NEWPORT, R.I., September 3, 2014 —
To maintain its technological advantage and stay on the cutting edge of technology, the United States must be willing to take risks in innovation and creative thinking, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said here today.
Despite ongoing national security challenges and uncertainty in Ukraine, Belize, Pakistan, Afghanistan and growing tension in the South China Sea, innovation challenges remain and must be addressed, Hagel said during the Southeastern New England Defense Industry Alliance-hosted Defense Innovation Days conference.
“It’s appropriate that we gather here … on the shores of Narragansett Bay, as an area that’s had a long history of innovation benefitting America’s national security,” he said.
The secretary noted to his audience of key decision makers, start-up company executives, homeland security experts, and other defense specialists that the nearby Naval War College had the foresight to analyze whether aircraft carriers could be used more effectively than battleships.
“With more than 300 simulated war games that sought to anticipate future threats, they developed the tactics and operational concepts that would establish naval aviation as an offensive force,” Hagel said. “Their innovative work proved decisive throughout World War II, and beyond – enabling countless victories in the Pacific Theater and shaping the doctrine that put aircraft carriers at the forefront of our military projects, and our ability to project power all over the world.”
As New England emerges as a hub for undersea warfare, technology, capabilities and future operational concepts, Hagel noted the critical ties to industry as the growth continues to support the Defense Department.
“The businesses that comprise our industrial base are as diverse as the troops they support, … and like our armed forces, they are unrivaled around the world,” he said.
Private-sector expertise also helps to give the U.S. military its technological edge and drives the economic strength that undergirds national power, the secretary said.
“From churning out over 100,000 combat aircraft during the Second World War … to constructing the mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles that continue to protect American soldiers and Marines in Afghanistan, … our men and women in uniform have been able to count on American innovation, American industry,” Hagel said. “We’ve been able to count on them to make the tools we need to win in battle and return home safely.”
But building an industrial partnership wasn’t an overnight process, Hagel asserted, acknowledging the added stressors of steep, abrupt budget cuts.
“Sequestration took a toll on the force by cutting into the readiness of all our troops,” Hagel said. “But we were also mindful of the harmful impact on American industry, and the ripple effects it caused up and down the supply chain.”
Despite a budget agreement last year that lessened the impact of spending cuts for fiscal years 2014 and 2015, sequestration will return in 2016 if Congress does not change the law, creating further uncertainty for DoD and industry, Hagel said. “No organization, whether a government agency or a for-profit business, can plan for the future without being able to make some basic assumptions about resources,” he added.
Challenges and threats to technological superiority stem from dwindling defense resources against the proliferation of sophisticated, deadly and diverse national security threats, Hagel said. “As the United States emerges from more than 13 years of grinding warfare and large-scale counterinsurgency operations,” he told the conference audience, “we’re seeing first-hand that the rest of the world has not stood still.”
Disruptive technologies, destructive weapons
Hagel described disruptive technologies and destructive weapons once solely possessed by advanced nations that now are ubiquitous and are being sought or acquired by unsophisticated militaries and terrorist groups.
“Meanwhile, China and Russia have been trying to close the technology gap by pursuing and funding long-term, comprehensive military modernization programs,” the secretary said. “They are also developing anti-ship, anti-air, counter-space, cyber, electronic warfare, and special operations capabilities that appear designed to counter traditional U.S. military advantages – in particular, our ability to project power to any region across the globe by surging aircraft, ships, troops, and supplies.”
American dominance on the seas, in the skies, in space and in cyberspace no longer can be taken for granted, the secretary said. “While the United States currently has a decisive military and technological edge over any potential adversary” he added, “our future superiority is not a given.”
Hagel said a world without a decisive edge portends less stability and security for the United States and its allies.
“We must take this challenge seriously, and do everything necessary to sustain and renew our military superiority,” Hagel said. “This will not only require active investment by both government and industry. It will require us to once again embrace a spirit of innovation and adaptability across our defense enterprise.”
Prioritizing key investments
In the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review and the president’s fiscal 2015 budget request, Hagel explained, DoD prioritized key investments in submarines, cyber, next-generation fighter and bomber aircraft, missile defense, and special operations forces, putting a premium on rapidly deployable, self-sustaining platforms that can defeat more technologically advanced adversaries.
“To realistically sustain these critical investments while keeping our commitments to our people, we had to make tough but necessary choices, and tough but necessary tradeoffs,” Hagel said. “These included reducing the overall size of the force, divesting unneeded infrastructure, phasing out aging and less capable weapons platforms, and modestly adjusting military compensation.”
Hagel lauded Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work for his knowledge of strategies developed by 1950s and 1970s national security thinkers who ensured the military’s superiority, including prioritized nuclear deterrence, and the long-range research, development and planning program that shaped future investments in leap-ahead capabilities such as standoff precision strike, stealth, wide-area surveillance, and networked forces.
Frank Kendall, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, is a key part of innovation programming endeavors that will span throughout the next several decades, Hagel said, but the Defense Department’s role is only part of the effort required.
“We cannot assume – as we did in the 1950s and ’70s – that the Department of Defense will be the sole source of key breakthrough technologies,” Hagel said. “Today, a lot of groundbreaking technological change – in areas such as robotics, advanced computing, miniaturization, and 3D printing – comes from the commercial sector.”
DoD must be able to assess which commercial innovations have military potential, the secretary said, must rapidly adopt them and adapt them, then test and refine them, including through war-gaming and demonstrations.
Meanwhile, he said, DoD’s next round of improvements to the acquisition system will use stewardship initiatives to focus on the flow of technology to the warfighter.
Better Buying Power 3.0
The Better Buying Power 3.0 initiative, Hagel explained, will strengthen DoD’s efforts to incentivize innovation in both industry and government while using more modular and open systems architectures, will provide industry with draft requirements earlier, will remove obstacles to procuring commercial items, and will improve technology search and outreach in global markets.
“These initiatives and others will strengthen our defense industrial base and help both the U.S. and our allies and partners maintain our technological edge,” Hagel said.
With 20 percent of DoD acquisition dollars devoted to small businesses, Hagel noted, niche areas within industry can be particularly vulnerable when production rates decline. “Given today’s budget environment, we need to maintain the skills, the talents, the knowledge, and expertise that vulnerable firms bring to the table,” he said.
Caring for the workforce
Acquisition improvements, Hagel said, are not restricted to how DoD buys weapon systems. Rather, he added, they also pertain to caring for the workforce.
DoD released a request for proposals to restructure and modernize its electronic health records system to meet present and future national health care data standards for quality and timely services to veterans and service members, the secretary noted. “It will allow DoD to do a much better job with sharing information with both the [Veterans Affairs Department] and private-sector health care providers.”
While the breadth and magnitude of challenges are great, Hagel said, so is the DoD’s capacity to meet them.
“History shows us that America has always risen to this challenge, no matter how daunting, thanks to the drive and entrepreneurial spirit that is the hallmark of America’s national character,” he said. “We will not fail this historic charge.”
(Follow Amaani Lyle on Twitter: @LyleDoDNews)