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Booz Allen Hamilton Colloquium: "Improvised Everything: Thriving in a Dangerous World"
Friday, November 9, 2012
3:00 p.m.
Room 1110, Jeong H. Kim Engineering Bldg.
For More Information:
Carrie Hilmer
301 405 4471

Booz Allen Hamilton Distinguished Colloquium in Electrical and Computer Engineering

"Improvised Everything: Thriving in a Dangerous World"

Dr. Allan Steinhardt
Senior Vice President
Booz Allen Hamilton


America’s economic crisis has renewed calls for defense acquisition reform from both parties and President Obama. The current push to restrain cost growth should be joined to an equally vital objective, however: making the procurement system more nimble and responsive to challenges of terrorism, asymmetric warfare, and traditional conventional warfare. The constrained fiscal environment is a significant driver behind this call. As important, however, is the rise of a new challenge: a 21st century asymmetric warfare environment we call “Improvised Everything.”

Our forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, and off the coasts of several continents, are facing insurgents and terrorists who rapidly leverage readily available advanced commercial and military technologies to create deadly new and changing threats We chose the appellation “Improvised Everything,” because of the pervasiveness of modern technologies, and the broad range of threats enabled by them. The well-known “Improvised Explosive Device” (IED), as challenging a problem as it represents, is the tip of the iceberg of this new kind of warfare leveraging today’s sophisticated technologies.

In this “Improvised Everything” environment, our adversaries can develop credible threats in nearly all traditional military mission areas. They summon “Improvised Armies” using cell phones, text-messages, blogs, websites, and networking sites like Twitter. “Improvised Special Forces” of suicidal terrorists have been deployed in Mumbai and Afghanistan, leveraging Google Maps and GPS devices, and exploiting the worldwide reach of television. The rockets recently used by Hezbollah and Hamas are an example of “Improvised Artillery.” The rocket bodies are sometimes made from sawn up lampposts and fired remotely by digital watches as timers. The rocket parts are often transported by the ultimate low cost, difficult to detect unmanned ground vehicles – trained donkeys who traverse the desert alone.

Our adversaries can create “Improvised Navies” using speed boats to attack billion dollar US warships, or to threaten vital shipping lanes through piracy. There are even ways to fashion airborne surveillance capabilities (“Improvised Air Force”) using widely available components. Increasingly realistic open source software games can be leveraged for “Improvised Training.”

The danger from these “Improvised Everything” threats is not that our asymmetric adversaries will develop capabilities superior to ours. They won’t. The insidiousness of the “Improvised Everything” environment lies in this: by utilizing widely available technology, our enemies can frequently innovate inside of our military procurement cycle. The ability to rapidly change – developmental agility – has become a militarily relevant capability in itself. This is our adversaries’ edge. By the time we field a counter to their crude weapons, they have leveraged the rapid pace of technology development to deploy upgrades to theirs.

It is the agility of our asymmetric adversaries to develop new threats and update old ones that stresses the U.S. defense acquisition system. It puts a premium on our ability to develop flexible, easily upgradeable systems, to “repurpose” existing systems to meet new threats, and reform training.

We will discuss some ways forward for both commercial and military applications.


As a Vice President of the Firm, Dr. Steinhardt leads the Firm's DARPA business, and oversees S&T in the JCC market. He strives to deepen an awareness of and coherence amongst S&T SMEs and quals within the firm. He is himself an active, passionate, "deep teckie", having been an Ivy league Professor (Cornell, EE+Math), an MIT Lincoln Labs project lead, a DARPA PM and Chief Scientist, a Signal Processing Director at Alphatech (now BAE), IEEE Fellow, Chairman Picard Radar Awards Comittee etc. He still codes in Matlab, Regex, Pipes, and enjoys advanced ontological web surfing. He has published a book on radar, as well as 200+ papers in Mathematics, Electrical Engineering, and Computer Science. In the market, Steinhardt has been developing services in advanced technology leverage (ATL), seeking to assist customers who strive to adopt immature, nascent, yet promising technology to improve their mission effectiveness. A particular focus of ATL has been prototyping, portfolio analysis, and novel intelligence fusion/MASINT. Clients include OSD/ATL-SMI, DIA-DT, SAF-AQI, OSD-SCO, ARL, and DARPA. He also established the Booz Allen business at the ATAC (Reston East Facility), an all source fusion center, when it was relinquished from SAIC. Dr. Steinhardt earned his Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Colorado, Boulder.

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