Marine Corps Hybrid Logistics Symposium Turns to UC San Diego Researchers for Innovative Thinking and Technology

During their time at UC San Diego, the United States' Marines toured Atkinson Hall.

War-fighting innovation and the future that such innovation would make possible were the focus of four days of talks, tours and workshops as part of the United States’ Marine Corps Hybrid Logistics Symposium, held from Feb. 26 to Mar. 1 at the UC San Diego Qualcomm Institute. 

Hosted by the Marine Corps Deputy Commandant for Installations and Logistics Michael Dana (in partnership with UC San Diego), the first-ever symposium comprised a series of interconnected briefs, panels and breakout groups that focused on identifying the people, processes and equipment — in other words, hybrid logistics — that the next generation of Marines will need in 2025 and beyond. One hundred Marines and sailors, including junior enlisted, junior officer and civilian Marines joined UC San Diego students and faculty — including UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep Khosla — at the symposium. 

Also present were key private industry partners, including Microsoft, which provided insights into how to solve some of the military’s most difficult logistical challenges. 

“Moving toward a hybrid logistics model will require a logistics community that questions conventional wisdom without ignoring the realities of the modern battlefield,” said Lt. Gen. Dana. “The Hybrid Logistics Symposium is the first step toward getting feedback on our processes from some of our brightest Marine logisticians.”

Hybrid Logistics, as the Marines describe it, is the blending of proven logistical tactics with innovative methods of sustaining Marines in combat. It consists of five areas of focus:

  1. Additive manufacturing (the industrial version of 3D printing)
  2. Unmanned logistics systems (eg drones)
  3. Smart logistics
  4. Expeditionary energy
  5. Expeditionary medicine

Several of the symposium’s discussions and tours of the Qualcomm Institute’s headquarters in Atkinson Hall were directly related to these focus areas, from demonstrations of QI’s SunCAVE and Vroom visualization tools, a visit to the QI Drone Lab and a tour of the Additive Rocket Company (ARC) facilities in the QI Innovation Space. (ARC manufactures rockets using 3D metal printing technologies.)

“There’s a lot of interest and a lot of work on 3D printing, not only elements that don’t need to have very strong structural properties, but also things with structural properties you want to engineer, to be able to embed electronics and sensors even as you print these things and addressing the whole design chain in a significant new way,” said QI Director Ramesh Rao. “I think there’s a lot that is going to be taking place here in the near future beyond what was presented.”

Electrical and Computer Engineering Prof. Todd Hylton, a QI affiliate and the Executive Director of the Contextual Robotics Institute discussed complexity in the management of systems during a panel discussion on day one of the symposium titled “Where Will the World Be in 2025.” Hylton spoke about replacing regular hierarchical system organization to match the system that needs to be managed or influenced, highlighting the necessity of the five domains: vehicles, people and applications, project management, data analysis and distribution, policy planning and infrastructure. 

Another major topic of discussion during the panel was the impact of climate change on the future. Mark A. Merrifield, the Executive Director at the Center for Climate Change Impacts and Adaptations and Professor at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography spoke about the scientific basis for global warming and climate change. Merrifield remarked that the stress climate change will put on the system is completely unprecedented, with some regions of the world getting warmer while others experience stress on their crops. 

“Where we’ll be by 2025 is mainly reflecting the amount of carbon we’ve burned over the past century and we will over the next seven years or so,” said Merrifield. “Changes we make now likewise will change what the future of this scenario will be.”

This food scarcity, along with large population movements from coastal cities and a resulting rise in income inequality are problems that could lead to possible global conflicts, warned Barbara Walter, a professor of Political Science at the School of Global Policy and Strategy. 

Dr. Gary S. Firestein, director of the UC San Diego Altman Clinical and Translational Research Institute (ACTRI) and the Associate Vice Chancellor of Translational Medicine at UC San Diego, explained how the migration of mosquitos to northern regions including the United States may lead to a greater prevalence of vector-borne diseases. 

Hylton pointed out how inequalities between nations and the desire for underdeveloped nations to foster development makes it difficult to find sources of clean energy and, in tandem, incentives to eliminate the increase in fossil fuels. 

The panel preceded multitude of presentations, such as “Design Thinking and Expeditionary Energy,” that described how these challenges would affect the Marine Corps and subsequent ways the military would need to change its structure to accommodate such changes. Mark Valentine, Chief of Staff for Microsoft’s Department of Defense, described to the Marines the function of wearable technologies today and their potential usage in the future, while ECE Prof. Patrick Mercier (a QI affiliate) described his research with energy-efficient biomedical interfaces, wireless circuits and power electronics. Firestein suggested this research could be instrumental in using the  human body to power devices via the extraction of energy from the inner ear’s potassium current.

The Marines brainstormed for their challenge presentations, in efforts to conceive of innovative practices that could be used to replace current methods and approaches to hybrid logistics.

Later in the program came a shift in focus to address the notion of innovation. Morgan Plumber, managing director of the MD5 National Security Technology Accelerator at the US Department of Defense, commented on the cultural shift needed to instill the necessity and importance of innovation to the Marines.

“If you believe that talent and ideas are equitably spread against geography and race and gender, then the notion that you have an entire force under arms that’s composed of less than half of one percent of this nation’s population is a pretty good indicator that we’re not accessing all of the talent and ideas and tech that we need,” Plumber said. “We talk about innovation in the context of, ‘Oh, wouldn’t it be cool.’ But there’s actually a deeply existential component to innovation that the department faces which is how do you bring people home alive.”

Of emerging importance to war-fighting and hybrid logistics is the concept of Smart Cities. Deputy Chief Operating Officer for the City of San Diego David Graham described how the city of San Diego is working towards advancing sensor technologies and the Internet of Things to become a hyper-connected Smart City and elaborated on the worldwide race to attain this distinction. In January of 2000, Graham noted, the City of San Diego had gone broke, but used that as a starting point to become a better San Diego.

“Disaster and problems will breed back innovation if you can take that as your challenge,” Graham said, adding that technology and innovation must always remain about the people they serve. 

The culmination of the Hybrid Logistics Symposium were a series of challenge presentations, an effort to conceive of innovative practices that could be used to replace current methods and approaches to hybrid logistics.

The winning group suggested a “Marine Corps Innovation Hub,” an online crowdsourcing platform to emphasize collaboration and promote a more free exchange of ideas among Marines. The Leadership and participants at the conference expressed collective interest in planning and executing Hybrid Logistics using drones, high-speed networks created by university researchers for often entirely different purposes.