Category: Technology Innovation and Modern War

Lessons for the DoD – From Ukraine and China


This post is by steve blank from Steve Blank


 Portions of this post previously appeared in War On the Rocks.


Looking at a satellite image of Ukraine online I realized it was from Capella Space – one of our Hacking for Defense student teams who now has 7 satellites in orbit.

National Security is Now Dependent on Commercial Technology
They’re not the only startup in this fight. An entire wave of new startups and scaleups are providing satellite imagery and analysis, satellite communications, and unmanned aerial vehicles supporting the struggle.

For decades, satellites that took detailed pictures of Earth were only available to governments and the high-resolution images were classified. Today, commercial companies have their own satellites providing unclassified imagery. The government buys and distributes commercial images from startups to supplement their own and shares them with Ukraine as part of a broader intelligence-sharing arrangement that the head of Defense Intelligence Agency described as “revolutionary.” By the end of the decade, there will be 1000 commercial satellites for every U.S. government satellite in orbit.

At the onset of the war in Ukraine, Russia launched a cyber-attack on Viasat’s KA-SAT satellite, which supplies Internet across Europe, including to Ukraine. In response, to a (tweeted) request from Ukraine’s vice prime minister, Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite company shipped thousands of their satellite dishes and got Ukraine back on the Internet. Other startups are providing portable cell towers – “backpackable” and fixed.  When these connect via satellite link, they can provide phone service and WIFI capability. Another startup is providing a resilient, (Read more...)

When National Security Falls Between the Cracks


This post is by steve blank from Steve Blank


A version of this article – co-authored with Raj Shah and Joe Felter – previously appeared in War On The Rocks.

After hearing from 20+ guest speakers, including two Secretaries of Defense, Generals, Admirals and Policy makers in our Technology, Innovation and Modern War class – the direction of technology and the future of national security came into sharper focus. This series of articles will offer suggestions to transform the DoD to face the challenges ahead.


As it is currently organized, the U.S. government is ill-equipped to deal with the growing number of national security challenges that exist at the intersection of commercial and defense technology. Innovation opportunities are slipping between Washington’s organizational gaps, and America’s enemies are too.

President Joe Biden has already taken several steps that suggest he recognizes the gravity of this problem. He has elevated the science adviser to a Cabinet-level position, appointed a number of talented individuals to high-level cyber security posts, and created a national security adviser for cyber and emerging technology. But more changes are needed. Most importantly, Biden should create a deputy national security adviser with sufficient staff and authority to coordinate innovation and technology policies across the entire government.

Blurred Lines
From artificial intelligence to biotechnology, U.S. national security is inexorably and increasingly intertwined with commercial technology. Unlike in the Cold War, advancements in areas with important national security implications come from private sector research labs and are driven by consumer demand rather than government directives. Yet it remains unclear (Read more...)

Regaining America’s Technological Edge: Build a Civil-Military Alliance


This post is by steve blank from Steve Blank


A version of this article – co-authored with Raj Shah and Joe Felter – previously appeared in The National Interest.

After hearing from 20+ guest speakers, including two Secretaries of Defense, Generals, Admirals and Policy makers in our Technology, Innovation and Modern War class – the direction of technology and the future of national security came into sharper focus. This series of articles will offer suggestions to transform the DoD to face the challenges ahead.

“We need to couple the $150 billion a year U.S. Venture capitalists (VCs) spend to fund new ventures with the speed and urgency that the DOD now requires.”


We stand at a crossroads of history. The decisions this new administration makes about how to engage, incite, and rally the full force of American capitalism will determine whether we stand in the backwash of China’s exhaust or we continue to lead.

In the twenty-first century our country’s military and economic power will rely on the rapid development and deployment of new technologies—5G, microelectronics, cyber, AI, autonomy, robotics, access to space, drones, biotech, quantum computing, energy storage, and others yet to be invented.

The technologies we employed to prevail in the Cold War and the War on Terror were largely developed by big defense primes and U.S. government labs, but today most of the advances come from commercial vendors—many of them Chinese. For the first time in the history of modern civilization most of the technologies needed for the military are driven by consumer demand and the (Read more...)

Pentagon Advisory Boards Need to Offer 10X Ideas, Not 10% Ones – P.S. You’re Fired


This post is by steve blank from Steve Blank


A version of this article – co-authored with Raj Shah and Joe Felter – previously appeared in Defense One.

(UpdateAfter this article was written the Secretary of Defense fired every member of all 40+ defense advisory boards and will start anew. Hopefully the suggestions in this post will help inform how they reconstitute the boards.)


Last week the Biden administration delayed seating several Trump appointees to defense advisory boards. It’s a welcome signal that incoming leaders recognize these groups are essential, not just patronage jobs. But the review needs to go much further than that.

One of the many changes the Department of Defense needs to make is to reimagine the role and makeup of its advisory boards and ask them for 10x advice, not 10% advice.

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The Defense Department is at a crossroads. Incremental improvements are no longer good enough to keep up with China; the Pentagon needs substantive and sustained changes to its size, structure, policies, processes, practices, technologies, and culture. The last administration asked most of the Pentagon’s 40-plus boards for advice on small improvements — with a few notable exceptions, such as the Innovation Board’s Software Study and the work of the National Security Commission for AI — the latter an independent effort chartered by Congress.

This is no longer sufficient. The DoD needs to ask for big ideas, boards who can deliver transformative advice, and it needs to reshape its boards to provide them.

What’s an Advisory Board?
DOD’s Advisory (Read more...)

Lessons for the New Administration – Technology, Innovation, and Modern War


This post is by steve blank from Steve Blank


Our recent national security class at Stanford, Technology, Innovation, and Modern War was designed to give students insights on how the onslaught of new technologies like AI, machine learning, autonomy, cyber, access to space, biotech, hypersonics, and others have the potential to radically change how countries fight and deter threats.

With 20+ guest speakers, including two Secretaries of Defense, Generals, Admirals and Policy makers, the class emphasized that winning future conflicts requires more than just adopting new technology and developing new weapon systems. It calls for a revolution in thinking about how these technologies can be adopted and integrated into weapons and other defense platforms, and more importantly, how they can create new operational and organizational concepts that will change the way we fight.

By the end of the class there were five surprises.

  1. One was a continuous refrain from senior DoD leadership that new tech, weapons, and operational concepts are insufficient to guarantee the U.S. will prevail in a great power conflict. In fact, these new technologies/weapons change the odds against us.
  2. Secondly, our senior military leadership recognizes that now more than ever we can’t go it alone. We need allies – existing and new ones. And that depends on a reinvigorated State Department and renewed emphasis on diplomacy in general.

Unstated by any of our speakers but painfully clear by class end were three other surprises:

  1. Our national security is now inexorably intertwined with commercial technology and is hindered by our lack of an integrated strategy at (Read more...)

Technology, Innovation, and Modern War  – Wrap Up


This post is by steve blank from Steve Blank


This class, Technology, Innovation, and Modern War was designed to give our students insights on how the onslaught of new technologies like AI, machine learning, autonomy, cyber, access to space, biotech, hypersonics, and others has the potential to radically change how countries fight and deter threats.

Our 20+ guest speakers were an extraordinary collection of military and policy leaders including two Secretaries of Defense, Generals, Admirals and Policy makers.

The class emphasized that winning future conflicts requires more than just adopting new technology and developing new weapon systems. It calls for a revolution in thinking about how these technologies can be adopted and integrated into weapons and other defense platforms, and more importantly, how they can create new operational and organizational concepts that will change the way we fight.

By the time we got to the end of the class we had a firehose of perspectives on technology, weapons, and policy. It took us awhile to process it all, but out of that mass of data five surprises emerged – insights about what’s happened to the DOD and the country and how we should organize to meet these challenges. We’ve summarized them in part 2 that follows this post. But first here’s a summary of what we covered in this class.

An overview of the history of military innovation
In the first part of this course, we reminded the students that the national power of a country – its influence and footprint on the world stage – is more than (Read more...)

Technology, Innovation, and Modern War – Class 18 – General James Mattis


This post is by steve blank from Steve Blank


We just held our eighteenth and final session of our new national security class Technology, Innovation and Modern WarJoe FelterRaj Shah and I designed a class to examine the new military systems, operational concepts and doctrines that will emerge from 21st century technologies – Space, Cyber, AI & Machine Learning and Autonomy.

Today General James Mattis addressed the class.

Catch up with the class by reading our summaries of the previous seventeen classes here.


Our speaker for our final last class was former Secretary of Defense General Jim Mattis who gave an inspiring talk about service to the nation. General Mattis joined the Marine Corps back in 1969, and he has led Marines and then later Joint forces from every level from platoon commander as a Lieutenant all the way up to combatant commander of US Central Command as a four-star general. He recently led our entire US Defense Department as our country’s 26th Secretary of Defense. We’re fortunate to have him back here at Stanford at the Hoover Institution.

Below are select excerpts from a riveting Q&A session with the teaching team and our students. General Mattis shared a range of compelling experiences and insights that underscored many of the themes of the course.

How do we as a nation, compete against China?
The reality is that Republican and Democratic administrations have tried over 20 some years, to help China. (It was assumed) if we enable them, if we work with them, if they (Read more...)

Technology, Innovation, and Modern War – Class 17 – Organizational Design – Safi Bahcall


This post is by steve blank from Steve Blank


We just held our seventeenth session of our new national security class Technology, Innovation and Modern WarJoe FelterRaj Shah and I designed a class to examine the new military systems, operational concepts and doctrines that will emerge from 21st century technologies – Space, Cyber, AI & Machine Learning and Autonomy.

Today’s topic was Organizational Design and Modern War. And Finals Prep.

Catch up with the class by reading our summaries of the previous sixteen classes here.


This was our next -to-last class. While this class focused on the impact new technology and operational concepts and modern war, we thought it was important to have our students understand the organizational and cognitive barriers that make adopting new technologies difficult. Our guest speaker was Safi Bahcall,author of Loonshots.

The pre-class assignment was to watch Safi’s video about Loonshots.

In addition to our speaker, today was presentation prep day for our students’ final papers. We met with all the teams and reviewed their final summaries. (A description of their final assignment follows the summary of Safi’s presentation.)

I’ve extracted and paraphrased a few of Safi’s key insights and urge you to read the entire transcript here and watch his video.

Invention versus Innovation
As I’ve been sitting in the back of the class for the last couple of months, I’ve seen great speakers on strategy, on technology, on invention. I’m using the word invention deliberately — not innovation — because invention and (Read more...)

Technology, Innovation, and Modern War – Class 16 – Acquisition & Sustainment – Ellen Lord


This post is by steve blank from Steve Blank


We just held our sixteenth session of our new national security class Technology, Innovation and Modern WarJoe FelterRaj Shah and I designed a class to examine the new military systems, operational concepts and doctrines that will emerge from 21st century technologies – Space, Cyber, AI & Machine Learning and Autonomy.

Today’s topic was Acquisition and Sustainment and Modern War.

Catch up with the class by reading our summaries of the previous fifteen classes here.


Some of the readings for this week included How the DOD Acquires Weapons Systems, The Planning, Programming and Budgeting Process, Acquisition Reform in the NDAA, Defense Primer on DOD Contractors, and on the Defense Industrial Base

Our guest speaker was the Honorable Ellen Lord the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment. She is responsible to the Secretary of Defense for acquisition; developmental testing; contract administration; logistics and materiel readiness; installations and environment; operational energy; chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons; the acquisition workforce; and the defense industrial base.

Prior to this appointment, Ms. Lord served as the President and Chief Executive Officer of Textron Systems Corporation, a subsidiary of Textron Inc. leading a multi-billion dollar business with a broad range of products and services supporting defense, homeland security, aerospace, infrastructure protection, and customers around the world.

I’ve extracted and paraphrased a few of Ellen Lords key insights and urge you to read the entire transcript here and watch her video.

Progress in Modernizing (Read more...)

The Rapture Happened but I Wasn’t Called


This post is by steve blank from Steve Blank


Last Friday the Secretary of Defense abruptly fired half of the Defense Business Board.
For some reason, he forgot me.

He appointed former Trump campaign officials Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie as chair and vice chair and nine other new members. (Update: the new chair is Chris Burnham and the new vice chair is Kiron Skinner. Both are current board members.)

The Defense Business Board is one of several advisory boards that serve as the pleasure of the Secretary of Defense. The business board is just what it sounds like – leaders from business who could offer best business practices to the department and nation.

Other defense advisory committees include Policy, Innovation, Science, Military Personnel Testing, Women in the Services, and on Sexual Assault. Each of these boards/committees is supposed to provide the Defense Department with the best nonpartisan information and advice available.

The reason I joined was to offer the Secretary of Defense insights that could transform and leapfrog the status quo, not just make us incrementally better. Not just 10% better advice but 10x advice.

After multiple board meetings I still couldn’t tell you what political party any of the board members were in, nor did any of them let their party affiliations color any of their advice. We were all volunteering our time to serving our county.

Over the last year the administration began replacing members of every defense advisory board with party loyalists.

Below is my resignation letter (Read more...)