on the ideas that received funding. We’ll continue to provide updates of the future successes of the two funded concepts right here on the blog.

This milestone for Naval Innovation is nothing short of monumental. Many can relate to a near exhaustion with the rhetoric surrounding innovation: Agility, fast failure, big ideas, consolidating disparate efforts, getting technology to the warfighters, and certainly partnering partnerships with non-traditional players.  When actions are weighed against rhetoric, it is action that wins, taking the initiative, assuming the initiative to act and moving the needle.  And Wednesday, we saw that happen.

This inaugural Innovation Jam will not be a one-time thing. As stated by VADM Cullom in his Keynote Address the event will be coming to every fleet concentration area in the future. Here at The Athena Project, we’ll continue to push initiatives like the Innovation Jam to inspire the creative confidence to present ideas and aid in any way possible to turn concepts into reality.

And, for those wondering how they might get involved in an events like this, support your local Athena chapter, submit your ideas to The Hatch and participate in workshops like TANG! Participation in these, and any innovation initiative will make you eligible for your regional Innovation Jam!

The future looks bright indeed not only for innovation but for action.

And we’re damn proud to be a part of that.

 

Dave Nobles is a member of the Design Thinking Corps at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory and the founder of The Athena Project. He is also a Navy Reservist with the Office of Naval Research.

 

Waterfront Athena 8 Roundup

By LCDR Mark Blaszczyk and LTJG Tom Baker

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Last week, we hosted our eighth Waterfront Athena Event at Societe Brewing Company Tasting Room in San Diego’s Mira Mesa. We had our best turnout yet for another incredible presentation of talent from ten of our fleet Sailors and military civilians. Nearly 100 innovators from Southern California and beyond packed the small brewery on Friday, August 28th, ready to hear some powerful ideas, directly from the deckplates.

It was great to see a diverse community of thinkers from the fleet, with four separate communities within the Navy represented, not to mention our friends from the Marine Corps that drove in from Miramar. We were thrilled to see not only our old friends, including the team from SPAWAR Systems Center Pacific, but to have new Athenians join our growing network. Representatives from Naval Sea Systems Command’s NSWC Corona division, Naval Air Systems Command and the City of San Diego Mayor’s Office were in attendance, along with many entrepreneurs, designers and technical experts from the San Diego region. It’s always incredibly humbling to stand shoulder to shoulder with so many enthusiastic Athenians and this event was no exception.

To start things off we had a previous presenter, STG1 Butcher, talk about the development of his “Air Squeegee” idea that he presented at Waterfront Athena Seven. His concept, as well as fellow Athena Seven presenter BMSR Dorsey’s Rustbuster, were showcased by a team of SPAWAR engineers showing the 3D rendering of the ideas. It was powerful to see the progress these Sailors have been able to achieve in such a short period of time.

STG1 Butcher kicks off our event by showcasing the development with his Air Squeegee concept

STG1 Butcher kicks off our event by showcasing the development with his Air Squeegee concept

This wasn’t the first time we’ve seen previous presenters giving updates at the onset of our event, but it was the first time we’ve had a prize for our Admiral Sims Award Winner! Our friends at San Diego’s MakerPlace were generous to donate a month-long membership and a free instructional class at their facility to the winner. At The Athena Project, we firmly believe that personal development education is a powerful prize to offer at these events and we’re looking forward to partnering up with more organizations in our various regions in the future to deliver excellent experiential prizes to our presenters!

LTJG Tom Baker presents the future for BMSR Dorsey's Rustbuster.

LTJG Tom Baker presents the future for BMSR Dorsey’s Rustbuster.

And, without further delay, let’s hear about those presenters from Athena Eight:

*** The Waterfront Athena Eight Admiral Sims Award for Intellectual Courage***

 “FUSED and OTTER” – LCDR Korban Blackburn & Brandon Naylor, Naval Postgraduate School 

Coming down from Monterey, CA to present their idea, this team presented a concept  to not just save the fleet fuel but to help the Navy better understand its fuel consumption. The Fuel Usage Study Extended Demonstration (FUSED) is an Excel/VBA program to model the fuel consumption of the surface fleet and analyze the effects of different policy changes such as single generator operations on CGs and DDGs or allowing different amounts of time to complete transits. It is currently being used in two NPS research projects relating to transit speed recommendations to carrier strike groups and removing the four hour PIM window constraint, but is capable of much more and needs a way to gain traction among key decision makers. One of the best parts of his idea is it is ready for fleet use, so look for it at command near you in the near future.

The second concept by the NPS team was OTTER (Optimized Transit Tool Easy Reference) – the transit planning tool designed to help ships use their fuel more efficiently in order to allow more time on station. OTTER has two distinct tools for planning transits: The first provides a simple overview of how long to spend at what speeds for a given transit, while the second is a short-term planning tool that accounts for different starting positions of ships in the group and scheduled drills and produces a schedule of when each ship should travel at the suggested speeds in order to keep the group (more or less) together and within the PIM window. Both tools show approximately how much fuel is saved by following the suggested schedule

For the first time, we had our winners come from further than San Diego, which made their ability to exercise the donation from MakerPlace difficult. Graciously, the pair transferred their prize to the second place finisher, IT1 Anthony Freshour from USS MAKIN ISLAND. A class act by the team from Monterey!

“MWR Network At Sea” – IT1 Anthony Freshour, USS MAKIN ISLAND

IT1 Freshour, frustrated by slowed bandwidth and “internet hours” onboard ships at sea, proposed a fresh way to circumvent the current systems to provide Sailors with a better service. His idea is an MWR network for Sailors separate from the ship’s network to alleviate normal work traffic and allow Sailors better quality of life. This network be installed ahead of shipboard networks onboard a ship, and would allow Sailors to access social media websites and other public websites. In addition, Sailors could use this to pursue advanced educational opportunities via online courses. By segregating this traffic, the normal NIPRnet traffic could be used for official business and/or dedicate more bandwidth towards other networks.

IT1 had some command support backing up his idea, with USS MAKIN ISLAND’s Commanding Officer, CAPT Jon Rodgers, and CSIO, LCDR Bobby Griffith, helping out during the Question and Answer session. With such a supportive command, we look forward to seeing a lot of movement from IT1 as he works toward his idea!

“RHIB Welldeck on LCS 1 variants” – ET1 Jason Luke, LCS Crew 101

Watching RHIBs being loaded on LCS 1 variants and thinking about a better way, ET1 Luke thought maybe there could be a solution resting dormant in some of the Navy’s current operations.

ET1 Luke proposed that instead of a ramp area at the stern of the Freedom Class Littoral Combat Ships, a well deck would relieve some of the flooding concerns. In addition, this redesign would expedite onloads and offloads of critical components and provide relief for all LCS variants’ manning concerns. Man hours would be reduced and safety increased, which would lighten the load for such a small crew. There would be some challenge in the implementation of this idea as it would require significant modifications to the current hulls and redesign of future hulls. Despite the challenge, ET1 Luke is optimistic that this is a viable option for LCS platforms.

“Voice Translator” – DC2 Horace Campbell, USS BENFOLD

Have you ever been in a foreign country and wished that the vendor you were speaking to had subtitles that you could read, to communicate more easily? When this idea struck DC2 Campbell, he was compelled to provide a military application. His immediate concept customers were our Special Forces and VBSS teams. This technology could help them to instantly translate foreign language conversations, delivering precious moments of advanced warning.

Imagine a hearing device in your ear that has a microchip built within. This connects wirelessly to a transceiver box the size of a canteen pouch carried on the user which transmits language data to the hearing device. This box is what receives spoken language from an outside entity, translates into the desired language, and transmits the translation to the user’s earpiece.

DC2 Campbell described how implementation of this device would not only reduce safety risks, but act as a stepping stone for building foreign relations. He even delivered the audience a imagine of the near future within the reach of national consumers where we can incorporate this technology with mobile phones!

“Military Ride” – MN1 Antawan Hinton, COMLCSRON ONE

Thinking of his junior sailors, MN1 Hinton presented an idea reminiscent of other ride sharing such as Uber and Lyft. Looking at all the travel he does between bases in the completion of his duties, MN1 Hinton envisioned a ride sharing service similar to Uber in which service members or their family can share rides between facilities like Naval Medical Center San Diego at Balboa and 32nd Street Naval Base. This would help to alleviate parking issues at many of these facilities and reduce fuel consumption while at the same time helpful to those sailors and families without vehicles. Making this as a phone application would also help sailors after a night out on the town find a ride back to base, helping to reduce DUI violations among service members.

“Efficiency of use of Fleet Anti-Submarine Warfare Training Center” – EODC Dave Bernhardt, EOD Training & Evaluation Unit ONE

In a thought provoking presentation, EODC Bernhardt proposed an idea to close/lease Fleet Anti-Submarine Warfare Training Center similar to Liberty Station in San Diego. With a specific focus on his unit, he discussed the lack of a single tenant command on base and how the units assigned can complete their missions more effectively (and at lower cost) elsewhere. Using charts and stickies, EODC talked through the time and cost inefficiencies imposed on his unit to complete his mission. For nearly all of his training they require travel from 1-2 hours to as long as 20+ hours north to complete training. Numerous contractors are required in excess of millions of dollars for training that can be completed at other locals using military assets. His proposal also discussed the money the Navy could potential gain by leasing the land to the city of San Diego, as it is prime downtown waterfront real estate and would surely be attractive to a number of developers.

EODC Bernhardt uses some old school maps to describe his new school concept.

EODC Bernhardt uses some old school maps to describe his new school concept.

For the burdensome logistical issues involved with many of his unit’s training missions, EODC Bernhardt proposed that his command be relocated to the nearby Marine Corps base in Camp Pendleton, California. He asserted that all of the challenges associated with travel time and logistical constraints could be solved because the facilities required for his unit’s training are all located on the installation. We’ll file this idea in the “This Makes Too Much Sense” department.

“Maps” – Tracy Oldnettle, COMLSCRON ONE

Frustrated with the current manning systems used by his department within LCSRON ONE, Tracy looking at how Google Maps maps a route made him realized it really is no different than what he does now. Using a sailor’s qualifications, schedules, certifications, NEC, schools, etc. he develops a “map” to get the sailor to his billet at a specified time but it is a struggle. Currently we use several different systems, multiple excel spreadsheets, ASM, FLTMPS, share point, detailers, etc., that rely on numerous manual inputs from numerous human interfaces to find sailors then get them into a training program then hopefully get them to their crew at the right time. These numerous systems and personnel operate independently and have numerous sources of inputs leaving lots of room for error. In the LCS world, one NEC, class, or PQS could cause a ship to fail a certification.

In his vision of this system, it would use data already accessible via ASM, FLTMPS, eNTRS, and others to identify sailors that would be a good fit for LCS and develop a training “map” to get the right sailor to right crew at the right time. He believes an algorithm with a better interface would save time, training, and reduce cost giving senior commanders and crews a clearer picture of manning.

Oldnettle said that since LCS is already a large command and is only going to get bigger.   LCSRON 2 is standing up and soon we will be adding the LCS Frigate. We will be all over the globe (San Diego, Mayport, Wisconsin, Alabama, Singapore, Bahrain)  which would make creating a system now that is specific to the billet, crew, and ship an amazing time saver.

“Active Sonic Camouflage” – LTJG Chuck Fischer, Destroyer Squadron Two Three

LTJG Fischer’s concept to protect ships from being detected by submarines is an adaptation of technology you’re more likely to find in a Best Buy than a Naval Base.  His basic premise it is to surround the hull of a ship or submarine with noise-cancelling tiles to protect against passive sonar.

He proposed that the tiles could function similarly to noise canceling headphones and have an inner layer of microphones to listen for the internal sounds produced by the ship and have an outer layer of speakers to generate an inverse sound wave to cancel those sounds out. Performance could be improved by having multiple layers of tiles.

Fischer said that a system to try to counter active sonar could be attempted by incorporating a series of whiskers with microphones embedded in them around the hull to hear an active sonar sound wave before it makes contact with the rest of the hull in time for hull mounted speakers to emit an inverse wave to cancel out the active sonar ping before it hits the ship, though there are significant challenges to implementation of this concept, he admitted.

This concept is similar to an idea from Waterfront Athena Three but was described to counter active sonar only. While the road ahead for implementation of such an ambitious idea is long, Fischer seemed up to the challenge.

A fantastic turnout for our Eighth Waterfront Athena in San Diego.

A fantastic turnout for our Eighth Waterfront Athena in San Diego.

“Reforming DRRS-N” – LT Lloyd Patterson, VFA-94, Training

In the first pitch from the Aviation community at our San Diego events, LT Lloyd Patterson came from Lemoore to pitch an idea to reform the Navy’s accountability systems.

LT Patterson said that The Defense Readiness Reporting System does not accurately reflect Naval Aviation readiness because the binary nature of CBR “tasks” gives squadrons the same credit for attempting a particular task, and failing, as it does not attempting a task altogether. As a result, many squadrons and individuals disregard DRRS-N prerequisites or performance thresholds, and log the task as complete anyways.  This filters up as an inflated sense of readiness, when only nominal training exists.

His proposal is to overhaul how the Navy reports readiness.  Periodicity, tasks, experience– they’re all signals for what we’re really trying to measure: performance.  If a unit is ready for a  particular mission, then the expectation is that a certain performance threshold should follow.

“Instead of tracking tasks, let’s directly measure performance,” Patterson said. “Fortunately, TOPGUN and our debriefing process makes capturing those metrics simple. And our culture is designed to default to reporting failure, unless convinced of success.”

He proposed that capturing raw performance would have powerful implications on the Navy, potentially providing significant savings. Conducting events with little to no real performance increase are less valuable than those events with tangible increases.  Some tasks and missions may complement one another, and therefore do not require explicit training.  A performance-based system could identify the most efficient pathway between a dollar spent (flight hour) and performance increases. It could also measure the consequences of not flying, or reduced funding, for significant periods of times.  It could make predictions on how a particular air wing can expect to perform given a specific O-Plan.

LT Patterson said that he would need to overhaul DRRS-N and SHARP and collect vast amounts of performance data, employing statisticians, programmers and aviators to find correlations. Though his idea will cost money in the short term, he proposed that money could be saved by more efficient training and could be offset by knowing the truth: how is Naval Aviation actually performing?

“Anti-slack device” – LT Edward Boyston, LCS Crew 206

Reminiscent of an idea presented by STG2 Coronado during Waterfront Athena 7, LT Boyston presented an idea to address the issues of manning a phone and distance line for a Littoral Combat Ship. Underway replenishments (UNREP) for any ship is challenging event requiring all hands and this is only amplified by a crew with less than 60 personnel. The receiving ship would receive the P&D line and attach it to their ship. Using systems that already exist; a tensioned reel system would keep tension on the line while allowing it to pay in and out as necessary maintaining the tension. This would relieve the requirement of manning the line through an UNREP. This reduces stress on the crew decreasing the chance of a mistake in what is currently a rather dangerous evolution.

With so many great concepts, surely the coming months will see multiple ideas, not just the event winners’, explored and implemented to make the Navy better.

As the torch passes in San Diego, with USS BENFOLD homeport shifting to Japan, the future is as bright as the sun in Southern California for this regional chapter of The Athena Project to continue it’s tremendous growth. We received many late submissions of ideas that will make for great pitches at Waterfront Athena Nine this Fall.

And, if you’re in Norfolk, Japan or Mayport stay tuned: We’ll have some excellent innovation events coming your way soon! If you want to get involved, as always, message us!

LCDR Mark Blaszczyk is the Combat Systems Training Lead in Commander Littoral Combats Ship Squadron One and the co-lead for The Athena Project’s San Diego chapter.  He is a graduate of Purdue University with a BS in Civil Engineering and Duke University with a Masters in Business Administration.

LTJG Tom Baker is the First Lieutenant onboard the Ballistic Missile Defense Guided Missile Destroyer, USS BENFOLD (DDG 65). He is a graduate of Oregon State University in Entrepreneurship.

Connect with The Athena Project on Facebook: www.facebook.com/athenanavy or follow us on Twitter: @AthenaNavy. Interested in starting a movement of your own? Message us, or e-mail athenanavy@gmail.com!

Project Pulse: CosmoGator

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LT William Hughes started his Athena pitch by taking the iPhone out of his pocket.

“If I can have an app on this thing that can recognize stars in the night sky,” Hughes, the Navigator onboard the guided missile destroyer BENFOLD began, “Then why can’t I have the same on my ship?”

The crowd at Modern Times brewery for last October’s Waterfront Athena Event agreed, voting LT Hughes’ CosmoGator project second overall.

In his pitch, Hughes argued that, due to the proliferation of Global Positioning System (GPS) jamming technology and the development of anti-satellite weapons, there is a good chance that any future conflicts will develop in a GPS denied environment. And with technological capabilities developing at an exponential rate the Navy, with its plethora of high tech platforms and weapons that depend on GPS, must guarantee the ability to execute missions without it. Hughes found that celestial navigation could be the answer – And it’s been around for hundreds of years.

Traditional celestial navigation involves sight planning, shooting lines of position, followed by sight reductions. This process has been improved upon with the advent of computers and a program called STELLA (System to Estimate Latitude and Longitude Astronomically), however, it still requires a sailor to take a sextant and attempt to derive lines of position from a small number a stars against a backdrop of millions, often under less than ideal sea states and weather conditions.

Although surface combatants have Inertial Navigation Systems (INS) to serve as back-ups to GPS, the accuracy of those systems cannot be guaranteed for extended periods of time. CosmoGator is an automated celestial navigation system that will interface with existing ship systems to maintain safety of navigation and provide position inputs to ship subsystems.

CosmoGator is a multi-part system comprised of a gyro-stabilized and actuated camera and a software tie in to existing navigation computers.  Ephemeral data from existing systems, such as STELLA, would be used to plan sights and to slew the camera to the exact point in the sky.  The automated camera would be able to slew to exactly where planned stars are in the sky, take steady, accurate measurements beyond the tenth degree that the standard marine sextant can give.  This LOP data would then be fed back into the navigation computers and converted to a lattitude and longitude for use by various ship systems.,  and populated out to ship systems.  Position data from CosmoGator would be used as an input into to reset INS, align antennas for Satellite Communications and programmed into combat systems that require precise position inputs.

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LT Hughes presents CosmoGator at the Waterfront Athena on 25 October 2013.

While the concept is quite simple, there are many dots that require connecting.

Take a minute to imagine this scenario: USS WARSHIP is steaming towards a launch point for a strike mission against country Orange. Orange uses its anti-satellite capabilities and local GPS jamming equipment to effectively black out the figure of merit 1 navigation data WARSHIP is used to receiving. Upon the loss of GPS, WARSHIP’s navigation systems automatically kick over to the INS, which is guaranteed to be accurate for up to 48 hours, but WARSHIP is still 3 days from station. That night, the ship’s automated celestial navigation system, over the course of just a few minutes, takes several accurate lines of position from the stars and planets and determines the ship’s position with an error of ≤ 25 meters.

That fix, with the same accuracy of GPS, is simultaneously fed to both the navigation display on the bridge and in Combat information Center, but also back into INS to re-start the 48 hour accuracy countdown. This process would repeat every single night until GPS was restored. Upon arrival at the launch point, the ship can use INS to input the Tomahawks’ start point and successfully execute its mission.

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Potential CosmoGator logo.

CosmoGator placed second overall at the October 2013 Waterfront Athena.  In the weeks and months that have followed, the project hasn’t died.  CosmoGator was subsequently picked up by the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell (CRIC) as a project for their next round of ideas, opening up avenues with the Office of Naval Research and the Navy Warfare Development Command.

In January, at SPAWAR’s “Learn the Warfighters’ Needs” workshops in Point Loma, CosmoGator gained traction with several engineers and physicists who are working to answer the question of precision navigation and timing (PNT) in a GPS denied environment.

The Department of Defense had previously shelved a shore-based project called DayStar that aimed to accomplish many of the same objectives as CosmoGator but lacked the requisite technology. Since this technology is now readily available, it is likely that a feasible system could easily be produced and deployed on our surface combatants. Other organizations have expressed interest as well, and the CosmoGator team is working with NASA and the Naval Postgraduate School in an ongoing effort to link similar projects, gain funding, continue research and bring CosmoGator to life.

When it comes to CosmoGator’s potential, the stars really are the limit!

Waterfront Athena Roundup

By LT Dave Nobles

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We cross-posted this article a few weeks ago with our friends at CIMSEC.org. Recently, I’ve gotten quite a few questions on many of the projects presented, so I thought it would be appropriate to post this on our blog in an attempt to connect the dots of ideation across the fleet. Message Athena on Facebook or Twitter at @AthenaNavy to learn more about any of our projects!

A month ago, a group of young innovators met in a brewery in Point Loma trying to change the U.S. Navy.

We hosted our third installment of The Athena Project at Modern Times Beer on October 25th and for the first time, we opened it up to the entire waterfront. Even though the presenters were predominantly from USS Benfold, the birthplace of Athena, a few change-makers from other commands presented ideas. About 15 different commands represented in the crowd, many coming from the Basic Division Officer Course (BDOC) here in San Diego. In addition to the Navy contingent, representatives from the University of Southern California (USC) Institute of Creative TechnologiesSPAWARDisruptive Thinkers, and Harris Corporation were among the more than 70 in attendance. We had a phenomenal turnout – better than we expected. It feels like just the beginning, though.

Before we get into the roundup of our last event, here’s a quick summary of how The Athena Project works. Presenters are given five minutes to pitch their projects to the crowd, who vote on each idea based on quality, actionability, and presentation. We’ve found that the short pitch time and lack of powerpoint forces each presenter to get to the heart of their idea quickly and to distill it down to the essential points. After every presentation, the floor is open for five minutes of questions and comments from the crowd. When all the projects have been presented, votes are tallied and the ADM Sims Award for Intellectual Courage is announced.

The winning project gets to form a small functional team and receives command backing to make their idea happen over the next quarter. That, and of course bragging rights.

So, we had our friends from USC select the first name, and away we went. Here’s a summary of each of the ideas presented:

Idea 1: Psychology-Driven Division Officer Assessments – LTJG Kaitlin O’Donnell, USS Benfold

The foundation for LTJG O’Donnell’s idea was trying to help junior ensigns develop their leadership skill set. She proposed working hand-in-hand with the Human Systems Integration department at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA, to generate a survey that could be given to an officer’s division to evaluate leadership traits. LTJG O’Donnell envisioned a breakdown similar to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator to give young officers feedback and action items for strengthening traits.

Idea 2: Hydro Wave Power Generator – ET2(SW) Erika Johnson, USS Benfold

Petty Officer Johnson and her husband proposed utilizing cranks and netting in littorals to build a network of power generators that would double as a passive sonar system.  She explained the technology, then offered multiple design-types leveraging materials currently in use.

Idea 3: Peer Resource Sharing – LTJG Sarah Eggleston, Destroyer Squadron ONE

Citing a great deal of frustration in maintaining version control of current instructions and guidance, LTJG Eggleston proposed a sharepoint-like system in which naval personnel could share lessons learned, updated messages, and recent notices among other information. Feedback from the crowd suggested utilizing current channels such as Navy Knowledge Online to grow the database and function as a type of Navy Wiki.

Idea 4: Benfold University CLEP – STG2(SW) Gina Stevens, USS Benfold

Onboard USS Benfold, there is a program called Benfold University in which Sailors who have a passion and knowledge base for any topic can teach their shipmates about the subject. Since its establishment in early 2013, the program has hosted classes in writing, welding, photography, Spanish, finance, nutrition and Japanese. Petty Officer Stevens, the program’s first teacher, proposed using free resources provided by Navy College for the College Level Examination Program (CLEP) to teach Sailors the knowledge necessary to gain college credit for a course.

Idea 5: Active Sonar Defense – ENS Joshua Corpus, BDOC

A game-day addition to the presentation list, ENS Corpus proposed taking technology found in noise-cancelling headphones – reciprocal noise generation – and applying that concept to ships’ sonar to act as a defense against active prosecution. ENS Corpus defended his assertion following his presentation as engineers in the crowd questioned the technology. During a break in the action, the concept was a hot topic, bringing several innovators together to discuss the feasibility of the idea.

Idea 6: Optical Database and Information Network – FC2 Robert VanAllen, FC2 Michael Owen and FC2 Lisa Stamp, USS Benfold

The winners of the ADM Sims Award for Intellectual Courage, this group of Petty Officers dominated the peer voting in every category with their presentation. The group proposed building an integrated database that would combine information from existing sensors to assist in identification of surface contacts. Characteristics from ships such as radar cross-section, electromagnetic emissions and heat signature would be combined with new visual-profiling software to build an electronic profile. That profile could then be compared to a database of surface ships and ranked by probability, resulting in rapid identification of long range surface targets. They also gave many examples on how the system could be developed in future iterations, including integration with seaborne drone systems and crew served weapons mounts. The pitch was well received and engineers from USC immediately pounced on the idea, offering to work with the team to develop a rapid prototype for proof of concept.

Idea 7: Electronic Division Officer Notebook – LTJG Isaac Wang, USS Benfold

Trying to solve the problem of maintaining paper records for Sailors, LTJG Wang suggested leveraging existing technology, like Neat Scanners and handwriting recognition software, to digitize the contents typically kept in Division Officer notebooks. Documents like counseling sheets, signed evaluations, history forms and the like could be scanned and kept together. Many in the crowd viewed this idea as “low hanging fruit” and claimed it would be simple to implement onboard a ship. LTJG Wang took the recommendations in stride and aims to institute his plan onboard BENFOLD.

Idea 8: Cosmogator – LT William Hughes, USS Benfold

LT Hughes, the navigator onboard Benfold, developed a concept for a system that would automate celestial navigation. He proposed that the system, consisting of optical sensors and a database of stars, could provide accurate positional data to the ship’s weapons systems in the event of a GPS outage. LT Hughes tested several mobile applications through his research and claimed that the technology to make this system a reality was well within reach. The crowd agreed, and his project finished in second place overall.

Idea 9: SCAT Tactical HUD – ENS Robert McClenning, FC1(SW) William Steele, FC2(SW) Amanda Curfew, FC2(SW) Justin Lagenor, GM3 Jacob Niessen, USS Benfold

This large group finished third in the peer voting for their proposed solution to the problem of command and control for ships’ crew-served weapons mounts. Citing difficulty in communications between the Anti-Terrorism Tactical Watch Officer (ATTWO) on the bridge and the machine guns on the weatherdecks, the team suggested utilizing augmented reality (AR) headsets for gunners and a touch screen tablet for the ATTWO to optimize the process. The team said that the headsets would be simplistic – only displaying commands such as “fire” and “ceasefire” – and would have to be hard-wired because a tactical wireless system would be easily exploitable by potential adversaries.

Idea 10: Metal Alloys for Energy – GSM2(SW) Robertson Acido, USS Benfold

The second of our game-day additions, GSM2 Acido proposed taking technology that’s being developed by researchers at the University of Minnesota to augment the power needs of surface ships. The engineers developed a new alloy that converts heat into energy. GSM2 Acido suggested using that alloy onboard ships – on anything the exhaust stacks for engines to solar-heated panels – to save fuel by allowing ships to have sufficient power without running their generators. GSM2 Acido formed a small team at the Athena event, including BDOC officers and SPAWAR engineers, to shape his pitch before presenting.

Overall, the event brought forth some tremendous ideas from the deckplates and provided some great networking opportunities, but the best part of it all: We had fun. The feedback on all the voting sheets was incredibly positive, and the support from the diverse crowd was amazing. It’s encouraging to know that there are so many people out there who want to make a difference.

We’re looking into scheduling the next waterfront Athena event for this spring, and hope that the innovation wildfire continues to spread – not only on the West Coast, but throughout the Navy. As The Athena Project continues to grow, so grows the chances that we’ll uncover the next big thing.

As Ben Franklin, among others, famously said, “To have a great idea, have a lot of them.”

Challenge accepted.

LT Dave Nobles is the weapons officer aboard USS Benfold and a member of the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell. The opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy.