Transformation: A Journey, Not a Destination

May 2003
By Vice Adm. Herbert A. Browne, USN (Ret.)

The transformation taking place today in both the military and in industry is a logical and necessary step along the evolutionary trail. History documents how economic and societal structures adapted to changes brought about by the transition from the agrarian to the industrial age. We have to turn on the Discovery Channel to learn how people must have felt about adjusting to different ways of earning a living, new modes of transportation, revolutionary tactics for fighting battles.

In our lifetime, we witnessed the next evolutionary step—the industrial age transitioning into the information age. Some may say it began when computers became standard equipment in offices; others believe it started when these marvelous machines became as common in homes as kitchen appliances. On one point we all agree: The real power of computing was launched by networking machines and sharing information.

Sharing information opens a world of opportunities that military leaders can use to protect troops, promote security and propagate efficiencies. It is part of the genesis of current transformation efforts, and lightning-speed improvements in technology are accelerating the evolutionary changes and improving warfighting in the information age.

In the military, some are still struggling with the definition of transformation. Others are busy determining metrics to measure where the military stands on the transformation path. The most important concept to grasp is that transformation is a journey, not a destination.

We are all the sum of our personal experiences, which put into perspective the changes that are occurring around us. In a very short period of time, we have observed improvements in capabilities that are truly fueling the engine of transformation and exponentially increasing military power. When I was a sailor aboard the USS John F. Kennedy during operation Desert Storm, we were able to provide the battle commander with 9.6 kilobits of bandwidth. Today, with half of the U.S. Navy deployed, every aircraft carrier has at least a T-1 circuit. From 9.6 kilobits to a T-1 in 10 years, that’s transformation.

Information management is another example. During that conflict, it took several different data streams, several different receivers and several different workstations to move intelligence information to the right places and right people. Today, each service is working on MULTI-INT terminals built around what was originally the U.S. Army tactical event system, or TES. Moving from six workstations to a single workstation to obtain the intelligence picture is transformation.

Multiple nations working together toward a single goal is not new. For centuries, governments have recognized that collaboration is a powerful weapon to effect change. But today, information technology facilitates cooperative efforts among the militaries that are defeating terrorism and the intelligence and law enforcement agencies that are defending the homeland. New technologies, like the combined enterprise regional information exchange system, support multinational activities. The Navy, the U.S. Defense Department and various oversight agencies worked together to bring about this remarkable capability that enables forces from a variety of nations to work together as one force. Cooperation in development and collaboration in the battlespace are transformational.

These are just a couple of examples of how change is well underway in the armed forces and how information technology has been a driving force. Military leaders, researchers, engineers and program managers are stretching their imaginations as never before in pursuit of the art of the possible. As quickly as new capabilities are developed, someone somewhere asks, “If we can do this, why not also try to move on to the next improvement?” The momentum is unstoppable and will lead to improved effectiveness and efficiency.

Past generations faced challenging issues as their world dramatically changed around them. Despite these challenges, they moved forward with the knowledge that future generations would benefit from their hard work. Gen. Richard Myers, USAF, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, reminds us that transformation requires changes in three areas: technology, culture and organizational processes. All three must change simultaneously to reap the full benefits the information age has to offer this and future generations.

Advances in technical capabilities since Desert Storm are evidence that industry has gotten the message about working hard to provide transformational technologies. In fact, military leaders agree that the technical piece of transformation is oftentimes the easiest part. Our people in uniform have the challenging task of addressing the cultural and organizational process piece of transformation. They have taken this challenge on with a fierce and unwavering dedication because they know transformation is our future.

Technology is transforming the way we live, work and fight. It has set the global community on a path to better understanding and improved processes. Transformation is about moving forward. Standing still is not an option. It wasn’t in the past, and it isn’t today.

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