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CHIPS Articles: Our Strategic Inflection Point

Our Strategic Inflection Point
By U.S. Navy Capt. Cliff Bean, Information Warfare Commander, Carrier Strike Group TWO - July-September 2017
“The United States is increasingly vulnerable to foreign actors who could dismantle the infrastructure of our power grid, infiltrate our chemical and nuclear facilities or even breach our economic system.”

Adm. Michael S. Rogers, Director, National Security Agency, testimony on today’s cyber threat

We depend on the Internet to run our businesses, mobile devices, and manage our bank accounts. Information is a part of our social fabric. While you can’t eat it, try to live without it.

We are living in a world of big data — an overabundance of information. The magnitude of the amount of data that is streaming around us is almost incomprehensible. The information age is best described as vast, fast, and fleeting.

It’s Vast

There are 7.5 billion people on the planet — 3.7 billion are on the Internet. That number was only 1 billion in 2005 and 2 billion in 2010.i

Data is being created faster. By 2020, about 1.7 megabytes of new information will be created every second for every human being on the planet. Our digital universe of data will grow from 9 zettabytes today to around 44 zettabytes, or 44 trillion gigabytes, or 44 x 1021 bytes. No matter how you write it to try and get your head around it, it’s doubling every 21 months.ii

In March 2010, Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play Store contained 170,000 Apps combined. In January 2017, that number is 5 million — that’s a 29-fold increase in seven years — and it’s doubling every 14 months.iii

If Facebook were a country, it would have the largest population on Earth — 1.8 billion users — surpassing China’s population last year. Facebook users send on average 31.25 million messages and view 2.77 million videos every minute.

In one hour, 14.6 million photos are uploaded to Facebook, another 3.5 million to Instagram, 20 million Tweets are posted to Twitter, and 11 months’ worth of video is posted to YouTube.iv

In 2015, there were 7.5 billion mobile devices connected to the Internet. By 2023, there will be 50 billion mobile devices connected to the Internet — that’s 6.5 devices per person on the planet.v

Every one of these devices is an opportunity and vulnerability.

It’s Fast

The speed at which we transfer information continues to accelerate – currently around two-thirds the speed of light over fiber optic cable. Consider this:

Apple’s new AirPort Time Capsule can store 3 terabytes of If we were to transmit that data in 1998, on a 56K modem, it would have taken 14 years, 343 days, 22 hours, 14 minutes, 29.05 seconds. Today, on a single strand of fiber transmitting at 1.125 terabits per second, that same data takes 21.33 seconds.

By 2020, China says it will complete the world’s first exascale supercomputer, the Tianhe-3, which would have the processing power of the human brain; you can buy one for about $250 million.vii By 2049, scientists predict that a $1,000 computer will have the computational power of the human race.viii

Let’s say they’re right, or even half-right. How will this change warfighting when our enemies have this kind of computational power? And what does 2030 look like?

“We live in an age in which the pace of technological change is pulsating ever faster, causing waves that spread outward toward all industries. The increased rate of change will have an impact on you, no matter what you do for a living. It will bring new competition from new ways of doing things, from corners that you don’t expect.”

Andrew Grove, Only the Paranoid Survive

It’s Fleeting

In the 1970s, it was estimated that the annual rate of knowledge decay across all industries was about 10%; in 2005, it was 15% and a recent study reports that for high technology is at 30%.ix So roughly, one-third of what we know right now about technology will be irrelevant this time next year. The technology we are teaching college freshmen in their first year of college will be obsolete by their junior year — we are effectively training our students to solve problems we don’t yet know exist, with technology that hasn’t yet been invented.

In this environment, when vast information is created, stored, and doubled every 21 months, and transmission speeds and computational power are getting faster and

The illiterate of the 21st Century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”

Liz Wiseman, Rookie Smarts: Learning Beats Knowing in the New Game of Work (2014)

What is a strategic inflection point?

A strategic inflection point is a point in time in the life of a business when the fundamentals are about to change. That change can mean an opportunity to rise to new heights. But it may just as likely signal the beginning of the end. Strategic inflection points can be caused by technological change but they are more than technological change; they can be caused by competitors but they are more than competition. They are full-scale changes in the way your business is conducted. There’s wind and then there’s a typhoon, there are waves and then there’s a tsunami.

Andrew Grove, Only the Paranoid Survive

In the way that the automated teller machine changed banking — in the way that the innovation that allowed music to be created, stored, transmitted, and enjoyed in a digital form completely changed the music industry — you don’t “miss” a strategic inflection point, you either transform to seize opportunity or you cease to be relevant to your industry, whatever that industry might be.

Such innovations introduce a 10X change to the industry — a change that is a magnitude larger than normal changes in the environment — a change from which you can never go back to the way things were.

These are the conditions in which we find Navy Information Warfare today. The Internet — TCP/IP — Cyber — the Information Age — it’s a 1,000X change, yet what have we done to change the way we fight afloat? Not much.

Do we think we can offer a Midway-like victory in the information age using the same manpower-intensive processes and techniques that won in the industrial age? I think Layton and Rochefort would be sadly disappointed if we don’t seize our moment in U.S. Navy history the way that they seized theirs. They didn’t rest on decades-old processes — they innovated and scraped — they were hungry to deliver outcome-changing results. They wouldn’t want us to try to apply their 20th century techniques to this 21st century challenge.

The Navy’s Flag Wardroom has recognized the 1,000X change that information and technology is having on warfare and that status quo will not win our next conflict. What caused us to succeed in the past will not work in the future. Things have changed — and are changing at remarkable if not unfathomable rates. For the same reasons that the Navy created the Information Warfare Community, integrating intelligence, cryptology, information technology, networks, meteorology, and oceanography ashore and afloat in new and innovative ways is a strategic imperative. We must automate and accelerate-to-network-speed the ways that we collect, process, analyze, operate, engineer, defend and attack.

We should not just ask how we are going to incorporate the information explosion but more importantly, how do we deliver decision advantage to our Navy when our adversaries seize opportunity from this exponential change. What do we do when the enemy has the processing power described above or employs artificial intelligence to the world’s 9 zettabytes of information if we do not reinvent ourselves and innovate faster, harder, and more often?

Who will lead the Navy’s response to this exponential change?

We will. The Navy’s Information Warfare Community. We must. This is our hour — our strategic imperative. Status quo is ahead of PIM (Plan of Intended Movement) on a course towards bankruptcy — we must turn the ship and reinvent ourselves for the information age.

“As things get more and more connected, as the information becomes, really, flowing in a waterfall or an avalanche, it’s bringing with it a new age of cognitive computing decision, and cognitive assistance, machine assistance, to help us make sense of all that data. Adaptive network sensors are now on the horizon and proliferating. In an era in which CubeSats are being launched into space, and zettabytes of information available, the advantage boils down to not who gets the information, but who can make the better sense of it. Who can orient themselves better, and make the better decision … the character of the game has changed … we’ve got to capture this changing character and get moving with a sense of urgency, a sense of immediacy. This is not something that can wait until 2040 to get going. We’ve got to make these moves now; we’ve got to make them boldly.”

Adm. John Richardson, U.S. Naval War College, June 13, 2017

Join Capt. Cliff Bean, Information Warfare Commander, Carrier Strike Group TWO and Capt. Bryan Braswell, Information Warfare Commander, Carrier Strike Group TEN, on Facebook Aug. 30, 2017 at 2000 ET for a discussion on the IWC Afloat Concept in Action or live on YouTube:


  3. and
  9. Wiseman, Liz. Rookie Smarts: Learning Beats Knowing in the New Game of Work (2014)

Reprinted with the permission of the Information Warfare Community Self Synchronization and Capt. Cliff Bean. Original publication Aug. 18, 2017 on the IWC Self Synchronization Facebook page:

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