Partnership Key to Joint Forces Command Experimentation Success
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
SUFFOLK, Va., Jan. 23, 2009 As U.S. Joint Forces Command pursues capability improvements over the long term, its experimentation chief is keeping one eye focused on current needs -- as defined by warfighters themselves.
Navy Rear Adm. Dan Davenport’s job as director of the command’s Joint Concept Development and Experimentation, or J9, directorate is to come up with long-term solutions to meet unmet or yet-unrecognized requirements.
“Joint concept development and experimentation is really about finding solutions to the biggest challenges facing [the Defense Department], as defined by our warfighters,” he explained.
As Davenport describes the process, the word “partnership” peppers the explanation.
“This effort isn’t done in a vacuum,” he said. “It’s a partnership all the way, from identifying problems to coming up with appropriate solutions to developing the tools to implement those solutions.”
The partnership begins at square one, with combatant commanders and service chiefs submitting their most pressing problems or needs, referred to as “warfighter challenges.”
The command’s experimentation directorate compiles these requirements, prioritizing those with the biggest impact on capability and the broadest defense application.
The results, captured in the Joint Concept Development and Experimentation campaign plan for 2009 and 2010, spell out major projects the command will undertake or support during the next two years. It represents an unprecedented level of input from combatant commanders, Davenport said, addressing 45 of their major challenges. Marine Gen. James N. Mattis, commander of Joint Forces Command, signed off on the plan last fall, and it is already being implemented to meet some of the biggest military challenges, Davenport said.
The new plan balances near- and long-term needs. “Joint Forces Command is one of [the Defense Department’s] primary futures organizations, and we need to be looking to the future,” Davenport said.
“But we also need to be contributing to the current fight and current operations,” he continued. “So we maintain a balance in our focus between providing near-term solutions and looking to the future and developing concepts and capabilities that will meet those future needs.”
Big improvements Joint Forces Command aims to achieve in its new campaign plan are improved command and control capabilities for joint force commanders, enhanced cyber-operations capabilities and better ways to detect and interdict radiological and nuclear threats.
“Most of the things we are working on are really hard,” Davenport conceded. “But that’s what we at Joint Forces Command should be about. We should be the command that works on the hard stuff and comes up with solutions that really hit pay dirt.”
Hitting “pay dirt” requires partnership at every level -- from identifying requirements to testing potential solutions to putting the best ones into effect.
So as it addresses challenges outlined in its 2009-2010 campaign plan, Joint Forces Command’s Joint Concept Development and Experimentation directorate is keeping its ultimate customers -- the warfighters themselves -- front and center throughout the process.
The first step, Davenport explained, is to develop a precise and universally accepted description of what the command is setting out to do.
“The key is to define clearly the problem that needs to be solved,” he said. “The more clearly we can define the problem, the more effective our solution will be.”
Next, Joint Forces Command looks across the Defense Department, tapping into its laboratories and other services that Davenport calls “solution providers” and bringing them face to face with the operators.
“The idea here is to bring together the solution providers with the operators -- the users -- and put them together in an experiment and see where the gaps are, what works and what doesn’t,” he said.
Experimentation is a complicated endeavor that frequently uses modeling and simulation to replicate real-life operating environments. Davenport’s team sets up experiments that put operators through the exact procedures they’d follow in real-world operations. As they go through the paces, the operators provide feedback and they help test new approaches, tools and capabilities.
“The experiments we do are not done in isolation,” Davenport said. “We don’t come back here to Suffolk and close all the doors and do all this magic work and them come out with a solution. We have the experts and operators doing all this kind of stuff on a day-to-day basis involved throughout.”
Although the command often hosts experiments at its Warfighter Center here, technological advances have made long-distance experimentation a more viable alternative, Davenport said.
“That’s really our preferred way of doing business,” Davenport said. “We can generate scenario and experimentation environment stimulants for the participants here, but distribute out to their home station. That way, they are sitting in their own operations center with their own equipment and able to participate in the experiment just as if they were doing real-world operations.”
This produces the most valid results and the best evidence of success to decision-makers, he said.
The command’s work isn’t over when it comes up with a workable solution. The final challenge is to pave the way for it to be put into effect, a process that can require changes in doctrine, organization, training, logistics, staffing, facilities and even policy.
Again, Davenport said, that requires partnership so the right people are ready to do what’s necessary to put a new solution into effect as quickly as possible.
“It’s not acceptable for us to come up with great ideas in experimentation, and then put them on a shelf,” Davenport said. “Once we come up with solutions, we need to ensure that the solutions actually drive change. We owe that to the warfighters we are working to support.”