Incoming: Preparing the Defense Department for the Future, One Idea at a Time

January 1, 2019
By Lt. Gen. Susan Lawrence, USA (Ret.)

Welcome to the first of a new monthly column I will be writing for SIGNAL!

First, let me say what an honor and thrill it is to be asked by SIGNAL Magazine to contribute a regular column. SIGNAL and the entire AFCEA community have long served as a critical public square for airing the important technological issues that confront the Defense Department, and I look forward to participating in that discussion.

The timing couldn’t be better. The pace of change in the national security arena is accelerating at a dizzying rate. In the last few months, we’ve seen a reorganization of the Defense Department’s acquisition operation, a new Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, the procurement launch for the department’s planned single-award Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) cloud contract, the proposed creation of a new U.S. Space Force, formation of a new Army Futures Command and a new Defense Department Cyber Strategy, just to name a few highlights.

These and other events point to a Defense Department that is clearly operating under tremendous external pressures in the form of rapid technology advancements, global security shifts and budget constraints.

My 40-year military career—which has included leading network, C4 and information technology functions during military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan; teaming to develop the U.S. Army Cyber Command; serving as the Army’s CIO/G-6, and now as an industry technology leader—has given me great appreciation for the challenges that today’s Defense Department leaders face.

I plan to use this column to offer my thoughts on the current dynamics for the department, but more importantly, to advance what I hope will be broader conversations within the defense community about possible solutions and new approaches to the challenges at hand.

The days are long gone when the Defense Department and a relatively small ecosystem of industry partners developed the battlefield technologies and solutions needed by the military. Many of today’s greatest innovations are powered by the commercial sector, and the Defense Department must quickly identify and incorporate those innovations for its purposes.

But developing that capacity will not be easy. It requires deliberate changes in the way the Defense Department attracts and develops talent, acquires technology and capabilities, relates with industry and academia, and approaches risk.

In many cases, change will be extremely difficult to execute—we are talking about culture, after all. But our ability to keep pace with today’s and tomorrow’s changes and innovations is at stake, so there really is no other option but to adapt. I know from personal experience the tremendous talent we have across the military community, and I have confidence in their passion and commitment to take on the next challenge.

In this column, I will pose the critical questions we must try to answer as a community. For example, how can we help the department break free of its heavily siloed environments so that data from disparate components can be aggregated and enhanced through emerging technologies—such as artificial intelligence and machine learning—to provide decision-makers with more complete views of their battle space?

I will explore how the Defense Department can reimagine itself as a military force built upon skills—as opposed to jobs—that enhance adaptability, creativity and decision-making. We’ll look at how to incorporate greater agility into its workforce and technological capabilities. In addition, we’ll seek to identify constructive ways to transition the Defense Department culture from being risk-averse to being risk-tolerant.

Discussing ideas that generate fresh thinking to inform tomorrow’s defense leaders is imperative. When I became the CIO/G-6 of the Army, I would have benefitted from the many lessons that I learned in my first six months in industry. Our military leaders also should have access to industry experience and perspectives to inform their thinking and decisions.

Going forward, we should look carefully at the people, processes, cultures and technologies that are needed and figure out how to incorporate agile processes faster and more effectively within the Defense Department. Please join me as we explore these ideas in the coming months. I also hope you will provide your own thoughts and feedback in the comments section for this column so we can keep the conversation moving forward.

Until next time!

Lt. Gen. Susan Lawrence, USA (Ret.), leads the Accenture Federal Services Armed Forces portfolio. She previously served as the CIO/G-6 for the U.S. Army as well as the commanding general for the Army’s Network Enterprise Technology Command (NETCOM).

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Share Your Thoughts:

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I'm looking forward to read more and get some inspiration. To keep up with the enormous changes in the workfield it is essential to look forward and experiment with the upcoming technologies and how to use them.
with kind regards,
Marcel van Bloemendal, Royal Signal School, The Netherlands

Worthy goals, and look forward to more detail and analysis. Not mentioned is a critical deficiency - The lack of contact between dynamic small business and active duty Users. No "Leader" can grasp all the problem solving capabilities available from the business community. In turn, innovations from the business community often need tweaking to suit Warfighter needs. That interplay generates breakthrough ideas. Web based exchanges and "Let a Trooper Test It" events would be a start.

Interesting and best wishes for a great column. That said, NETCOM and the G-6/CIO helped put the Army in the mess it is in. It was not your fault. There is too much inertia. Senior leaders come and go. The institution needs to be reset.

DoD needs a different procurement model. It still needs to be in DoD, but it needs to be run commercially (see Norway, Singapore, Qatar...). Acquisition of goods and services should be driven by demand analysis on a cognitive basis against cost, schedule and performance vs. funds appropriated to maintain, train, execute a force that exists in motion. The tasks should largely be separate. Today, the DoD is left to devise a means for which they have little experience or education (senior leaders and across the institution) -- and Congress is not any better. All leaders need better tools. The institution needs re-alignment. It seems we forget -- "Without the institutional Army, the operational Army cannot function. Without the operational Army, the institutional Army has no purpose."

I have been looking at the cooperation of industry and the DoD for some time and I think that a very good job has been done. A development seems to have begun that is already working very well. I also know, of course, that in the past large corporations have been entrusted with the developments of new technology, but in the past the technical possibilities for medium-sized enterprises were not like today. In the past, however, the foundations for today's established high technology have also been formed. So a good job has been done.

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