Public Sector Future Podcast | Episode 48: Technology Trends and Decision Advantage in Defense

Episode 48 guest speaker Retired Vice Admiral Ann E. Rondeau

Technology Trends and Decision Advantage in Defense

with Retired Vice Admiral Ann E. Rondeau

On this episode, guest host AT Ball speaks to Retired Vice Admiral Ann E. Rondeau, President of the Naval Postgraduate School. Rondeau offers an inside look into how defense organizations can adopt digital tools and adapt with emerging technology.

Episode 48: Technology Trends and Decision Advantage in Defense

Public Sector Future

Episode summary

On this episode, guest host AT Ball speaks to Retired Vice Admiral Ann E. Rondeau, President of the Naval Postgraduate School. Rondeau offers an inside look into how defense organizations can adopt digital tools and adapt with emerging technology.

Listen to this episode on any of these podcast platforms:

What opportunities does the adoption of emerging technology offer for defense organizations?

On this episode, guest host AT Ball speaks to Retired Vice Admiral Ann E. Rondeau, President of the Naval Postgraduate School. Rondeau offers an inside look into how defense organizations can adopt digital tools and adapt with emerging technology.

Focusing on digital technology

Rondeau starts by sharing how the diversity of roles she took on during her Naval career to date has shaped her. “In my time within the Navy, I had myriad job opportunities. Because at the time, the law was limiting with regard to what women did, I had the extraordinary opportunity of having leaders be very satisfied with my work and helping to mentor me through different kinds of opportunities that were very unusual.

The result is a very eclectic matrix of things that I’ve done with aviation, with surface warfare, with submarines, with strategy and planning, with operational planning, with strategic planning policies, politics.”  

“I on purpose talk about being a history major because I went to an undergraduate school that was interdisciplinary, one of the first and most cutting edge schools. It was a terrific education. But as a history major, I was required to take the history of science, the history of music, all of those things. I’m a lifelong learner. But you cannot read history, whether it’s history about war, or societies, or communities or culture, or anything, and not be aware that technology in every single aspect of life has driven either change, and positive creation, or very destructive creation.”

Rondeau continued, “Technology is extraordinary. Think about way back even, the Spartans… the short swords, they refused to adopt and adapt to technology. And of course, then they get beaten in a war with early artillery of longbows and the kinds of weapons that were used by the Thebes. Technology does that.”

“As well, in wartime, there’s a lot of extraordinary technology that is developed, let’s say, for instance, in medicine. Some of the best medicine has begun as field medicine, in some capacity. So, life is full of technology. I don’t think that anybody who is looking at the world cannot acknowledge that the observation of life is about the observation and the impact of technology, in many ways.”

Leaders as questioners

Reflecting on the imperative for the adoption of digital tools, Rondeau shares “There’s an imperative always in societies, and certainly in the military, to think about what is the new thing that will give you the competitive advantage.

So right now, the digital world is that competitive advantage. What is different about this time a little bit, is the speed and the density of all this. And frankly, the lifecycle is just so much shorter.”

“One of the things that’s really important today is that leaders need not be the masters of the digital world, but they need to be the questioners. They need to be exquisitely curious about the digital world.”

Rondeau added, “The knowledge base is actually almost denser and more current, the more junior you are, which is not the case in the past. The best knowledge was when you had seniority and access to more information. And now the access to information has been so democratized.”

“So the digital world also demands an extraordinarily new approach to teaming, and to problem solutions, to solutions creation.”

“The digital world changes how and who is making the decisions, and at what level. And I think that there is this extraordinary need to understand with discernment. How trustworthy is the data, how trustworthy is the information, and how confident can the decision-maker be in that? And that’s a lot of skill or science instincts, and I think it changes teaming.”

Building decision advantage

“We in the military call it command and control. We don’t mean that command in a way that maybe non-military would understand it. Order and discipline within the process of decision-making and who’s involved in it and where it comes in, the timing of it and all those things. There’s a syncopation to command and control that has usually served quite well. I mean, it’s just really an important phenomenon. And to abandon it is disastrous; to change it is essential.”

Rondeau explained, “You need to have some ability to see things and to understand things. And the command and control of decision-making has been a profound asset in the American mindset for the military, and as well, frankly, as it is for most operational professions. But today creating a command and control information system that services the right decision-maker at the right time, at the right rank, for the right effect, should be an objective, but it’s changed.

“Command and control is essential for decision-making. But in the end, that has to include some combination of AI, machine learning, and all the other adaptations technologically, alongside in parallel with an exquisite timing with a human ability, and the human value of making decisions in that cycle. So, I think that the digital world has changed command and control, but the objective of that is to make really good decisions.”

Examples of promising outcomes

“With Microsoft, we have been working with a Space Systems Academic group at Naval Postgraduate School, investigating AI, machine learning to analyze and mitigate signal jamming and interference for environments. We’re calling that the Space Sensor Cloud Network.”

Rondeau continued, “The bottom line is that we continue to explore and improve key future technologies as a part of our working with Microsoft, in this case, through our CRADA, the Cooperative Research and Development Agreement, that NPS [Naval Postgraduate School] has with Microsoft.”

“We are really thinking about how you apply these extraordinary sciences to how we think about actions and decisions. A better command and control model allows us to identify and address intentional and unintentional jamming at the leading edge of the network. Now, think about that. That has civilian, commercial, and military applications that will enable reliable command and control, and thereby decision advantage.”

“We’re doing work with other companies also, but with Microsoft, we’re working on GEMS. You know, this is a whole Gaming, Experimentation, Modeling, and Simulation work that we believe is cutting edge for how we think about decision-making, and how you anticipate, how you get into things you don’t know. The famous comment is ‘You don’t know what you don’t know.’ GEMS should help us to know better what we don’t know.”

CRADA: Cooperative Research and Development Agreement

The Naval Postgraduate School and Microsoft work together using a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) which explores how commercial technologies can solve operational challenges.

“I’m going to use a term I don’t often use as a responsible naval officer, that I think there’s a revolution in front of us on how we think about this. And let me put it into a couple of different terms. So, China has implemented a military-civil fusion strategy. It is intended to remove the lines between academia, industry, and the military, to achieve their stated objective to be the most technologically advanced military in the world, and that they’re going to be the first and the leader for intelligent warfare. But that is in a command economy. So, I would tell you is that I’m not quite sure that they will ever get there, if you’re going to remove the lines with a command economy mind, where it’s an autocracy, and you think about one way and one thing.”

Rondeau believes that that military-civil fusion has a very different look in the United States and that “we need to have an equivalence to it, without compromising who we are. We need a radical reinvention of a military-civil innovation relationship to lower the existing barriers.”

“I mean, we are kind of a sumo wrestler in a rugby game. We need to think about those barriers.”

“So, I think that the CRADA that we’re in with Microsoft gives us an opportunity to think about that revolution. So I would tell you is that we’ve signed 30 such CRADAs, with partners ranging from Microsoft to Xerox to AT&T and the panoply of other companies… instead of a military industrial base, why not think about a military industrial network that really takes advantage of the current environment.”

“So let’s go side by side, let’s move, let’s push to the left everything in the design cycle. Let’s integrate military cases and address capability gaps from the start. This accelerates development.”

“Moving things to the left of the design cycle is part of that new way of thinking that is just not done when you buy ships and airplanes and submarines and that kind of thing. That’s almost radical, because it really does change a lot of processes and it implies trust and – and transparency in a way that the current processes do not always provide.”

The role international collaboration can play

“I have a very keen and kind of an optimistic view of that [international collaboration] in a number of ways. First of all, the international community; remember what has happened here. There is a rising up of common knowledge and capability. So, you think about some folks who are in very remote places using technology very differently, and in some cases, speeding it along. I think that international experiences give us a diversity of experience, a diversity of perspective, a diversity of problem solving that are both cultural, they’re intellectual. And I think that there’s this extraordinary diversity that can come in to that that’s really important.”

Retired Vice Admiral Rondeau has three specific views on international collaboration that she shares during the interview:

“So, I think, one, that the international engagement here is extraordinary for what it can come with, for solutions. And there’s a whole history of how that is the case and it’s a whole different topic.”

“Number two is I think that we have a rather moral obligation in some cases to bring the technology that do provide solutions in peace and war to each other. You know, more and more, there’s a discussion about conflict. We’ll go back to a period before Napoleon, where citizens are more affected than ever until Napoleon was army against army on the battlefields of France or Russia, wherever. This is now battlefields are critical infrastructure. This is now the battlefields of energy. This is the battlefield of water. There’s a real obligation to help people to be resilient, to understand energy, to understand all the things that go on.”

“And number three is there’s a humility on both sides of this. This kind of problem solving does require this paradox of confidence and a little bit of humility. And I think that that’s really important to understand as for decision-makers not to hesitate, because you can’t, and you should not as a leader do anything but seizing the initiative, as you see the need.”

To find out more:

Learn more about how Microsoft can support digital transformation in Defense and Intelligence

Read more from Vice Adm. Ann Rondeau (Ret.) on ‘Rebalancing the Science and Art of War for Decision Advantage’

About the Center of Expertise

Microsoft’s Public Sector Center of Expertise brings together thought leadership and research relating to digital transformation in the public sector. The Center of Expertise highlights the efforts and success stories of public servants around the globe, while fostering a community of decision makers with a variety of resources from podcasts and webinars to white papers and new research. Join us as we discover and share the learnings and achievements of public sector communities.

Questions or suggestions?

Follow Microsoft