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Center Looks for Trouble

The team that provides combatant commands with lean, agile, responsive and collaborative thinking has taken on a mission of assessment and analysis of an operational and strategic magnitude. Its goal is to integrate information and analysis into the common operational picture quickly enough to get inside a commanding officer’s decision-making cycle. To achieve this objective, the group is relying on expertise that is available not only in the military but also in industry and academia.
By Maryann Lawlor, SIGNAL Magazine


In support of U.S. Strategic Command’s space mission, the
Global Innovation and Strategy Center (GISC) pulls together data from multiple sources to propose different solutions to emerging problems. Some of that information is obtained from other centers in support of joint operations. Working out of Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, Capt. Travor Newsham, USAF, and Tech Sgt. Jeramy Conley, USAF, examine data received on the Delta II site.

Collaborative environment fosters new ways to examine problems.

The team that provides combatant commands with lean, agile, responsive and collaborative thinking has taken on a mission of assessment and analysis of an operational and strategic magnitude. Its goal is to integrate information and analysis into the common operational picture quickly enough to get inside a commanding officer’s decision-making cycle. To achieve this objective, the group is relying on expertise that is available not only in the military but also in industry and academia.

Working under the auspices of the U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM), Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, the Global Innovation and Strategy Center (GISC) is helping to “create 21st-century solutions to 21st-century problems.” According to Col. Tom Gilbert, USAF, acting director of the GISC, this was one of the mantras of Gen. James E. Cartwright, USMC, when he was STRATCOM’s commander. Gen. Cartwright is now vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. This simple and direct insight sparked the idea of creating a place where experts from academia, industry, government and the military can assemble to solve specific problems in new ways. “We don’t do different things, we just do them differently,” Col. Gilbert says.

The center, which opened for business in September 2006, works on specific projects that focus on STRATCOM’s lines of operation: deterrence, space and cyberspace. Although STRATCOM concentrates its efforts in these three areas, the colonel points out that today these issues cut across all combatant commands (COCOMs). While broad, these lines of operation could include security in areas such as nuclear stability analysis, space situational awareness or cyberspace.

The GISC’s deliverables come in many forms, including recommendations about particular technical or other solutions, advocacy for certain approaches and assistance in transitioning solutions into products that are delivered to the warfighter. The center also searches for tools that provide data fusion, data mining and data analysis, and it examines new ways to apply current technologies in different ways to solve problems. In addition, the GISC connects people and organizations with others who are working on similar projects.

This basic mission now also includes analysis and assessment in the operational and strategic fields. On the operational side, the GISC is examining current military activities to determine if they are being conducted in the right manner to achieve the desired effects. On the strategic side, it is digging a little deeper and conquering the challenge of determining if the military is taking the right courses of action on a national level.

“The end game is to integrate these analyses and assessments into a common operational picture for the commanding officer, and to be inside his decision-making cycle. That’s a challenge. We’ve been to all of the COCOMs and organizations that conduct assessments; we’re trying to get the best of the best. That is a challenge for us,” Col. Gilbert relates.

For example, cybersecurity is a problem not only for STRATCOM, it also  is not just a military issue. In some ways it is a societal problem, he says, and one way to address it holistically is at the conferences and symposia that the GISC either sponsors or co-sponsors. Bringing together subject matter experts from different walks of work is one of the GISC’s primary missions, so events are at the heart of what the organization does and some of the best venues in which to do it, the colonel says.

New challenges usually are identified by a specific command or organization, and center members make sure they understand the problem inside and out. Representatives from the organization that brings the problem to the GISC must define specifically what they need, and both the command and GISC members must agree on terms of reference and expectations. “This is all part of being responsive. Our goal is to determine solutions within 120 days,” Col. Gilbert says.

Because of the classified nature of most of the GISC’s work, the colonel cannot share the details of the majority of the center’s projects. However, he does admit that the center is participating in current operations. Most of the activity has involved assessments as center analysts measure the effectiveness of military actions, he says.

On the unclassified side, one project the GISC collaborated on with Nebraska officials involved analyzing whether available but scattered data could be brought together to predict the locations of potential influenza outbreaks. Traditionally, an outbreak of any disease is detected with information collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Col. Gilbert points out that this approach is effective for known outbreaks but does not calculate where an illness might pop up next in a specific area.

Without relying on the traditional sources of data such as information from the medical community, and by incorporating data sharing, data mining, predictive analysis and collaboration with industry, the GISC focused on identifying locations where numerous cases of an illness were likely to break out in the near future. To accomplish this task, it tapped into databases available in industry, such as public transportation absenteeism reports. Col. Gilbert explains that the railroad industry, for example, requires a 72-hour notice prior to an employee taking a sick day. As a result, many railroad employees call in sick before the onset of serious symptoms. This information can be combined with data about something like school absenteeism to determine potential epidemic hot spots before an outbreak actually occurs, the GISC’s research determined.

The GISC also has been instrumental in unleashing the talent of students to take on critical issues. Its academic internship program invites commands to propose topics they believe to be of special importance. These challenges are given to the students at local universities who examine and research the problem, and then develop solutions.

In one case, the topic was cyber law, which involved researching the legal barriers to collaboration between government and the private sector. Unclassified information is always provided to students as part of the internship—in this case items such as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

This collaborative research results in a recommendations report, but Col. Gilbert emphasizes that it is not just a report that is placed on a bookshelf and ignored. Instead, the results from the project are briefed to the commanding officer of the command that suggested the topic. The commander then questions the students about their conclusions and proposed solutions. Afterward, the report is handed off to the commander’s staff for possible further action.

Student research always has resulted in the confirmation of solutions the command already had considered or in a different view and/or new methodology, the colonel says. For example, in the cyber law project, the students suggested exemptions to antitrust laws, noting that they believed some government information is “over classified” and should be shared openly with others. In addition, they recommended that bilateral agreements be formed between organizations, the colonel explains.

The GISC’s current priorities include its newest responsibility of conducting assessments and analysis of operations and strategies. Because the command focuses on strategy, the center must develop both strategic ideas as well as the metrics by which to measure their success. To this end, center personnel often are part of a commander’s team that develops a strategy to address a specific problem. They may contribute ideas, and they almost always use the outcomes after a strategy has been executed to measure its progress and determine lessons learned. These lessons can be applied to similar situations in the future.

“As the commander is determining a strategy, analysts are right there and inserting their ideas. They are also using MOEs [measures of effectiveness] and MORs [measures of performance]. This is how we’ll measure what they’re doing. Then we must go back and pull data and put it together to conduct an analysis that we push up the chain of command,” Col. Gilbert explains.

Another of the center’s priorities is to determine which military, industry and academic subject matter experts are working on solutions to the same problems. The GISC contacts the national laboratories, COCOMs and companies to find commonalities among projects and to facilitate collaboration.

To achieve the best results, the GISC has what Col. Gilbert describes as a “lean and agile staff.” At the core are 42 U.S. Defense Department billets, 25 percent of which are filled by service members. However, the colonel emphasizes that the number of experts who may collaborate on a specific problem can vary, because the center also will bring in specialized expertise from other organizations depending on the problem under discussion. “Diversity is our strength,” the colonel states. “We want to leverage what others are doing. We don’t want to reinvent the wheel or work on an area in parallel with someone else, and we’ve done that.”

According to Col. Gilbert, the center’s future involves moving forward with its latest responsibilities of assessments and analyses and improving its relationship with academia, agencies and government laboratories.

Global Innovation and Strategy Center: www.stratcom.mil/factsheets/gisc/Global_Innovation_and_Strategy_Center
U.S. Strategic Command: www.stratcom.mil