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Austerity Breeds Innovation

May 16, 2013
By Maryann Lawlor
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East: Joint Warfighting 2013 Online Show Daily, Day 3
East: Joint Warfighting 2013 at the Virginia Beach Convention Center, Virginia, wrapped up today with discussions about the challenges in counterinsurgency wars, rapid acquisition and fiscal crisis.
Lt. Col. John A. Nagl, USA (Ret.), author of Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam, said that U.S. leaders turned away from the lessons that were learned in Vietnam when they began fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was not until Gen. David Patraeus, USA (Ret.), former commander, U.S. Central Command, took over the mission that progress started to be seen in the region. “We can’t afford to get it so far wrong again,” Col. Nagl stated.
 
While some success has been seen in Iraq in terms of stability, the same cannot be said about Afghanistan, he added. Absent American support, the country could still be overtaken by insurgents, and it is yet to be determined if Afghanistan will end up like the Vietnam War or be an “untidy” success like Iraq. “The best we can hope for is an age of unsatisfying wars,” the colonel noted. “Counterinsurgency wars are long and messy, but they are the most likely type of wars we’ll fight in the future.”
 
Lt. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sorenson, USA (Ret.), former U.S. Army chief information officer (G-6), led the final panel of the conference. The topic was one that has been hot for some time and is now coming to a boil in light of tightening budgets: acquisition. However, members of the panel did not so much discuss less money as they did an aspect of the issue that has been the focus of numerous panels: how to speed delivery of solutions to warfighters.
 
Panelists reiterated some of the same approaches that have been discussed for several years. Gen. Sorenson is in favor of decreasing the number of government regulations and decision points involved in purchasing new products. He also called for military leaders to make sure to determine their requirements early and then stick to them rather than making numerous changes through the development and production process, which only leads to delayed delivery schedules and cost overruns.
 
Rear Adm. Terry B. Kraft, USN, commander, Navy Warfare Development Command, agreed with Gen. Sorenson that determining the right requirements is key, but in at his command the needs should be based on well thought-out concepts. By basing requirements on defined concepts of operations, it is more likely that individuals involved in the programs, technologies, commands and industries that develop the solutions will get them right from the start.
 
Ensuring the concepts are realistic requires input from the operations side of the services. “The value of experimentation is huge. We’ve got to be a learning organization,” he added.
 
Panelist James Smerchansky, deputy commander, SAIT, Marine Corps Systems Command, said that it’s not the acquisition process that’s the enemy but rather the awareness and understanding of the process. To ensure that the military receives solutions that meet their needs in a timely manner, a “trade space” needs to be created where military service members and industry can discuss flexibility. Perhaps a company would be able to meet all the service’s requirements but not at the given price point. The military would then have to be willing to “trade” their requirements so that at least some of the needs could be met within budget or trade a risk-free solution for one that can be delivered on time.
 
Keying in on this need for agility, Allan Resnick, director, Analysis and Integration Directorate, Army Capabilities Integration Center, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, said that if the services are willing to put solutions in warfighters’ hands to determine if they are useful, more technologies could move to the field faster. After first determining the gaps, evaluations of prototypes should take place for three to six months. “Requirements are not specifications. We need to figure out what we need to solve a problem, what’s good enough. We need to balance that with affordability,” Resnick stated.
 
In his speech at the conclusion of East: Joint Warfighting, Robert O. Work, former undersecretary of the Navy, described today’s military environment as one of dichotomies. Cuts in military budgets are not new. The question is how long these will continue, and Work predicted they there will be four to nine more years of austerity.
 
While political leaders call on the military to seek efficiencies to stay within a small budget, Work says it’s not as easy as people think. “Political dysfunction is now at an all-time high,” he said. Instead, he called on the military to set priorities. “In this period, if we do not prioritize, we’re done.”
 
A time of small budgets is a time for big innovation, and not just in technologies, Work believes. He called on the military to be willing to take some risks by looking at experimenting with combining military strengths with other types of organizations or further decentralizing command. He also criticized military service leaders for choosing to stop funding travel and attendance at conferences such as East: Joint Warfighting because it is these very types of forums that enable the military to describe to industry exactly what they need. “We’re cutting off our nose to spite our face if we don’t let the military to go conferences,” he stated.
 
East: Joint Warfighting 2013 speaker and panel videos and presentation materials will be available on the AFCEA website in the near future. Check your email for notification.

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