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26/05/22: Navy’s Unmanned Task Force turns to a venture capital-inspired process to find investments

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Navy’s Unmanned Task Force spent its first nine months developing a venture capital model for selecting promising technologies and is now beginning to identify candidates that could solve warfighter problems within the next five years.



The task force officially began work in August and in January kicked off an initial cross-functional pilot program that will run for 12 to 18 months.


As part of this pilot program, the Unmanned Task Force is partnering with U.S. Fleet Forces Command and U.S. Pacific Fleet to understand specific operational problems that could be solved by unmanned systems or enablers like artificial intelligence and machine learning. A top operator need that has emerged is AI-enabled maritime domain awareness, Michael Stewart, the task force’s executive director, told reporters May 25.


With operational needs in mind, Stewart said, the task force uses a venture capital-like method to identify investments that could pay off: the process scans technology across the military and commercial markets; identifies which could be applied to warfighter challenges; hunts for potential barriers to implementation; picks technologies for further experimentation; and, in the end, selects a handful of items to receive small investments.


“I wanted to make sure that ... whatever the requirement was, you could trace it right back to the National Defense Strategy, the Joint Warfighting Concept, the CNO [Navigation] Plan and the Commandant’s Planning Guidance,” Stewart said. “We wanted to make sure ... we were solving a problem the warfighter actually cared about.”


Since the task force’s formation, he said, the group has identified the first few technologies for initial investment — though he would not say what they are — and validated that the cross-functional team can make quick decisions through this venture capital methodology.


The task force gathers input from the fleets, the Office of Naval Research, the Navy’s warfighting centers, resource sponsors, systems commands and more. The idea is that, though some technologies may not prove to be worth their cost in fleet experiments, it won’t be because the task force didn’t consider its compatibility with other Navy systems or other considerations often missed in a siloed acquisition process. Having all the stakeholders represented in the selection process should help avoid mistakes, Stewart said.


“There’s been a lot of unmanned stuff going on, highly fragmented, and we’re pulling it together and scaling, learning, and accelerating what’s going on,” he said.


The task force officially began work in August and in January kicked off an initial cross-functional pilot program that will run for 12 to 18 months.


As part of this pilot program, the Unmanned Task Force is partnering with U.S. Fleet Forces Command and U.S. Pacific Fleet to understand specific operational problems that could be solved by unmanned systems or enablers like artificial intelligence and machine learning. A top operator need that has emerged is AI-enabled maritime domain awareness, Michael Stewart, the task force’s executive director, told reporters May 25.


With operational needs in mind, Stewart said, the task force uses a venture capital-like method to identify investments that could pay off: the process scans technology across the military and commercial markets; identifies which could be applied to warfighter challenges; hunts for potential barriers to implementation; picks technologies for further experimentation; and, in the end, selects a handful of items to receive small investments.


“I wanted to make sure that ... whatever the requirement was, you could trace it right back to the National Defense Strategy, the Joint Warfighting Concept, the CNO [Navigation] Plan and the Commandant’s Planning Guidance,” Stewart said. “We wanted to make sure ... we were solving a problem the warfighter actually cared about.”


Since the task force’s formation, he said, the group has identified the first few technologies for initial investment — though he would not say what they are — and validated that the cross-functional team can make quick decisions through this venture capital methodology.


The task force gathers input from the fleets, the Office of Naval Research, the Navy’s warfighting centers, resource sponsors, systems commands and more. The idea is that, though some technologies may not prove to be worth their cost in fleet experiments, it won’t be because the task force didn’t consider its compatibility with other Navy systems or other considerations often missed in a siloed acquisition process. Having all the stakeholders represented in the selection process should help avoid mistakes, Stewart said.


“There’s been a lot of unmanned stuff going on, highly fragmented, and we’re pulling it together and scaling, learning, and accelerating what’s going on,” he said.

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