Navy Secretary Ray Mabus is on the hunt for innovation in the fleet, and he's putting it to sailors to help the Navy evolve.

The Navy and Marine Corps have made revolutionary leaps technological advances in the past two centuries, and Mabus said but now it's time to speed up the process of sharing information and pushing new technologies to the fleet, Mabus told before a he told a packed ballroom Wednesday at the annual Sea-Air-Space Exposition outside Washington.

Digital Show Daily: Complete coverage from the Navy League Sea-Air-Space Exposition

"Today, the world we live in is defined by speed and information sharing. The pace with which technology is developed, employed, then changed and developed anew, drives everything we do," he said. "Information is shared everywhere in seconds. Social media is a revolution and has started revolutions."

To renew that spirit, Mabus earlier this year established Task Force Innovation, a group with the goal of "making a very large organization agile by using parts of that same organization" and by bringing together thinkers and experts from around the Department of the Navy, he said.

The task force was charged not with coming up with new tools but figuring out new ways to share and use information and technology.

"It's not only about what we make, it's about how we think," Mabus said.

Members of the task force spent the past few months gathering ideas from the fleet, Mabus said, and they have coalesced into five goals:

  1. Create a Navy Department of the Navy innovation network.
  2. Rework the department's talent management system.
  3. Use information better.
  4. Push emerging operational capabilities to the fleet sooner.
  5. Break through warfighting concepts.

Mabus pointed to Project Athena, an innovation program aboard the destroyer Benfold in San Diego, as a shining example. The grassroots program allows sailors to meet each week to discuss ideas they've come up with for improving their ship and their lives in the Navy.

Task Force Innovation is adopting that model, he added, with a crowdsourcing site for sailor ideas that will get attention at the highest levels.

SECNAV also called for workforce and talent management changes, such as recent proposals to builds off of ideas Chief of Naval Personnel Vice Adm. Bill Moran has been discussing since early this year, doing away with officer year groups to screen for promotion based on milestones and merit rather than time in service.

"That means better recognizing and rewarding performance, implementing far more flexibility into career paths, and ensuring the skills resident in our force are being put to their best use," Mabus said.

Another idea, proposed by Chief of Naval Personnel Vice Adm. Bill batted around by Moran, is to better track sailor retention as part of the mountains of data the Navy collects about sailors' skills and careers. the idea of better using the massive amounts of data the Navy collects on its sailors. It can take months to sift through information to get a set of statistics, and Mabus said he's making it a priority to streamline that process.

Then there is the issue of new technology trickling into the fleet, Mabus said. Technology is moving way too quickly for the Navy's "outdated bureaucratic practices" for contracting, testing and deploying.

"The electromagnetic railgun will finally be onboard a U.S. Navy ship in 2016, but only for testing, and only after several decades of development — that's too long," he said.

To help move things along, Mabus said, he is establishing a new N-9 warfare systems Navy staff office for unmanned systems, and a deputy assistant undersecretary of the Navy for unmanned systems to bring together stakeholders.

Unmanned is of a particular interest because the lower human safety element means it doesn't need the same attention as manned systems, Mabus explained.

"For example, with unmanned technology, removing a human from the machine can open up room to experiment with more risk, improve systems faster and get them to the fleet quicker," he said.

And finally, Mabus is pushing for more wargaming and simulation in testing and training.

"New modeling and simulation capabilities allow us to try new concepts without bending steel," he said. "They allow us to look at things like asymmetrical concepts without going through the tortuous, sometimes years-long acquisition process and, when one of these concepts shows promise, to move from idea to fielding much, much more quickly."

To illustrate his commitment, Mabus said, his office will be specifically highlighting innovation every day, with new guidance to sailors, profiles of innovators and soon-to-be announced rewards for innovation in the fleet.

Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members. Follow on Twitter @Meghann_MT

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