Deputy Secretary Explains Priorities in Evolving the Future Force


As the Defense Department examines the path toward evolution of the nation’s future military force, “we’re going to change that word to revolution,” Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick M. Shanahan said here today.

Marine displays a drone.
U.S. Marine Cpl.Dmitry Kavaliou th 60mm mortars section leader with Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division shows a tethered reconnaissance Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) during Urban Advanced Naval Technology Exercises 2018 (ANTX18) at Camp Pendleton, California, March 20, 2018. Urban ANTX18 is an exercise led by the Navy Research and Research and Development Establishment (NR&DE) where industry, academia and Government research and development (R&D) organizations are invited to demonstrate emerging technology and engineering innovations in operationally relevant environments and scenarios. The exercise is focused on mission essential tasks. (U.S. Marine Corps video by Lance Cpl. Cutler Brice)
Marine displays a drone.
180320-M-SK635-159
U.S. Marine Cpl.Dmitry Kavaliou th 60mm mortars section leader with Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division shows a tethered reconnaissance Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) during Urban Advanced Naval Technology Exercises 2018 (ANTX18) at Camp Pendleton, California, March 20, 2018. Urban ANTX18 is an exercise led by the Navy Research and Research and Development Establishment (NR&DE) where industry, academia and Government research and development (R&D) organizations are invited to demonstrate emerging technology and engineering innovations in operationally relevant environments and scenarios. The exercise is focused on mission essential tasks. (U.S. Marine Corps video by Lance Cpl. Cutler Brice)

Shanahan spoke at an event sponsored by the Center for a New American Security.

Evolving the Future Force is a multiyear project designed to examine how the joint force should adapt to adversary innovations across the spectrum of conflict, the deputy secretary said. It explores the necessary attributes and capabilities of a future joint force and how to evolve it in a cost-effective manner. The effort is examining opportunities that build on existing programs, capitalize on emerging technologies and leverage a high-low mix of assets, he added.

Shanahan told the audience of industry and academia experts and former government officials about Defense Secretary James N. Mattis’ three lines of effort in the National Defense Strategy: rebuilding military readiness while building a more lethal joint force, strengthening alliances and attracting new partners, and reforming the department’s business practices for greater performance. The strategy rolled out in January, the budget was delivered in February, and March has been about execution, the deputy secretary said.

Balancing Risk

“Many of these issues, problems, ideas [and] solutions have been either around for a while or they’re emerging, and we need to embrace them in a very risk-balanced way,” Shanahan said, adding that he has had three execution priorities this month, the first being “moving the needle on readiness.”

VIDEO | 01:29 | Deputy Defense Secretary Discusses Current DoD Priorities

In doing so, he told the audience, officials are making sure they’re not just spending the money, but also are spending on the right things so we can move that needle. 

The second priority has been de-risking programs of record, which he explained is making sure they execute flawlessly. The goal is to complete those programs ahead of schedule or under budget, Shanahan said, but the most important priority is accelerating modernization.

Concurrently with pursuing those priorities, he said, officials are pursuing reform in how the Defense Department does business. He noted that in days gone by, the Defense Department did a lot of research and development that later was leveraged in the private sector. Now, he said, much of the private sector’s research and development can be useful to the Defense Department, leading to a new approach for DoD: “Rip off and deploy.”

VIDEO | 01:03 | Shanahan Outlines Importance of Quick Force Evolution

Leveraging Private-Sector R&D

“The mindset has always been, ‘We’ll grow it ourselves -- it’ll be organic.’” he said. But now, he told the audience, DoD will leverage more things that have already been done in the private sector. “That also gives us a chance to bring new companies, new ideas, and expand the people that we work with in the Department of Defense,” he added. 

The challenge in evolving an organization as large as the Defense Department how to move quickly in the same direction and evolve at scale, Shanahan said, adding that this is the basis of thinking behind the National Defense Strategy. 

“It isn’t [that] the things that we’re going to do and the priorities that are being set are extremely important,” Shanahan said. “It’s the fact that we’re all going to work to it. It is a lubrication that allows us to involve more quickly.”