Reform

DOD Officials Discuss Systems, Warfighters Who Use Them

Nov. 21, 2019 | BY David Vergun

Defense Department leaders discussed systems acquisition and sustainment and the people who use those systems during the 2019 Defense Services Conference today in Arlington, Virginia.

Veronica Daigle, assistant secretary of defense for readiness, said delayed passage of the 2020 military budget and piecemeal funding through continuing resolution is having an adverse effect across the military services and industries. She said it has caused delayed purchases and maintenance, deferred facility improvement and scaled-back training exercises.

She said continuing resolutions result in a lack of certainty about what will be funded and how much will be allocated.

Personnel work on small boat on a beach.
Guide Support
Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Anthony Green, a Seabee, provides ground guide support to a local contractor delivering construction materials and tools to Enniburr Island, Kwajalein Atoll, Marshall Islands, Oct. 26, 2019.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Christian Carnate
VIRIN: 191026-N-PG340-1001C
Men personnel work on aircraft in hangar.
Globemaster Work
Aircraft mechanics replace an engine thrust reverser door on a C-17 Globemaster III aircraft at the Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex, Nov. 15, 2019, at Robins Air Force Base, Ga.
Photo By: Tommie Horton, Air Force
VIRIN: 191115-F-UI543-1230

Other speakers addressed specific systems challenges and solutions.

Scott Baum, principal director of industrial policy at DOD, said systems are made of various materials that may be rare or difficult to obtain in the future.

He said that includes rare earth metal, but there are other things that go into weapons and systems that are classified.

Besides mining new metals, a good solution to this problem could be to design the systems to require less of these metals or perhaps use a different alloy.

Baum said new designs could be created quickly and efficiently using additive manufacturing — also called 3D printing — for rapid prototyping assisted by artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Person organizes medical equipment.
Medical Equipment
Army Maj. Craig Keech, chief of centralized contingency programs for the Army Medical Materiel Agency, organizes medical equipment at Sierra Army Depot, Calif., Oct. 18, 2019. Units from the 531st Hospital Center from Fort Campbell, Ky., were participating in an emergency deployment readiness exercise.
Photo By: Maj. Bryan Pamintuan, Army
VIRIN: 191018-A-BL065-1004C

He said 80% of DOD's dollars don't go for the purchase of new systems, going instead  to sustainment costs for such things as tanks, planes, ships and software.

Sustainment costs include routine maintenance, software upgrades, spare parts and so on.

But there are ways to reduce sustainment costs, he said.

For instance, 3D printing could bring down the cost of spare parts, he said, adding that some systems are so old that parts aren't even made anymore.

Baum also said artificial intelligence can be helpful in predictive maintenance that point to areas of systems prone to failure or breakdown.

Artificial intelligence and 3D printing can also be used to design systems that are more robust, so they don't break down as often.

Sailors work on ship’s deck.
USNS John Ericsson
Sailors prepare to receive a fueling probe from fleet replenishment oiler USNS John Ericsson on the flight deck of littoral combat ship USS Gabrielle Giffords, Nov. 19, 2019, in the South China Sea.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Josiah Kunkle
VIRIN: 191119-N-YI115-1102C
Man refuels aircraft.
Fuels Specialist
Air Force Tech. Sgt. Lake Phothale, a fuels specialist with the 124th Logistic Squadron, refuels an MV-22 Osprey from the Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 362 at Gowen Field, Boise, Idaho, Nov. 19, 2019.
Photo By: Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Joshua C. Allmaras
VIRIN: 191119-Z-IM874-0351C

Baum said DOD has 174,000 personnel in the acquisition community across the services, and DOD's leaders are challenged in recruiting, retaining, training and better utilizing workers.

"People are the secret sauce of our success, not just in DLA but across the department," Army Lt. Gen. Darrell K. Williams, director of Defense Logistics Agency.

Williams said it's challenging to recruit  people with high-demand skills — including data scientists and analysts and cybersecurity professionals — because industry is also competing for employees to fill those jobs and others.

Williams said his agency is in the midst of building modernized distribution centers worldwide and a new warehouse management system that will require new job skills.

Daigle said DOD and each of the services must cultivate a talented workforce through training and education.