What the Army's Next App Reveals About Defense Innovation

oatawa/Shutterstock.com

A major wins an innovation award by proposing to bring hotel-style booking to training ranges.

When you use an app or a webpage to book a hotel room or an airline ticket, that room or seat immediately becomes unavailable to everyone else. It’s the sort of automatic system that airlines have relied on since the 1960s. But if you need to book time on a U.S. Army firing range, you’re stuck with a process that predates the Jet Age.. 

“Typically…there’s a lot of phone calls back and forth, a lot of centralized control,” said Maj. Evan Adams, describing the Army’s Range Facility Management Support System. “If you have to go through range control in order to figure out a phone number in order to coordinate with someone about a firing and do that three or four times because you’re trying to coordinate, it’s very difficult.”

On Tuesday, Adams won the inaugural Dragon Innovation Challenge, a Shark Tank-style event dreamed up by the XVIII Airborne Corps to find a better way to schedule range time. Adams pitched a new mobile range scheduling app that functions very much like a reservation app for a restaurant or hotel. It also includes satellite photos and additional information on the ranges themselves so that people looking to book can make sure that the course meets their needs. Army officials said the Airborne Corps would build and test the app.

In an interview, Adams modestly pointed out that the idea really just mimicked the kind of experience most iPhone users have come to expect. “My idea hinges on the fact that these technologies exist already. I mean, messaging boards have been around since I’ve been in college,” he said. “Nobody questions that kind of capability on Facebook or Orbitz… so scheduling shouldn’t be difficult at all.” 

It’s an example of the sort of bottom-up approach to technology problems that military leaders say that they want to see more of. A second Dragon Innovation Challenge is scheduled for November. Adams said future versions of the app might predict when ranges are most likely to be busy, based on data provided by users. 

But the Defense Department has a way to go in actually supporting innovative solutions from within the ranks, in part because it doesn’t do a good job of giving regular personnel the authority to work with outside software companies, according to experts who spoke to Defense One. Adams’s success hints at a massive culture shift that’s barely begun and is progressing too slowly, they said. Specifically, it’s a shift away from a system that empowers a small handful of program officers to buy things in bulk to distribute across the service. What may have worked well for ships, boats, and rations several decades ago is a barrier to solving IT related problems quickly in the year 2020. 

Lt. Col. Matt Strohmeyer, an action officer with the Commander’s Initiatives Group at NORTHCOM, was a key player on a recent NORTHCOM effort to predict emerging COVID-19 hotspots across the United States and pre-deploy resources, a massive test of how well NORTHCOM could mobilize across the services to deal with a nationwide crisis. The effort relied on partnerships with a variety of software companies. On Wednesday, he described his experience working at the squadron level as an Air Force commander where he was charged with making squadrons more innovative.  “We would see innovative companies that were doing things… bringing in 5G mesh networking” things that the Air Force needed to innovate squadrons.

But he encountered massive systemic obstacles simply to reaching out to IT suppliers, much less building new software. “It was everyday a battle of culture…. How you could work with the companies, rightly,” he said. “But then also the culture battle of using new technologies and then challenging our paradigms about how the government thinks about data, speed, change, go fast and fail forward, thinking about risk differently, taking prudent risk, taking an 80 percent (completed) solution out into the field and prototyping it.” (Strohmeyer cautioned that his views were indicative of his personal experience and did not reflect those of NORTHCOM or the Air Force, per se.)

Junaid Islam, the 5G security advisor at the National Spectrum Consortium, said “People like Matt [Strohmeyer] should be able to purchase IT products as an IT product” using tools that regular businesses use, as opposed to a weapons systems, which might appropriately come with additional restrictions and obstacles.

Tara Murphy Dougherty, CEO of Govini, said that the Defense Department needs to explore new ways to buy software in order to enable personnel at mid and lower ranks to actually work with the sorts of tools that entry-level workers at successful companies can use. “The standard for these types of things, data, software, should be licensing not owning… it gets back to culture and the fact that the default for when you’re writing a contract is to use DFAR clauses that assume the government has to own it all… The DFAR clauses in contracts should be limited rights where commercial IP is protected,” in particular, she said, the Department needs to look at new ways to rent or license software and data that can make apps like the one conceived by Adams more useful and functional. “The Department has a phenomenal understanding of its own data, a disastrous view of global markets,” she said. 

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.