Day One At the Naval S&T Conference 2006

This week is the 2006 Naval Science and Technology Partnership Conference at the Wardman Park Marriot in Washington, D.C. This conference is put on by the National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA), in partnership and with technical support from the Office of Naval Research (ONR). The conference’s slogan should give you an idea of the topics to be covered over the next four days: “The Navy After Next… Powered by Naval Research”.

ONR (“Relevant Research and Results… Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow”) invited MountainRunner and a number of other blogs to attend, providing us media credentials. The advantages of the PRESS ribbon on my badge? Besides not having to pay the conference fee, there is to be press availability (with an exclusive session with bloggers) with Rear Admiral William E. Landay, III, the Chief of Naval Research. 

The opening day’s sessions included the usual references to GWOT (some ONR presenters clearly favor the less sloganized phrase “fight against terrorism”) and also an Administration-style politically correct linkage between Iraq and state sponsored terrorism: narrator talking about state-sponsored terrorism over a video of Saddam Hussein. This theme was also in evidence in the Assistance Secretary of the Navy Delores M. Etter’s talk.

That aside, the presentation by Brigadier General Douglas Stone (“a biography the size of a small book a small child would have trouble lifting”) and follow-up Q&A was very impressive. GEN Stone is in charge of the Marine Air Ground Task Force Training Command and knows the reality of the present day war and what needs to get done to win. From the imperative to understand the culture and cultural divisions – he lamented that command officers in Iraq didn’t know the difference between Sunni and Shi’a, didn’t know what al-Umma is, etc. – is imperative to victory.

The Defense Sciences Board’s report on Strategic Communication in 2004 emphasized the need to “treat learning knowledge of culture and developing language skills as seriously as we treat learning combat skills: both are needed for success in achieving US political and military objectives.” This is exactly what Stone seeks to do with the Marines: to “train Marines who are culturally aware with an overseas mentality”.

His reach out to the private sector spans includes all areas imaginable, from the way Marines think, to electronic devices, to mechanical devices. Nothing is too small. He constantly challenged the private sector to come and find solutions as he ask “for just one month lead on the enemy” that is quick learning, “decentralized, self-reliant, innovative, [and] networked”.

Interestingly, USAID was mentioned several times today with the Department of State only mentioned twice throughout the day. Stone even commented that he is at times more interested in what USAID is doing than what the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) is saying.

Tomorrow’s first major session is equally interesting and building on GEN Stone’s talk today: ONR’s S&T Investment for Future Operational Capabilities. With a panel from six departments talking (listing below), we should hear some interesting bits. Departments on the panel are:

  • Expeditionary Warfare and Combating Terrorism
  • C4ISR (Communications, Command, Control, **** Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance)
  • Ocean Battlespace Sensing
  • Sea Warfare and Weapons
  • Warfighter Performance Department
  • Naval Air Warfare and Weapons

Of course with a sponsor title the includes Defense and Industry, the public-private partnerships is a major focus. Between actual and potential opportunities of the private sector, this conference does not seem to be about creating contracts as much as sharing knowledge, exchanging information, and building relationships. Talking with Otto Kreisher (Copley News Service) who covers the defense industry seemed to confirm this.

This show is about S&T networking mostly, not a lot in the social sciences although that is clearly a theme in many of the presentations as it is clear that some, like Stone, see technology as a tool and not the panacea. I hope to make some contacts in this area tomorrow.

With nearly 800 people here, the conference is heavy on the outreach to build relationships with constant challenges to the private sector to find solutions being thrown out.

Picking up the usual sampling of magazines at the conference and on the cover of National Defense is this: Warriors Learn to Be Diplomats. This is exactly the lesson the troops need (the Marines’ Iraqi simulation city is on Stone’s 29 Palms base).

One last comment, I’m not sure when this will actually post since there seems to be a mix-up with internet connectivity, but hopefully tomorrow (Tuesday) it’ll be available.