Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) President retired Vice Adm. Ann E. Rondeau gave the closing remarks to a two-day virtual seminar focused on strengthening partnerships between U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF) and the Silicon Valley. Hosted by the Global SOF Foundation (GSF), the event connected national security leaders, some of whom are currently students at the university, with the founders, executives, investors and academics focused on developing cutting-edge, dual-use technologies in Silicon Valley.
Looking back to the days of the Great White Fleet and the birth of advanced naval education, Rondeau recalled periods of innovation sprint, from the days of the Cold War to modern adversaries.
“Great Power Competition is a century later after the Great White Fleet … From the first steam ships of the Navy to now, it is cognitive agility and adaptation that will keep us ahead of our foes,” Rondeau said. “With co-investing, co-development and co-deployment, we can get to the physics of time and spend smartly, pace well, and stay ahead for what is yet to come.”
Over the past few decades, the difference in financial investment in research and development between the U.S. and other nations has lessened, constraining the timeline available to make the next big breakthrough. This loss of time has brought on new realities and truths in the nation’s innovation ecosystem, NPS leaders say, and the DOD must develop a relationship with its industry partners to stay on the leading edge of innovation.
“The value of connecting SOF to Silicon Valley’s innovation ecosystem is paramount,” said Army Col. John Crisafulli, NPS Special Operations Chair. “As the data shows, the U.S. will soon be outpaced by China in regards to R&D, which soon will place the U.S. at a disadvantage – specifically in terms of the strategic technical operations.
“Private industry in Silicon Valley is the leading edge in technological advancement so, in logical fashion, SOF must take advantage of their expertise to enhance capabilities,” he stressed.
Rondeau also spoke on two NPS developments that will help foster these partnerships by providing connection, coordination and collaboration between all of the moving gears involved in bringing an idea to reality.
The first is the Naval Warfare Studies Institute, an umbrella organization that looks to coordinate how NPS education and research programs collectively respond to the needs of the warfighter.
“Through the Naval Warfare Studies Institute, everyone can have a filter. All of the disciplines and all areas of study and research we’re doing goes through the lens of naval warfare capabilities,” noted Rondeau. “From there, you could use the [Defense Analysis department] as your gateway into everything we have going on here at NPS.”
Rondeau went on to mention NPS’ Consortium for Robotics and Unmanned Systems Education and Research (CRUSER), Joint Interagency Field Experimentation (JIFX), the Sea Land Air Military Research initiative (SLAMR), the RoboDojo, and the Modeling Virtual Environments and Simulations (MOVES) Institute, to name a few.
She also talked about the new NavalX Central Coast Tech Bridge. Closely aligned with NPS, the CC TechBridge is uniquely situated to become a leading DON/DOD innovation hub because of its direct access to operational requirements, students and faculty who understand warfighter needs, and proximity to Silicon Valley.
“NPS is ready to fully engage with our industry partners, and to have our partners join the Naval Warfare Studies Institute and the [Central Coast] Tech Bridge,” said Rondeau. “We look forward to you joining our research consortia, participating in our joint experimentation and our Warfare Innovation Continuum, and we hope that you invite our faculty and students to see you and engage with them.”
Rondeau was not the only representative from NPS to participate. During the event, Defense Analysis Associate Professor Leo Blanken spoke about the university’s new Applied Design for Innovation curriculum. And a panel of NPS students presented their various thesis projects dealing with innovation.
According to Crusafilli, NPS is a natural fit to be the glue between a SOF, Silicon Valley connector, with the university’s officer students central to its success.
“NPS can support this effort by challenging our students to innovate in the space of warfighting capabilities to ensure we maintain the global strategic technological advantage,” he said. “The Defense Analysis department’s Applied Design for Innovation curriculum does exactly that … Students study, research and develop required capabilities alongside private Industry. Furthermore, the NPS Human Enhancement Research Group is specifically tasked to increase Soldier performance physically as well as cognitively in conjunction with private industry.”
The GSF is a non-profit organization that aims to build and grow an international network of military, government, commercial and educational stakeholders in order to advance SOF capabilities and partnerships to confront global and networked threats.