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NEWS | Aug. 12, 2022

Navy Lab advances innovation with pitch competition

By Jeremy Roman, NSWC PCD Public Affairs

Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City Division (NSWC PCD) began an internal competition-styled event aimed to innovate and better serve the warfighter at NSWC PCD’s Center for Innovation (CFI), June 10.

The event, hosted by the NSWC PCD Expeditionary and Maritime Systems Department (E Department), was entitled Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations (EABO) Concept Development Program (CDP) Problem Statement Think Tank. The event, which incorporated a similar format to the ABC Television Network’s ‘Shark Tank’ television show, encouraged department personnel to develop a problem statement aimed at aiding the warfighter and pitch it to the review committee for refinement and consideration. If selected, the prospective statement would become eligible for further development using an individual three-day design sprint.

“The goal of the event is to help develop innovative solutions and figure out what’s next for E department. As scientists and engineers, we may be innovative and get excited about new technology, but we’re not always the best at relating it to the mission—the ‘why we’re here’,” said Dr. Michelle Kincer, NSWC PCD E Department chief strategist. “With our educational seminar program and the CDP, we hope we are making a better connection between the end users [the warfighter] and the science we are developing here. We are hoping this leads to more informed and developed Naval Innovative Science and Engineering (NISE) proposals, or white papers to outside sponsors.”

Steve Hunt, NSWC PCD E Department head, explains how this event only marks the beginning of a larger pilot program the department is trailblazing.

“The purpose of this new opportunity is to identify potential gaps within our mission areas and pursue novel and innovative solutions through the design sprint model,” said Hunt. “During the CDP kick-off session, we as a department looked deeper into the concept, how the process would be conducted, and the importance of identifying critical needs and gaps in applying EABO to our various missions.”

Hunt added the event created a unique opportunity for his personnel as EABO looks different to each of the department’s components—diving, undersea mobility, port security, expeditionary command and control, naval logistics, and expeditionary maneuver—and he expected to see a wide range of problem statements during the event.

EABO is a form of expeditionary warfare which helps naval expeditionary forces traverse and sustain operations within an austere, dynamic or contested environment while maintaining mobility and low-signatures in order to accomplish mission objectives. EABO supports the projection of naval power by integrating with and supporting the larger naval campaign.

The department partnered the CDP with the internal War Room seminar initiative and held a two-part talk featuring the late Col Art Corbett, USMC, (ret.) who was critical in the development of the modern EABO concept. Participants then filtered what they learned through the scope of their work to ultimately develop a problem statement.

“EABO is critical because it’s the way the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Marine Corps will fight in the future—we have come a long way from the desert fight,” said Kincer. “As a Naval Warfare Center, if we don’t know what EABO is and we aren’t designing to that kind of mission, we aren’t going to be relevant.”

While education on the topic was the prelude to the event, the first step of the actual CDP process is to develop a problem statement. Personnel had one week to develop a statement to present to the review committee. Submissions, which included topics such as improved resource distribution, logistics navigation and stealth countermeasures, were discussed, revised and nominated for future design sprint selection.

“During [prior] NISE processes, we’ve found that these think tank-style events are critical to fully understanding what’s being proposed. We don’t always do a good job communicating in these documents, so the event’s style provides the opportunity to present and emphasize what we mean,” said Kincer. “It also provides an opportunity for the review committee to ask questions, provide feedback and suggestions or course corrections. While the idea of being in a metaphorical ‘shark tank’ seems daunting, it’s a very open and friendly discussion that helps ensure the problem statements and program stay relevant.”

The committee selected three problem statements which are slated to go through an individual three-day design sprint, where a diverse team assembled from around the department will identify potential solutions. The design sprints will conclude with a general concept or proposed idea for addressing the problem statement. Depending on the problem or solution and team availability, some teams may extend their sprint for additional days to build prototypes using CFI resources.

“It’s important to note that ‘prototyping’ does not solely mean a machined or 3-D printed initial component; it may be built from paperclips, cardboard, and duct tape,” said Kincer. “It might be a high level Operational View (OV1) or Concept of Operations. It could even be an initial code that demonstrates a potential capability.” 

Once all design sprints are completed, each team will brief the review committee for a final ranking. The committee will select one proposed solution to develop a proposal and provide funds to brief a sponsor. Throughout the event, the review committee will work to identify declared gaps and needs that fit with the proposed solutions, then connecting with appropriate technical program managers and potential sponsors.

Kincer said as the CFI and E Department currently blaze the CDP trail, they are also expecting a lot of lessons learned and adjustments as they identify the best way forward in order to accomplish what the Navy needs them to do tomorrow.

“We are setting the bar for CDPs at NSWC PCD and we want to set it high,” said Hunt. “We are looking for out-of-the-box thinkers, the next generation innovators and leaders. There’s no minimum experience level—just a desire to make a change.”

At the time this article was published, the teams were preparing to begin their design sprints.