MIT Lincoln Laboratory's Defense Technology Seminar marks its 20th year
From 24 to 28 April, active-duty officers from the military and civilian employees of government defense agencies attended the 20th Defense Technology Seminar (DTS) hosted at MIT Lincoln Laboratory. Both Lincoln Laboratory and outside experts gave presentations on new technologies and the global geopolitical scene, all with a focus on the impacts advanced technology might have on current and future military operations.
"Early in my career at Lincoln Laboratory, there were a number of occasions when a senior military officer visiting the Laboratory for a day of briefings on our programs would say, 'I wish I had known about you folks when I was a major working difficult electronics challenges.' In 1995, David Briggs, then an assistant director, said, 'Let's stop whining about this gap and do something about it.' Thus was born the Defense Technology Seminars, which have continued for these many years," says William Delaney, Director's Office Fellow, who has chaired DTS since its beginning.
This year's seminar opened with a keynote address titled "A Defense Strategy for the New Administration" delivered by Andrew Krepinevich Jr., a prominent defense policy analyst. Krepinevich, now the president of Solarium LLC, served from 1995 to 2015 as president of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments after his retirement from a 21-year career in the U.S. Army.
The other guest speakers were a roster of prominent authorities on defense from government and academia: James Baker, director of the Office of Net Assessment in the Office of the Secretary of Defense; Eric Heginbotham, a principal research scientist at MIT's Center for International Studies; Colin F. Jackson, a professor of strategy and policy in the Advanced Naval Strategy Program at the Naval War College; Stephen Kinzer, a senior fellow in international and public affairs at Brown University; Eric Rosenbach, former chief of staff to the Secretary of Defense; and Jessica Stern, a research professor in the Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University.
The topics these speakers covered ranged from analyses of global challenges—for example, U.S.-China relations and threats from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria—to personal reflections—for example, lessons learned as a Pentagon chief of staff and thoughts on emerging defense challenges.
Lincoln Laboratory speakers introduced the attendees to advanced technologies under development, such as high-energy lasers and foliage-penetrating imagers; discussed thorny problems the Laboratory is tackling, such as cyber security and ballistic missile defense; and examined potential technology solutions to homeland security concerns, such as border protection and air defense.
After Tuesday's overview of space surveillance activities, the 70 attendees toured the Space Surveillance Complex in Westford, Massachusetts, where they could observe the unique radars used to monitor space and where they enjoyed dinner and a talk by Grant Stokes, head of the Laboratory's Space Systems and Technology Division, on the truth and myths about an asteroid collision with Earth. Later in the week, attendees visited the Laboratory's Flight Test and RF System Test Facility on Hanscom Air Force Base.
First held in 1996, DTS became an annual event at Lincoln Laboratory, with the exception of two years in which national events—the 2003 Iraq conflict and 2013 government restrictions on travel—caused the cancellation of the seminar.
The DTS was modeled after a two-week national security course, offered at the Harvard Kennedy School, that then assistant directors Briggs and Delaney attended. "The Harvard course did a great job informing the 100 attending officers and government civilians on issues in national security, worldwide economics, government ethics, and other broad topics. The course was a dynamic event with great lectures and team exercises. Visiting scholars from the national scene brought broad oversights to the course," recalls Delaney.
Briggs and Delaney saw the potential of a Lincoln Laboratory course that would engage military officers, who often were unaware of the Laboratory and its capabilities, and Laboratory staff, who could gain insight into the military's needs.
Delaney credits Briggs with setting ambitious goals for the proposed Lincoln Laboratory seminar: hold a one-week event to allow for a wide range of lectures, tours, demonstrations and interactive lunches and dinners; invite mid-level grade officers who are the day-to-day implementers of systems; and create an agenda that offered Lincoln Laboratory's special expertise in system development and distinguished policy analysts' broad view of national defense.
The topics for each year's 25 talks by the Lincoln Laboratory staff have varied from year to year, chosen to have current appeal to military personnel and to "show well" in a 30-minute briefing. An annual challenge for the DTS organizers has always been to decide what technologies to highlight. Because the Laboratory typically is managing more than 500 technical programs, it would be impossible to cover the full breadth of its work in 25 briefings, so Delaney has had to make judicious choices for each DTS.
Speakers from the Laboratory were encouraged to gear their talks to a non-expert, non-technologist audience from widely varied backgrounds. "Over the many years of this seminar, I think we shifted the Lincoln talk protocols to ones that could accommodate broad, relatively non-technical audiences," says Delaney. His opinion is backed up by 20 years of very positive attendee feedback on the talks.
Over the years, DTS guest speakers have been national leaders, including a retired Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Vice Chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Deputy Secretary of Defense, an Under Secretary of Defense, a Service Secretary, and former Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, who spoke at six DTS events. According to Delaney, the participation of such Department of Defense leadership has given the seminar "an aura that we at Lincoln Laboratory could not have accomplished alone."
Initially, invited attendees were military officers who were known to the Laboratory staff. Later on, DTS organizers moved to a "broadcast" style of invitation, sending an informational bulletin describing the seminar to a wide cast of potentially interested military and government staff. In recent years, 400 such bulletins have been mailed annually. Over the 20 years, alumni who had enjoyed the seminar have been a major source of new invitees. The typical attendance is 60 to 70 people, just enough to be accommodated comfortably in the Laboratory's smaller meeting room that fosters dialog and networking.
Lincoln Laboratory organizes housing, transportation, and meals for 60 to 70 guests for DTS week. Government-rate hotel accommodations are arranged for attendees who are not local; bus transportation to and from the Laboratory and its various field sites is provided; and five breakfasts and lunches at the Laboratory, plus three dinners at other venues, such as MIT's Endicott House, are planned.
In addition, DTS organizers coordinate admittance for guests with the Security Services Department; interface with facility and IT services to outfit spaces with necessary furnishings, computers, and communications; and work with the Technical Communications group to assemble helpful print materials, such as maps and programs.
Delaney gives high praise to the individuals who have supported DTS over the years: "Military officers understand that careful and effective logistics are critical to a successful military operation. I am proud that our team can execute this one-week event almost flawlessly. Great credit for 20 years of success goes to the supporting logistics team members." This team has included Roger Sudbury, formerly the Laboratory's Executive Officer, and Chet Kurys, a former and now part-time technical staff member, who both provided counsel and handled many details of interfacing with invitees; and five administrative staff—Jane Benoit, Sandra Gallinaro, Joyce Michaels, Joan Teno, and most recently Maggie Santos, who shouldered the bulk of the logistical tasks.
Delaney believes DTS continues to meet its original goals. "I often see a somewhat familiar face in the halls of the Pentagon, and a colonel or general re-introduces him- or herself, saying, 'I was at the seminar in 2001!' He or she then adds, 'It was a great experience and a great seminar.' That feedback tells me we succeeded."