Patrick M. Shanahan, Deputy Director of Defense under James Mattis, discussed the ways the United States aims to regain its competitive edge in an era of rapidly developing near peer opponents like China by emphasizing smart spending and evolving the force for future conflicts.

Though the deputy secretary offered a bit of marketing spin to his remarks, claiming that “we’re going to change that word to revolution.”

“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.”

In short, the Evolving the Future Force endeavor hopes to offset readiness issues developed over nearly two decades of continuous combat operations, and further, the damage done by inconsistent funding and “continuous resolution” spending that impede training and maintenance rotations. From there, preparations for 21st century warfare against well equipped, technologically advanced opponents becomes the focus.

Improving the state of the force’s overall readiness is so integral to the broader modernization effort that Defense Secretary James Mattis dubbed it the first of the three primary lines of effort in the America’s National Defense Strategy.

Those three lines of effort, per the Defense Department, are “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 first and third of those lines of effort were the focal points of Shanahan’s remarks, as he explained that his first priority is ensuring the new increased defense budget isn’t simply being spent, but is being spent effectively. He explained that he believes effective spending practices will see them “moving the needle on readiness” this month.

He added that part of that effective spending effort is working to “de-risk programs of record,” to ensure 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.”

Although he didn’t mention it by name, it’s likely that Shanahan’s “de-risking” remarks may have been motivated in part by ongoing negotiations with Lockheed Martin on not just the pricing of the next scheduled shipment of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, but also the projected service costs of maintaining a fleet of the fifth generation fighters. A recent Air Force report acknowledged that, because of the projected operating costs of the F-35, they may have to cut their order by as much as a third to keep maintenance and service costs within budget. The Air Force has stated that they’ll need to reduce operating costs by a whopping 38% in order to afford the fleet of aircraft they had aimed for.

Shanahan also addressed another hot topic at the Pentagon in recent months: expediting the the way technology reaches the battlefield end users. One way Shanahan argues that can be accomplished is by shifting away from home-grown defense technologies and moving to adopt technology that’s already available on the market.

That strategy, which Shanahan dubbed “rip off and deploy,” isn’t so much about taking equipment off the shelf and putting it to use, but rather levering the technological advances made in the private sector to expedite the development of new defense technologies.

“The mindset has always been, ‘We’ll grow it ourselves — it’ll be organic.’” He explained. “In days gone by, the Defense Department did a lot of research and development that later was leveraged in the private sector. Now, much of the private sector’s research and development can be useful to the Defense Department.”

“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.”

Image courtesy of the Department of Defense