Innovation as a Weapon System: Cultivating Global Entrepreneur and Venture Capital Partnerships

Innovation as a Weapon System: Cultivating Global Entrepreneur and Venture Capital Partnerships

March 17, 2022

This paper is part of the Civil Affairs Issue Papers, Volume 8: Building a Global Civil-Military Network


As the Irregular Warfare Annex to the National Defense Strategy forewarned, state and non-state actors will increasingly seek to win without fighting in the gray zone of irregular warfare (IW) just short of major combat operations.1 The United States and its allies need to learn how to better fight on this battlefield. General George S. Patton, Jr., stated, “Wars are not won by fighting battles; wars are won by choosing battles.”2 Civil Affairs (CA) is the Army branch that can help choose and win the complex civil sector battles in the Multi-Domain Operations environment. 

China’s present execution of its Military-Civil Fusion Development Strategy, “Made in China 2025” objectives and Belt and Road Initiative are in effect civil-military, non-kinetic IW battlefields with little contest.3 Whether in advance of or in the wake of large-scale combat operations, geographic combatant commanders (GCCs) need CA to help them win the underlying IW battles. However, unlike other Army branches, such as aviation, CA does not have a strong private sector industrial base or strong congressional support to help it accomplish this important mission. 

This paper presents a solution that does not require congressional approval, additional appropriations or any difficult Army reorganization or regulatory changes. Innovation as a Weapon System is a “ready now,” step-by-step process already proven in the commercial marketplace. It allows CA to connect trusted local entrepreneurs they work with to the unequaled good faith and ingenuity of America’s international venture capital and entrepreneur networks. The engagement of these two instruments of national power, in the spirit of the post–World War II Marshall Plan, gives CA the private sector industrial base it needs and gives the Army enduring victories in the civil considerations of the IW battlefield.

Innovation as a Weapon System Is CERP 2.0

Innovation as a Weapon System plays off the name and concept of the well-known “Money as a Weapon System”4 Commander’s Emergency Relief Program (CERP) projects, which provided billions of congressionally funded taxpayer dollars to tactical units in Iraq and Afghanistan. CERP projects met humanitarian relief and reconstruction needs at the local level.5 Innovation as a Weapon System presents an alternate, more accountable and more enduring means to fund civil-military collaboration and networking. It proposes that a new type of private investment fund—called impact investment funds—will welcome the opportunity to partner with venture capitalists and entrepreneurs in contested operational environments where the Army has a security and stability support mission. The investors behind impact investment funds just need to be invited and guided as to where, in whom and in what to invest. 75th Innovation Command officers and CA 38G reserve functional specialists were explicitly appointed to the 38G military occupational specialty (MOS) in consideration of their civilian industry prowess and their work with their in-country CA active officer (38S) and active NCO (38R) counterparts. They are the ideal guides for attracting and activating these unique investment communities to invest in CA missions.

Venture Capitalists Are the Special Operations Forces in Private Sector Warfare

Of all the private sector organizations that could help CA, venture capitalists and the entrepreneurs whom they carefully select and fund are the most astute and rigorous in leveraging their capital to achieve desired civil sector outcomes. If the Army wants to win in competition, venture capitalists are the special operations forces of civil sector economic competition and collaboration. Unlike taxpayer-funded CERP money, venture capitalists and entrepreneurs have very personal “skin in the game”; they bet their own money to accurately “hear around the corner” and so, in the long term, to win in the civil sectors in which they have invested. 

Innovation as a Weapon System is a process that gives GCCs free “Special Forces Grade” intellectual and financial capital to help them achieve their near-term objectives. In addition, most international venture capital investments create enduring transnational alliances and partnerships, a key tenet of successful security cooperation. Per the doctrinal update in Army Field Manual (FM) 3-0, Operations, Innovation as a Weapon System supports the emphasis of “consolidating gains” and makes military objective achievement enduring.6

Innovation as a Weapon System Is Doctrinally Aligned

The latest FM 3-57, Civil Affairs Operations, states in its introduction:

The Army executes operations across multiple domains and in complex environments. One of the most complex environments is the land domain—partially due to the societal systems (detailed in Joint Publication 3-57) woven into the operational environment. The Army refers to these societal systems as operational variables. These operational variables are political, military, economic, social, information, infrastructure, physical environment, and time. Disagreements, perceived grievances, and divergent cultural and political views within these systems may contribute to instability and conflict among the indigenous populations and institutions that can be exploited by adversaries, or otherwise interfere with military operations.7 

In all of these variables, there is always a hidden backbone of finance and commerce in hopeful entrepreneurs. The Innovation as a Weapon System process seeks to help find, guide and fund these entrepreneurs to be the Army’s indigenous “weapon systems” for good—for regaining and maintaining “control of the civil component of the operational environment” where needed. The FM 3-57 introduction goes on to say, “Leaders must consider all factors that make up their operational environment—such as social factors that initiate and sustain conflict and those existing capabilities within the resident population that can be leveraged or enhanced to create stability and reduce conflict.”

Entrepreneurs and any form of supporting venture capital to which they have access are the ideal “resident population,” key leaders who can be “enhanced to create stability and reduce conflict.” In many situations, there are also powerful diasporas that could be recruited to help.8 Entrepreneurs by nature are free and independent thinkers. They are natural promoters of American and NATO ideologies for free markets and free persons. Most entrepreneurs understand that supporting stability operations and reducing conflict and corruption allow them freedom to find opportunities. Innovation as a Weapon System seeks to assemble these benefits for the GCC. Helping resident population vetted entrepreneurs and venture capitalists succeed by partnering them with their best-in-class entrepreneurs and venture capitalist peers from the United States, NATO countries and their partners can score many enduring civil sector wins. 

Entrepreneurs and Venture Capitalists Are Natural Warfighting Partners

Entrepreneurs and venture capitalists live and die by the quality of their own version of intelligence preparation of the battlespace (IPB). Entrepreneurs and venture capitalists have the sharpest acumen and civil reconnaissance (CR) skill in the civil sectors in which they work. Their due diligence for securing their return-on-investment outcomes is unequaled. They are masters in knowing how to assemble the right diversity of talent, influences, collaborations, technologies, competitive analysis and funds to win new, ambiguous and irregular markets. With mass, economy of force, surprise, etc., venture capitalists apply a business version of the nine principles of war to achieve their civil sector victories.9 Army acquisitions and training can never adapt fast enough to compete in IW, but it can engage venture capitalists who can.

This public-private investment collaboration construct gives GCCs highly adaptable CR and information operations (IO) sensor capabilities and strengthens successful CA execution of their core competencies of civil-military integration, civil network development and engagement (CNDE), civil knowledge integration (CKI) and transitional governance.10 

Entrepreneurs and venture capitalists also make for great CA operators. The Army has collaborated with trusted educators to coordinate security forces and other Army services to help restore school openings for host nation communities—imagine if the Army could do the same for vetted local entrepreneurs and venture capitalists. Innovation as a Weapon System provides a checklist for the Army, through CA facilitation, to guide and share the positive effects these entrepreneurial gladiators bring to the communities they serve. As adversarial powers and actors conduct subversive economic acts short of armed conflict, CA can activate teams of entrepreneurs and venture capital–friendly forces to help identify, understand and counter those acts. These entrepreneurs and venture capitalists can help the Army reclaim contested civil sectors. 

Entrepreneur and Venture Capital Partnerships Give CA an Innovative Industrial Base

The U.S. Army requires the CA branch to inform commanders of the opportunities and threats within the civil considerations of the battlefield. This is the C in the METT-TC (mission, enemy, terrain, troops available–time and civilian considerations) mnemonic of mission and operations planning.11 “Civilian considerations” of the battlefield are arguably broader and more complex than the other variables. Furthermore, unlike other Army branches, perhaps due to the extremely broad nature of potential civil sector threats, CA has no industrial base to draw from. Consider how Army aviation, armor, artillery and other Army branches and organizations have established industries full of world-class entrepreneurs, talent, technology, capital and legislative affairs to help them tackle an arguably narrower threat or mission. This capability gap is known across the Army, but the negative impact is less obvious. 

To help communicate this severe challenge to their Army counterparts, CA leaders can compare and contrast the breadth of talent, technology and capital that supports the weather assessment outputs versus the civil considerations outputs in IPB or the joint intelligence preparation of the operational environment (JIPOE).12 Not long after the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) was defeated, civilians in Mosul communicated to journalists that life was better under ISIS (due to the basic utility services they provided to the community). Coalition forces had failed to anticipate and prepare for this negative “weather system” of public civil sector sentiment.13

Imagine if CA had more cavalry teams, trained in CR and tactical economics, with ongoing access to an innovation base of civil sector “weather phenomena” threat experts.14 Imagine if CA could then quickly “lock and load” pre-positioned entrepreneur and venture capital “war stock” relationships to immediately partner with trusted locals to defeat those threats? Few would argue that ISIS would make for a better community partner to rebuild Mosul than the top innovators and entrepreneurs who can be found with the United States, NATO and their partners.

Innovation as a Weapon System Fills Diplomatic-Military Gaps that Irregular Warfare Adversaries Can Exploit

Investing in entrepreneurship heals division and civil sector instability. The economist Milton Friedman noted: “The great virtue of a free-market system is that it does not care what color people are; it does not care what their religion is; it only cares whether they can produce something you want to buy…. It is the most effective system we have discovered to enable people who hate one another to deal with one another and help one another.”15 Furthermore, the days of opportunistic shareholder capitalism are gradually giving way to stakeholder capitalism.

According to the World Economic Forum, stakeholder capitalism “is a form of capitalism in which companies do not only optimize short-term profits for shareholders but seek long-term value creation by taking into account the needs of all their stakeholders and society at large.”16 In just the past few years, proponents of stakeholder capitalism have created an investment niche called impact investing. This is a timely budding investment community that CA forces can leverage for the Army to help the United States stay ahead of its competitors.

As such, CA has an opportunity to guide defense-purposed impact investment funds. Friendly venture capitalists and institutional investors are increasingly looking for impact investment opportunities around the world. Venture capital and entrepreneur support ecosystems, such as The Lion’s Den DFW in Dallas, Texas, are establishing affiliate impact investing and entrepreneur support organization (ESO) ecosystems around the world.17 CA, with its global operations, is in a prime position to help create mutually beneficial public-private partnerships with these kinds of impact investment and ESO communities.

Global Capital Market Impact Investment Funds: An Alternative to Defense Appropriations 

Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors defines impact investing as investments made with the “intention to generate social or environmental impact alongside a financial return.”18 It estimates the value of the current impact investing market to be nearly $9 trillion in the United States alone. The entire DoD budget for 2021 was roughly $750 billion. The following quote summarizes and quantifies well the significant opportunity CA has if it starts facilitating impact investing—or, in military terms, starts facilitating Innovation as a Weapon System uses—with these funds:

As the problems societies face become more entrenched and complex, it’s clear that government and philanthropy can’t solve them on their own. A look at the amounts of capital bears this out: in the U.S., philanthropy is approximately $390 billion, government spending is $3.9 trillion, and capital markets (all debt and equity investments) encompass $65 trillion. On a global scale, total investments are estimated at $300 trillion. Thus, a 1% shift in global capital markets towards impact investing—or investments that work toward social good—could cover the estimated outstanding $2.5 trillion annual funding gap to achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). As this example shows, harnessing capital markets can have a huge societal benefit.19

If the Army does not claim its share of these impact investment funds, its competitors will. Impact investment funds that CA can claim for the Army, in effect, give CA the defense appropriations it has been lacking. Impact investment funds applied through the Innovation as a Weapon System process should create a significant competitive advantage for the United States, NATO and their allied partners. The majority of these funds should be supplied and managed under the free direction of the institutional fund manager or the venture capitalists that own or control then, not the Chinese Communist Party. 

In a recent forum hosted by the Oxford Department of International Development entitled “Subversive Economics: Pervasive, Dangerous, and Largely Invisible,” renowned foreign and defense policy journalist and senior fellow with the American Enterprise Institute Elisabeth Braw stated that venture capital is the “next frontier for subversive economics.”20 The Chinese purchase of one of Germany’s leading robotics manufacturers and Huawei’s sponsorship of the Cambridge Science Park in England have raised this irregular warfare (IW) concern.21 Braw stated, 

The discussion about gray-zone threats mostly focuses on easy-to-identify forms of aggression including cyber intrusions and disinformation campaigns. That’s a shame, because other forms are at least as dangerous; subversive economics, for example. While Western countries benefit from their open borders and the commerce this generates, some countries exploit that openness to strengthen their geopolitical position while weakening that of the targeted countries. It involves buying up key companies and using venture-capital investments to access the best innovation early on. 

Innovation as a Weapon System partners with global impact investors to create a counter-threat weapon system to the subversive uses of private capital.

Innovation as a Weapon System Public-Private Partnership Has Precedence

Special operations forces public-private cooperation with Spirit of America, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, is an excellent example of how the Army can immediately and legally coordinate private sector engagement without having to pay for it or formally reorganize itself to obtain congressional funding and support. Spirit of America is frequently activated and guided by U.S. special operations forces to immediately deliver private sector finished goods that support an urgent civil populace need. In one situation, in a matter of weeks, it organized the fundraising and delivery of thousands of blankets to a community in need, and, in another situation, it coordinated the supply of book bags to help a community restart school.22 

Innovation as a Weapon System follows the same model, providing the next level of civil sector security and stability support along the lines of “first give them a fish, then help them fish for themselves.” After supplying finished goods or services to an urgent civil populace need, Innovation as a Weapon System is the natural next step, supplying a populace with a process to partner with them, if they so desire, with proven entrepreneur and venture capital experts to help restore indigenous production and service capacity. Innovation as a Weapon System counters or mitigates potential IW activity that may seek to “fill the vacuum” of a struggling civilian support sector. In other words, Spirit of America provides the fish, and Innovation as a Weapon System helps the locals restore fishing for themselves—faster, if they wish. 

“Innovation Accelerators” Are the Modern Civilian Method to Jump-Start Marshall Plan-Style Entrepreneurial Collaboration Where It Is Needed Most

The U.S. Army, through its cadre of 38G functional specialists and 75th Innovation Command industry experts, should activate its private sector networks to run or join innovation accelerators that support Army civil sector objectives. Priscilla Pesci, the former global managing partner and cofounder of Quake Europe of Quake Capital Partners, is the inspiration behind the Innovation as a Weapon System concept. In under a year, she effectively ran a CA operations style campaign, assembling investors, local and regional government leaders and private sector technology companies; together, they vetted over 750 global entrepreneurs, choosing to fund five of them to lead the next generation of media development in utilizing the new 5G networks being built across Germany and the world. As an American patriot, she would have gladly facilitated the Army’s participation and welcomed its future participation. There are many venture capitalists and investors like her.

As another example, imagine if 38Gs, with their 38 S/A/B (CA generalist) counterparts and the local communities and military partnerships they are supporting, had contributed to and been a part of the Gov-X innovation accelerator in South Africa in 2021 to “drive innovation towards a more digitized and cyber safe Africa.”23 Consider the strategic CR and IO that could have been guided and completed at that innovation accelerator in support of our African military partners and our joint efforts to thwart great-power competitor cyber security threats.

Innovation as a Weapon System: A First Draft of Its Step-By-Step Process

The following steps are a first-draft guide for collaborative refinement and testing of our model by interested parties for their own purposes. The goal of Innovation as a Weapon System is to create a flexible and adaptive procedure that requires no new additional talent, resources, funding or approval authority to execute. After a few successful trials, it might be valuable to include a best practices session as part of the Security Cooperation and Education Training Working Group (SCETWG) hosted annually by each GCC. 

Step 1. Host nation (HN) senior leaders set the civil-military security, stability and prosperity objectives (SSPO) with the embassy, the GCC, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) and other interagency strategic partners.

Step 2. The GCC-aligned CA Command (CACOM) informs its 38G leadership of these objectives in order to educate their private sector networks, and notably their appropriate venture capital sectors, to start preparing impact investment organizations and funds that may assist. CACOM 38Gs can update their IW and CR running estimates and create threat and opportunity identification guides for use by the in-country 38S/A/B CA planning teams (CAPTs). 

Step 3. The CAPTs, with their HN peers and with embassy support, along with military information support teams, civil-military support elements (CMSEs) and other civil military unified action partners, formulate a joint, interorganizational and multinational (JIM)– derived security, stability, prosperity innovation opportunity (SSPIO) from their CR. They then prepare and submit an innovation partnership request (IPR) to their CACOM 38G functional specialty chief. The IPR is a form that guides applicants to “put their best foot forward” for consideration by private sector impact investment experts. It guides applicants on how to produce the information that a civil-military economic innovation partnership (CMEIP) team will need before being formed and activated. 

Step 4. The CACOM functional specialty chief, perhaps aided by a mission support request (MSR) to the 75th Innovation Command Innovation Support Operations Center (ISOC), decides whether to form and activate a CMEIP. If so, a venture capital firm is selected from a preapproved list and is invited to lead the first CMEIP meeting and to lead the CMEIP team through the rest of the Innovation as a Weapon System process steps. 

The venture capitalist that accepts the CMEIP team leadership role, with the help of the lead 38G and 75th Innovation Command support personnel, takes complete ownership of the SSPIO and holds a meeting with the CAPT and their HN peers to complete a CMEIP innovation accelerator ideation and preparation meeting. The Army Service component command (ASCC) G9, other supporting G9/S-9 elements and theater-level CAPTs would also likely join. At this meeting, the Army “green-suiters” help the civilian venture capital firm understand the SSPIO opportunity, constraints, risks and military objectives. The venture capital firm in turn helps the Army green suiters understand the venture capital industry’s requirements for the investment fund and the design of the innovation accelerator they intend to use.

Step 5. The venture capital lead, with the help of the CMEIP team, then builds the CMEIP innovation accelerator plan, execution schedule and the list of additional team members and stakeholders they need to bring on the CMEIP team. This will likely include needed local government and embassy contact recommendations. Trusted ESOs and additional venture capital partners, ideally locals, will be recruited to join and sponsor the event. The final innovation accelerator plan includes a risk assessment and empirical objectives for all stakeholders, as well as security and other requirements that the total CMEIP team requires. It will also include metrics and indicators for monitoring and evaluation and a monitoring plan with streamlined reporting parameters.

Step 6. After all event planning approvals have been obtained and with ground force commanders informed and in support, the CMEIP team shifts to marketing the project with the green suiter participants to possibly activate their CA, IO, public affairs office and psychological operations teams as appropriate. 

Step 7. With the venture capital team leading, applicants to the CMEIP innovation accelerator are recruited and processed according to the security and vetting guidelines that the CMEIP team set. Firms like Redrock Global should be part of the CMEIP team to help vet the integrity of the participants.24 To leverage previously built multinational military relationships, priority might be given to entrepreneur applicants who are military veterans who have participated in previous multinational military exercises or operations. The CMEIP innovation accelerator might also prioritize and incentivize a country’s diaspora to assist. 

When the launch goals of the CMEIP team are met, the venture capital lead conducts applicant training or a small conference so that applicant entrepreneurs have competition uniformity and their collective competitiveness is maximized. 

Step 8. The venture capital lead and the CMEIP team then run the innovation accelerator pitch competition using modern transparent tools like ValidEval.25 Competition winners receive their funding from the impact investment fund assembled. 

Step 9. The winning and funded applicants from Step 8, after a period of development or post-funding operations, conduct a demo day to showcase how they have fulfilled the SSPIO objectives in the selected community of interest. All CMEIP team stakeholders invite their respective public relations staff to leverage the demo day. 

Step 10. The CMEIP team, with the help of organizations such as 413 LLC,26 conducts a program evaluation impact assessment to validate and report its performance against the stakeholder empirical objectives previously set and also reports back to the CAPT and ground force commander on how the CMEIP project has supported the GCC SSPIOs and lines of effort. IO should also leverage this enduring organic and friendly “living sensor.”

End State. The SSPIO has been realized; an IW civil sector threat has been defeated or neutralized; and an enduring transnational venture capital and entrepreneur economic partnership, friendly to United States, NATO and partner interests, has been installed.

Success Requires the Army to Defend the Way of Life It Represents

The United States, NATO and their partners have had success in winning the kinetic battles of the past 20 years, but too often they refuse to defend themselves in the ideological wars they are losing. Lieutenant General Charles T. Cleveland, USA, Ret., former commanding general of the U.S. Army Special Operations Command, argues that the United States needs to defend this ideology regardless and with a counterthreat mindset. “The Achilles’ heel of our authoritarian adversaries is their inherent fear of their own people,” he pointed out. “The United States must be ready to capitalize on this fear. . . . An American way of irregular war will reflect who we are as a people, our diversity, our moral code, and our undying belief in freedom.”27

The United States, NATO and partner entrepreneurs and their supporting venture capital communities are perhaps the best ambassadors for sharing the merits in word, deed and capital for the ideological democratic values of individual liberty, freedom and the supporting rule of law they represent. Regardless of the largess or degree of tyranny in any nation or community, entrepreneurs can always be found. They implicitly represent free and independent thinking people, and are ideal to help challenge or constrain a government or ideology that wants to infringe on individual freedom. Innovation as a Weapon System finds, empowers and enlists these entrepreneurs to help the Army and its partners win the ideological battles in IW.

Army culture knows well kinetic warfare and security cooperation. However, it needs to broaden its cultural lens and definition of “lethality” in security cooperation. China is not beating the United States with kinetic weapon capabilities. It is arguably beating the United States with its massive civil-military economic operations and investments that are taking over key civil sector nodes such as ports, land, advanced technologies, debt financing, rare earth minerals and other natural resources. Now investing seven times what the United States invested in the post–World War II Marshall Plan, China has created serious partnerships with 138 countries, with 40 on a path to becoming over-leveraged and financially subservient to China in fulfillment of its Belt and Road Initiative.28 China executed this civil-military operation, secured with the legal terms and good faith of the United States, Europe and the other free-market countries that established the liberal world order—and the World Trade Organization they invited China to join.

Non-state adversaries have also learned to start winning without fighting. Some adversaries have turned traditional security cooperation efforts against the United States, NATO and their allied partners. In his excellent 2020 Civil Affairs Issue Paper, “A Cause of and Solution to Extremism: A Case for Civil Military Operation Capacity Building in African Partner Forces,” Major James P. Micciche quantified how security cooperation efforts can create a self-defeating cycle as a “cause of and solution to extremism.”29 The recent takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban, in a country where the United States and its allies and partners set records for security cooperation funding, calls for a broader view, definition and approach to security cooperation that offers more than just dollars and train-and-equip. The Innovation as a Weapon System public-private partnership construct is one such approach for transforming future security cooperation.

Crowdfunding and Civil Affairs

ESO crowdfunding platforms and blockchain fintech developers are the kind of leading-edge organizations for CA to leverage, institutionally as well as operationally. The CA Corps needs to scale up its list of ESO, blockchain, crypto, fintech and crowdfunding platforms that share a common mission with the Army to secure and stabilize economic freedom for disadvantaged communities around the world.30 This “list” is large and growing. At the Texas Blockchain Council summit in October 2021, for example, many leaders equated Bitcoin to a means to “defend freedom with money.”31 Blockchain decentralized digital IDs (DIDs) and other decentralized finance (DeFi) technology are means for CA to help defend ideological freedom with tech. Consider the taglines and diversity of some of these global ESOs. Talanton LLC commits to “bring hope and transform lives by investing in values-driven, growth-stage businesses.”32 The Alta Innovation Institute, which has helped build indigenous venture capital communities in Mexico and Peru, is “disrupting poverty through innovation . . . unleashing the entrepreneurial spirit to improve the quality of life for people throughout the world.”33 The new Fundify crowdfunding platform, serving entrepreneurs, states that it is “making it simpler to build your dream.”34 Village Capital’s mission statement reads, “Entrepreneurship is a critical tool for solving the world’s biggest problems.”35 Kinyungu Ventures guides investors on how to “chase outliers” to build “long-term value into the economy” through early-stage investing in Africa.36 Army leaders should also consider how ESOs and these new crowdfunding organizations likely already have established local, regional and even national government support.

Critical listening skills are key for Innovation as a Weapon System success. Albert Einstein is quoted as saying, “Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding.” In his excellent and humorous TEDx presentation, “Want to Help Someone? Shut Up and Listen,” Dr. Ernesto Sirolli reinforces the importance of effective listening skills in developmental economics.37 His institute trains development organizations never to initiate or try to motivate HN partners to innovate “but always respond” to their initiative. He recommends to go only where invited and to work with passionate and self- motivated people. He believes, as the authors of this paper do, that “the future of every community is in capturing its peoples’ passion, imagination, and resources.” CA embodies this ethos and can help ground commanders to listen better and to seize the passions of resident populations to win together in IW and strategic competition.


A guiding reference within the 2021 Civil Affairs Symposium call for issue papers, Military Strategy in the 21st Century: People, Connectivity and Competition, states, “In the twenty-first century, strategic advantage will emerge from how we engage with and understand people and access political, economic and social networks to achieve a position of relative advantage.” Such interactions “represent a web of networks that define power and interests in a connected world,” and those who best understand local context and “build a network around relationships harnessing local capacity” will win 21st-century competition.38 Innovation as a Weapon System delivers this networked understanding, access and harnessing of local capacity. 

The Summary of the Irregular Warfare Annex to the National Defense Strategy, in turn, points out how “Americans expect their military to do more than react to crises. They expect us to compete and maintain our advantages,” and that DoD “will apply Irregular Warfare to shape our adversaries’ behavior to our advantage, increase the cost of hostile action against the United States and its allies and pursue innovative ways to disrupt, counter, and preempt coercion and subversion.”39 Innovation as a Weapon System precisely disrupts and counters civil sector threats or preempts them, gaining and maintaining positional advantage with perpetual innovation.

For the Army to achieve its 2028 vision to be ready to “deploy, fight, and win decisively against any adversary, anytime and anywhere, in a joint, multi-domain, high-intensity conflict, while simultaneously deterring others and maintaining its ability to conduct irregular warfare,”40 it needs strategically oriented operational approaches like Innovation as a Weapon System. It is a timely solution that directly supports all three United States National Defense Strategy lines of effort: lethality in building a more [non-kinetic] lethal force; partnerships in strengthening alliances and attracting new partners; and especially reform in changing the way we do business.41 The CA Corps can demonstrate game-changing versus incremental fulfillment of these lines of effort with Innovation as a Weapon System. 

Best of all, the game-changing private sector innovation base that CA will obtain from Innovation as a Weapon System, and the implementation process described, requires no extra Army resources, funding or approvals. With the incredible success and goodwill created by the post–World War II Marshall Plan as inspiration,42 Innovation as a Weapon System can help lead a new generation of Army CA Soldiers to harness collective influence and goodwill. Innovation as a Weapon System represents a “ready now” opportunity for CA forces to help win IW for the United States in strategic competition, allowing the United States to reclaim its moral and material global leadership.

★  ★  ★  ★

Major Giancarlo Newsome, son of an Italian beneficiary of the Marshall Plan, is a former Army Aviator who has held Director and VP level international sales and marketing positions for various Fortune 500 companies. Appointed a 38G Military Governance Specialist Economist/Commerce Officer in 2017, he is presently assigned to the U.S. Army Reserves 75th Innovation Command in Houston, Texas. He served a tour of duty with U.S. Army Africa, and speaks English, Italian, French, Portuguese and Spanish.

Colonel Bradford Hughes is a former Master Army Aviator with multiple combat and humanitarian relief deployments. He is an entrepreneur directing operations for an on-demand helicopter charter company serving Central Texas and is a technology transfer consultant. He is a 38G Military Government Specialist with a 6F (Transportation) skill identifier. Brad currently serves as the Functional Specialty (FxSP) Chief for the 351st Civil Affairs Command in Mountain View, California.

Lieutenant Colonel Tyson Voelkel began his career as a U.S. Army infantry officer, filling a variety of leadership and teaching roles during peacetime and combat while serving in Europe, the United States and the Middle East. He has subsequently held executive leadership roles for a multibillion dollar holding company and is presently serving as president of the Texas A&M Foundation. He currently serves in the U.S. Army Reserves as the Austin City Team leader for the 75th Innovation Command.


  1. Department of Defense, Summary of the Irregular Warfare Annex to the National Defense Strategy, 2020, 2.
  2. A-Z Quotes
  3. Department of State, Military-Civil Fusion and the People’s Republic of China, 2020; “Made in China 2025,” Wikipedia, 14 July 2021; Andrew Chatzkey and James McBride, “China’s Massive Belt and Road Initiative,” Council on Foreign Relations, 28 January 2020.
  4. U.S. Army Combined Arms Center, Commander’s Guide to Money as a Weapon’s System Handbook (Fort Leavenworth, KS: Center for Army Lessons Learned, 2009).
  5. Jonathan Bate and Duncan Walker, “Buying Victory: Money as a Weapon on the Battlefields of Today and Tomorrow,” Modern War Institute, 3 July 2018.
  6. Department of the Army, Field Manual (FM) 3-0, Operations (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, December 2017), 1–16.
  7. Department of the Army, FM 3-57, Civil Affairs Operations (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, July 2021), v.
  8. Emilia Merenmies, “Building a Global Civil-Military Network,” 2021 Civil Affairs Symposium, 10 November 2021, comment to authors, Zoom virtual presentation.
  9. Principles of War,” Wikipedia, 22 June 2021.
  10. FM 3-57, 1-14, 1–4.
  11. Department of the Army, FM 6-0, Commander and Staff Organization and Operations (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, May 2014), 2–14.
  12. Department of the Army, Army Techniques Publication (ATP) 2-01.3/3-3, Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield, How To Do It: The Process, (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, March 2019), III-2, III-6; Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joint Publication (JP) 2-01.3, Developing a Systems Perspective of the Operational Environment (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 16 June 2009), Chapter 2, Item 12, II-44.
  13. Rukmini Callimachi, “The ISIS Files: When Terrorists Run City Hall,” New York Times, 5 April 2018; Chris Pleasance, “Mosul Residents Say Life Is So Hard in Bombed-Out City That They Want ISIS Back,” Daily Mail, 29 March 2019.
  14. Civil Reconnaissance,” FrontLine Advisory, 2016; Thomas E. Ricks, “What Comes after We Retake Mosul? The Case for Using ‘Tactical Economics,’” Foreign Policy, 15 September 2016.
  15. Milton Friedman, “Why Government Is the Problem,” Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace, Stanford University, 1 February 1993, 18.
  16. Klaus Schwab and Peter Vanham, “What Is Stakeholder Capitalism? It’s History and Relevance,” World Economic Forum, 22 January 2021. 
  17. The Lion’s Den DFW.” 
  18. Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, Impact Investing: An Introduction, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors Philanthropy Roadmap Series, 17 October 2017. 
  19. Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, Impact Investing: An Introduction.
  20. Elisabeth Braw, “Subversive Economics: Pervasive, Dangerous and Largely Invisible,” Oxford Department of International Development, University of Oxford, 4 May 2021. 
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Continue reading Civil Affairs Issue Papers, Volume 8:

by Colonel Joseph P. Kirlin III, USA, Ret.

2021 Civil Affairs Symposium Report
by Colonel Christopher Holshek, USA, Ret.

Civil Affairs and Great-Power Competition: Civil-Military Networking in the Gray Zone
by Sergeant First Class Nicholas Kempenich, Jr., USA

Innovation as a Weapon System: Cultivating Global Entrepreneur and Venture Capitalist Partnerships
by Major Giancarlo Newsome, USA, Colonel Bradford Hughes, USA, & Lieutenant Colonel Tyson Voelkel, USA

Maximum Support, Flexible Footprint: Civilian Applied Research Laboratories to Support the 38G Program
by Dr. Hayden Bassett & Lieutenant Kate Harrell, USNR

Individualism versus Collectivism: Civil Affairs and the Clash of National Strategic Cultures
by Colonel Marco A. Bongioanni, USA

Back to Basics: Civil Affairs in a Global Civil-Military Network
by Major Jim Munene, USA, & Staff Sergeant Courtney Mulhern, USA