The Naval Expeditions (NavalX) office is starting five regional “tech bridges” to further encourage collaboration and connections between different Navy and private sector groups, the service said Tuesday.

The Navy said these tech bridges aim to “connect, reinforce, and sustain acceleration ecosystems in off-base locations across the [Department of Navy] enabling greater collaboration with non-traditional partners.”

These first centers will be located in Newport, R.I; Keyport, Wash.; San Diego; Orlando, Fla.; and Crane, Ind.

Cmdr. Sam Gray, U.S. Navy NavalX member (left), Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development & Acquisition (RDA) James Geurts (center), and Capt. Jon Margolick, U.S. Marine Corps NavalX member (right) announced NavalX is starting five regional tech bridges at the original NavalX office in Alexandria, Va. on Sept. 3. (Photo: Richard Abott, Defense Daily)
Cmdr. Sam Gray, U.S. Navy NavalX member (left), Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development & Acquisition (RDA) James Geurts (center), and Capt. Jon Margolick, U.S. Marine Corps NavalX member (right) announced NavalX is starting five regional tech bridges at the original NavalX office in Alexandria, Va. on Sept. 3. (Photo: Richard Abott, Defense Daily)

Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development & Acquisition (RDA) James Geurts first unveiled NavalX in February, promising it as an innovation cell that acts as a connector for innovative ideas rather than generating its own ideas (Defense Daily, Feb. 15).

While efforts like the Advanced Naval Technology Exercise (ANTX) tries to give the service a new item to field like a drone, tablet, or communication tool, in contrast NavalX pushes new ways to share information so offices can innovate easier and faster.

Geurts told reporters at the original NavalX office in Alexandria, Va., that each tech bridge will act as a franchise to allow each region to develop its own model to connect in their unique ecosystems.

While supported by NavalX, the offices aim to facilitate projects in each region designed to solve problems and technology areas defined by the Navy and fleet workforce. The Navy expects them to partner with start-ups, academia, corporations, small businesses, non-profits, and private capital.

These new centers came from seeing how the first office worked well for the Navy, “but as good as this place was, it’s inherently limited in its scale. And so one of the ground-up initiatives that came here…was folks from ONR (Office of Naval Research), folks from some of our innovation products externally kind of said, ‘Hey, how can we do this more broadly across the entire Navy?’ That kind of generated this initiative we’ve called tech bridges,” Geurts said.

These new centers aim to replicate how NavalX operates as a gathering spot or combustion chamber for innovation, to “close that distance between end user, developer, and requirement, and now we’re going to scale that across a much broader ecosystem,” he continued.

Geurts emphasized these are only the first of possibly many tech bridges.

“I envision this scaling out into a much larger piece. And these tech bridges really kind of serve as clusters of activity within a more localized area with a little bit more of an area of emphasis….each have their own kind of special focus area, but they’ve got a lot in common: they’ve got great partnerships with the academics, they have great interaction with state and local agencies and governments which allow them to kind of leverage more broadly than just the DoD network, and they all are very interested in connecting through this NavalX network.”

Geurts said other undisclosed areas are interested in creating their own tech bridges, so he hopes the lessons from these first five will help connect future offices to the network and help the Navy get the power of scale.

The NavalX team will help make sure the tech bridges “are getting their feet under them” and leverage the lessons and playbooks from the office, he said.

NavalX logo

After Geurts tasked the office with this project, the initial locations “jumped out at us, that these places were already doing a lot of this work. And true to the Navalx mission the goal was really to find the pockets of innovation…where these things were already happening and how do we scale that to the rest of the Department of the Navy,” NavalX member Cmdr. Sam Gray told reporters.

Orlando and Crane specifically popped out as options because they “have been doing this for years” while Newport and Keyport were doing this in a new effort in conjunction with state governments. Gray also said the effort in San Diego “was just massive ecosystem with a lot of different things going on,” helping it fit in to this structure too.

Gray noted Orlando and Crane have already stood up their locations because they had a strong preexisting facility presence outside their gates that NavalX is helping enhance.

Orlando is home to the Naval Air Warfare Center Training Systems Division that supports aviation, surface and subsurface training systems while Crane has the Naval Surface Warfare Center Crane Division, which focuses on electronic warfare, strategic missions and expeditionary warfare.

The remaining three will be stood up over the next six months once they can have a facility ready outside their gates they can utilize. Keyport and Newport both have Naval Undersea Warfare Center divisions while Newport also has the Naval War College. San Diego has a large set of Navy and Marine Corps commands in all warfighting domains.

Gray said other unnamed regions have a lot of the pieces too and will likely join as future tech bridges, but first need help and the example from the initial tech bridges.

“There is no timeline for the next locations. As soon as places are ready to go, we’ll welcome them in and expand the ecosystem, so we’re pretty excited to do that right away,” Gray said.

Geurts noted a location like Keyport was able to rapidly accelerate and get the solutions needed more quickly by leveraging NavalX knowledge than if they had to start from scratch.

The original NavalX office will focus on more service-wide problems like how to get the Slack messaging app approved For Official Use Only (FOUO) type conversations within the Navy or training new workflow management models. It consists of three uniformed offices and eight civilians with backgrounds ranging from systems commands, warfare centers, and laboratories.

NavalX member Marine Capt. Jon Margolick noted NavalX has already worked with the 2nd Marine Logistics Group, II Marine Expeditionary Force Information Group, and Marine Corps Combat Service Support Schools to set up the Center for Adaptive Warfighting at Camp Johnson, N.C. These organizations were interested in “better, faster, more agile ways to accomplish a mission…and to work more rapidly and knowledgeably and fluidly with the people around them,” Margolick said.

The office found Marines who were experts in the Scrum workflow model, adapted the human-centered design curriculum to be a warfighter-centered design curriculum and started teaching Marines. Since the curriculum is open to everyone, Margolick said Naval Air Systems Command, among other organizations, has expressed interest in using the new tool to improve workflow and deploy it across the Navy.

“Our job here is not to manufacture complete answers for everybody. Our job is to figure out what seeds, when planted, answer questions that are native to the places where they’re going to bloom. And as we identify tools like that one that can be deployed on a modular basis around the country, we’re finding we’re getting pretty positive response and that it’s actually generating measurable answers in each of those places,” Margolick said.

He noted NavalX is working with organizations ranging from the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense and the Defense Innovation Board to the Naval Junior Officers Council and the Entrepreneurial Council at the U.S. Naval Academy.

“A lot of people are trying to figure out how do new things, how do we do it faster, how do we help somebody. And it just takes a little nudge and a little support from above to help something take root there.”

Geurts emphasized NavalX is “not the place to invent things, it’s the place to share the knowledge so others can invent locally.”