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Maj. Lucas Burke, USMC

MS in Computer Science '19

Maj. Lucas Burke is the COMMSTRAT Director, 1st Marine Division headquartered at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California. Burke graduated from the Naval Academy Preparatory School in Newport, RI, and then attended the U.S. Naval Academy, commissioning in the Marine Corps in 2008. After attending the Basic School, Burke attended the Defense Information School to qualify as a Communication Strategy and Operations Officer. Burke's tours include III Marine Expeditionary Force/Marine Corps Bases Japan, 3d Marine Expeditionary Brigade, Command Element, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, and Joint Information Operations Warfare Center where he was assigned to the U.S. Strategic Command support team and subsequently to the U.S. Special Operations Command Support team where he deployed as an Information Operations planner for a Special Mission Unit. Upon return, Burke assumed the duties of Joint SOF IO Training Officer, responsible for the physical and academic training, assessment and selection of joint personnel on rotation to support the command and component organizations.

In 2017, Burke was selected to attend the Naval Postgraduate School where he studied computer science with a focus on cybersecurity and offensive cyber operations, earning an award with his thesis partner. In 2019, Burke was assigned to the Marine Corps Tactical Systems Support Activity and selected as the Director, Warfighter Support Division responsible for the cost, schedule and performance for a Marine program that provides all command, control, communications, computers, and intelligence (C4I) support to the Fleet Marine Force. He has been privileged to serve in commands that have received multiple Joint and Service meritorious unit awards.

"Not only does NPS have an interdisciplinary nature in its academics, but it’s interdisciplinary in the student population. Interdisciplinary, to me, expedites solutions. The research and education piece unlocks the potential of the 'interdisciplinary' by creating the opportunity and framework to allow ideas to thrive."

What led you to the Naval Postgraduate School and what factors led to your areas of study while attending NPS? What was the most impactful part of your studies at NPS?

In 2015, I was deployed to Iraq and sat in a confirmation brief that included cyber capabilities. Leadership from both my unit and the cyber unit were having a difficult time communicating the technical capabilities and risks to the team that was going to be on the ground. I thought that I could help with that as a Marine Corps Communication Strategy & Operations (COMMSTRAT) Officer if I had a firmer understanding of cyber operations. My boss at the time was an Army Special Forces officer who went through the Defense Analysis Department and recommended NPS to me. I looked at the school, saw they had a masters in Computer Science, and thought the program would enhance my understanding of the technical nuances of future warfare. I was selected by the Marine Corps to attend. 

Aside from the education and professors, the most impactful part of my experience at NPS was the Joint and Interagency student body. In my small cohort of NPS (shout-out to 368-181) we had civilians, a Soldier, Sailors and Marines with a variety of backgrounds who all hung out in and out of class, and still keep in touch.

How did your time at NPS impact your career and equip you to contribute to U.S. national security in your follow-on positions? In what ways did your NPS education shape how you think about application of new capabilities and technologies in current and future battlespaces?  

My education at NPS has been invaluable in understanding where the DOD is headed. For example, understanding the threats to military space capabilities allowed me to conduct a technical evaluation of commercial satellite communication providers, like ViaSat, with 1st Marine Division in 2021. The process of capturing the user data was influenced by SOF Acquisitions and the documentation modeled after an NPS thesis. The project was supported by my commanding officer, Lt. Col. Michael Liguori who is also an NPS graduate, and provided senior leadership in the Marine Corps with the technical and acquisitions understanding to expedite capability funding and procurement through an existing program of record. I also had a question about a new technology to federate large software updates in austere communication environments, and Dr. Britta Hale pushed me a multi-page report in under a week highlighting the mathematical efficacy of the technology and how it would work. Taking two years and being able to peek into the future allowed me to come back to the Fleet Marine Force with an understanding of the destination.

The Secretary of the Navy recently announced the development of the Naval Innovation Center at the Naval Postgraduate School.

Why is NPS the right place for the Naval Innovation Center?  

Easy — the people and the interdisciplinary nature of the school. There are so many silos throughout the DOD. If you’re in acquisition, you're constrained by cost/schedule/performance. If you’re a big-R Requirements writer, you grab those requirements from the operating forces and have to translate them into something that can be priced out so you’re not getting a Service chief blessing off on Unobtanium. If you’re a budget/fiscal person, you’re concerned with the cost and contract over a capabilities lifecycle. If you’re an operations guy or gal, you may be primarily concerned with the training and sustainment long-term: what happens if it breaks? How long does this capability take to learn? And binding all of that, is the direction and policies set-forth by our civilian leadership, potential adversaries, and partners and allies. Fortunately, NPS has all those bases covered with a world-class education. There’s policy. There’s technology and engineering. There’s Foreign Affairs and Homeland Security. Everyone talks a lot about “whole-of-government” solutions for our most complex challenges — NPS is that whole-of-government solution. Putting the Naval Innovation Center anywhere else but NPS would only exacerbate the stovepipes.

How would the ability to prototype, iterate, and test novel technologies and applications alongside industry, defense and academic partners within the Naval Innovation Center enhance the quality of research and education for NPS students and faculty?  

I’ll take some time to identify some observables over my last five years watching this space. I view NPS as having two customer bases: the institution — the Pentagon and each Service Headquarters, and then what I’ll refer to as those "in the Arena” — forward deployed at some austere location or training for deployment. Speed is paramount to survive in the Arena; now being back in the Fleet Marine Force, we need solutions delivered yesterday. Having a year-long thesis may not always scratch the itch. But that is held in tension with folks back in the Beltway — and in the Institution. Before they dump millions, or billions, of taxpayer dollars into a capability, they have to know it works. They need to have that data. And honestly, a thesis may be too little information for a longer-term, more-expensive acquisition. So the Naval Innovation Center, in my view, fulfills that intermediate level gap: the end-users in the Arena can have NPS look at a new capability, and an NPS report perhaps opens the door for that unit to gain approvals like an “Interim Authorization to Test” (IATT) at the institutional level. That type of immediate feedback allows NPS to get into the planning and execution cycle of the operating forces and help a unit facilitate that discovery. NPS can then work with industry or internally to solve challenges with that technology and help the institution with a longer-term acquisition plan.

What would the Naval Innovation Center mean for operational units that are facing multidomain challenges?

I will go back to the interdisciplinary nature of the school and student body as the primary offerings to the DOD. To the person on the ground, they don’t care about any of that, or the funding streams, or how it’s budgeted across the Future Years Defense Program. They just know it all needs to work to make it through a deployment safely and see their family again.

How does the interdisciplinary environment at NPS enable students to address operational challenges and develop solutions?  Why is it important for the Navy and DOD to have interdisciplinary research and education facilities?

To paraphrase a mentor of mine from NPS, U.S. Marine Col (ret.) Todd Lyons, in my in-call, when I first checked in, he said something along the lines of “solutions are found at the intersection of disciplines.” That is 100% true. The student body is experienced. The majority of the students across the Joint Force are O-3s and O-4s. They’re read into war plans and their experience spans firefights, maneuvering warships to launch Tomahawks, piloting attack helicopters and jets, planning logistics in austere locations, and running silent deep in the ocean. Not only does NPS have an interdisciplinary nature in its academics, but it’s interdisciplinary in the student population. Interdisciplinary, to me, expedites solutions. The research and education piece unlocks the potential of the “interdisciplinary” by creating the opportunity and framework to allow ideas to thrive.

How must the DON and DOD innovate to meet the needs of the current and future threat environment?  

I think we’re quick to look at capabilities and widgets that can enhance our warfighting and lethality, sense and make sense, and a myriad of other Beltway terminology and I’m just as guilty of it. But, building agile and critical thinkers who are able to take in a lot of information, understand data and technology and make the best possible decisions in the shortest amount of time is how we will meet the needs of the current and future threat environment. It’s fundamentally Boyd’s Observe-Orient-Decide-Act loop and NPS tightens it up through each student it graduates. The nation is better off for it.

What do you think are NPS’ greatest strengths in changing the military’s mindset about innovation and innovation adoption?  

I think the number one thing for me, and will always be, is the student body at NPS. It’s Joint and Interagency. It’s combined with our foreign partners and allies. A more applicable name for NPS would be the “Combined-Joint-Interagency Postgraduate School.” While there is a myriad of reasons I’ve seen as to why innovation organizations implode, anecdotally the number one reason is that the innovation organization is too far removed from the people living the problem. That couldn’t be further from the truth at NPS. For example, my thesis partner and I decided on a topic that I had personally experienced in my 2015 deployment to Iraq, and it was supported by a professor who had a passion and a technical understanding of a potential solution. Innovation Adoption is arguably the most difficult part of innovation, but again, NPS leads the way because of its focus from the get-go. While the MS in Applied Design for Innovation didn’t exist when I went through, I did take Innovation Leadership, which focused on adoption as a fundamental part of innovation. Adoption of innovative technology and processes still remains a gap from the innovation ecosystem writ large and that’s largely driven by leadership, but it’s getting better. Another massive enhancement to the NPS ecosystem is the push to get more Staff Noncommissioned Officers. Having an enlisted service member's perspective is perhaps the most innovative thing I've seen a military institution of higher education do in recent years. Getting more qualified enlisted into the school, to me, is what puts NPS over the edge and they have a unique perspective that opens up avenues for innovative solutions that would otherwise not be found.

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