From 2005-2008, Capt. Lourdes Neilan served as the knowledge manager for Carrier Strike Group 8, and then fleeted up as the N6 during the strike group’s eight-month deployment to the 5th Fleet area of responsibility. She was selected for promotion to captain in 2008 while assigned to Naval Network Warfare Command as a subject matter expert in fleet communications and information technology. Neilan is the assistant chief of staff overseeing cyberspace operations, information operations and intelligence for information dominance at NWDC, which is also the home of the Navy Center for Innovation. CHIPS asked Neilan to share her ideas about innovation and her work as the head of NWDC’s information dominance directorate.
Q: Can you talk about your job as the director for cyberspace operations for NWDC?
A: What we’re trying to do with cyberspace operations for the Navy is to integrate it into Navy doctrine and assist in the concept development for [the] future of the Navy and how we use cyberspace operations. I’m one of two Information Professional officers at the command, but we are represented across the Information Dominance Corps, although we are very small in numbers. The intel community has the largest representation, but that’s because they play a part in exercises playing the red team— the opposition team — so the intel community is represented a little more, but it’s working really well.
Q: Red teams?
A: They make up the adversary — terrorist, nation state — playing what-ifs,
almost like a chess game. It is really like a chess game when you look at it. War games have moves. Cyberspace is the newest piece. Everyone wants to find a way to make that piece fit into something
we’ve traditionally done — surface warfare, anti-submarine warfare, air warfare — all those areas.
With the addition of cyberspace, the Navy has been integrating it within the traditional warfare areas, done through doctrine and tactics; more is needed in experimentation. It’s interesting,
interesting work. It’s new for the senior leaders. Some great ideas come from the younger generation but the tactics and way we fight come from the senior generation.
Systems or tactics that used to exist individually between the different communities are now starting to be integrated together. For example, the weather material that comes into the ship is now getting integrated into the other systems that the information warfare community puts on the ship. The Information Dominance Corps [components] are just not stovepipe entities anymore; we’re really making it work.
Q: Can you tell us about the Junior Leader Innovation Symposium and Pacific Rim Innovation Symposium that NWDC hosted? NWDC Commander Rear Adm. Terry Kraft is a strong advocate for innovation; will there be other events in the series?
A: Our campaign to reinvigorate a culture of innovation throughout the Navy started in March with a Maritime Symposium attended by fairly senior leadership from the War College, Office of Naval Research, academia and more. We recognized during this symposium that the senior leadership has to help clear the path to innovation, but the real innovation often comes from the deck plate — junior leaders — so that’s why we held the junior leader symposium.
We had over 400 people on Defense Connect Online (DCO) and in-person at our headquarters. We held a similar event on the West Coast in October for the Pacific Fleet. A lot of the discussion was theoretical, although the two junior leader symposiums included practical workshops on certain problems that the fleet identified during the Pacific Rim exercise. Some very good ideas came out of several brainstorming sessions.
Admiral Kraft personally brought a couple of ideas back from the Pac Rim event and is closely looking at them. We are now moving away from the theoretical and educating junior leaders toward
helping them develop their [skills] and get [their ideas] assessed through the proper channels. We’re looking at things like online crowdsourcing type of events through [DCO].
We’ve also stood up a Navy Center for Innovation site on the NWDC website. We want to be a conduit for junior leaders to submit ideas directly to us, which can be done through the site. Since
June, we’ve seen the number of ideas submitted through the site gradually increase. We’ve also set up some blogs to open a discussion. There’s a Navy Center for Innovation blog at https://www.nwdc.navy.mil/ncoi/blog/default.aspx.
We’re about to launch one on the SIPR side, too. To really to get down into the tactics we need to move forward on, you need a classified environment. We will continue to look at symposiums and
some micro events — probably warfare specific type of events. It’s very much alive and kicking.
We want to communicate to people [that] we’re not just here to collect information or to collect your great ideas; there’s a proactive process to review every submission and either act on it
internally or send it to the proper subject matter experts to assess or collapse into other similar initiatives.
Rear Adm. Kraft has also been tasked by the CNO to set up a CNO Advisory Board charged with rapidly assessing ideas and getting them into the pipeline to be acted upon for the fleet.
Q: You mentioned that NWDC empowers employees to think outside the box. In what ways is NWDC encouraging its employees to go beyond the confines of the proverbial box?
A: We are operating and collaborating between directorates all the time to keep ourselves outside the box. For example, our lessons learned and analysis teams created a meta-analysis process for post-deployment briefs that is now be looked at by the fleet.
Technology is also keeping us moving forward. For example, our simulation team is starting to put full motion video into simulation exercises now. And, as I mentioned earlier, some of our war games and exercises now have cyberspace effects built in to stretch the training audience on how to deal with that. That’s about where we are.
I think everybody’s got to think a little differently in the current environment not because it is your job, or part of your command’s mission, but because what [you] do affects other people or other commands. That’s the part I think we really need to get better at because it is such an information heavy world now that sometimes you’ll come across a piece of information that is relevant to somebody else, but they won’t know that because you have it. So that whole piece of the right information to the right person at the right time is getting worked through now. Because we are able to search and analyze structured and unstructured information, the need to follow rigid rules on storing and discovering information is going away.
Q: One of the main themes of your presentation centered on the next generation, not only
taking the helm in development of new products for the warfighter, but also leading the way. What steps do you think the Navy should take to attract the next generation of leaders who want to mimic Steve Jobs’ way of thinking?
A: Well, definitely getting out of their way is one thing. Sometimes these ideas just get stifled somewhere as they go up the chain of command to somebody who actually can do something about it. When we had the Junior Leader Innovation Symposium, it was very interesting because I was watching from DCO. As I was watching Adm. [John] Richardson give his presentation, I was also watching to see if there was any relationship between what was being chatted [about on DCO] and what was being presented. So this generation is able to think and observe at the same time. They’re thinking a different thought at the same time they’re watching a presentation and you
wonder if they are [paying attention].
But I really think it’s because they’re able to multitask so much better. That’s the generation that’s coming up. They’re not like us. And we should celebrate it and let them go ahead. Not to be disrespectful or not understand that there’s a basic foundation, but [to know that] yes, you can deviate from what people are doing today because maybe what’s happening today may not be the best way to do it. And then, of course, there’s the issue of tools. You know, they want the digital tools. I think Adm. Cecil Haney said it best when he had his innovation symposium: 'Let’s give these guys a digital sea bag.' Let them have all the applications that they’re going to need to do their job. It’s not resident in somebody’s head; it’s not resident in some analog book. Let them have it the way they understand it. And that’s the way they understand it — in an app.
And I think that’s great because it’s possible in our world that you could lose [connectivity]. When you look at these [natural] disasters, you could lose your communication connectivity and your
ability to get your information. But you’ve got to have it somewhere near you so you can reference it. The one thing that I think Adm. Haney knows for sure about this generation is that they’re in the digital world, so give it to them the way that they understand it.
Q: In your opinion, can the constraints the military must operate under be relaxed to allow
development and testing of technology products more quickly? Is there any controlled environment in which this can happen?
A: I think DoD recognizes the need for rapid acquisition. NWDC is ready to support new initiatives to deliver the latest technology to the fleet. We always have the fleet in mind when determining where our efforts should be focused. Our only constraint is to not break an operational platform. It would be neat if you could take a ship that’s being decommissioned and use that as your testing platform and also a training platform.