SPECIAL OPERATIONS (And ATAK!) AS AN INNOVATION LABORATORY

This article, from War on the Rocks, covers the challenges of innovation in the DoD and the challenges of the DoD mindset in slowing innovation. The entire discussion on the challenges of innovation are worth reading, but here’s the portion that discusses ATAK:

While forward deployed special operations units offer an ideal environment to conduct rapid prototyping, military students at graduate education institutions could offer much-needed additional labor and expertise. As military professionals, they would understand the relevant organizational, operational, and strategic contexts; as graduate students, they could employ the research techniques they use in the classroom. Finally, they would have the freedom to connect the research to the relevant actors (academic, industry, and inter-agency) across the wider innovation ecosystem. Through such a partnership on operationally relevant research projects, the professional development of these students would directly contribute to the transformation of the joint force.

This kind of partnership was shown to be useful in the utilization of Android team awareness kits. Originally developed by the Air Force Research Laboratory, this technology is an Android-based operating system installed on tablets, cell phones, and other handheld devices that provides real-time battlefield awareness and satellite communication using GPS technology. Much of its testing and implementation has been conducted by special operations personnel while attending graduate programs. The technology has been tested during the remote advising and assisting of partner nation special operations forcessensitive site exploitation, and collaborative mission planning, as well as to enable remote technical expertise for WMD-related operations. These technologies will also have implications for the conventional forces, as advising roles and inter-operability with partner nations become increasingly important, but they will have been developed and refined by teams of special operations personnel both on the battlefield and in the classroom.

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