When it comes to putting the best and latest gear in the hands of America’s war fighters, a common concern levied by those in the know pertains to the U.S.’s treacherously slow, expensive, and convoluted acquisitions programs. With high-dollar defense systems like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and the USS Gerald R. Ford super carrier running past deadlines and significantly over budget, one could hardly be blamed for suggesting the U.S. government has done a poor job of getting the most bang for their buck in terms of defense expenditures. Perhaps an even more crucial complaint has involved America’s recent focus on the wars we’re fighting, rather than the wars we can see potentially approaching from the horizon, allowing competitors to close the technological gap that once ensured American dominance over the battlefield.
A new restructuring effort included in the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act aims to address these concerns by changing how the office of the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics operates. What was once one, all-encompassing, office will now be divided into two branches which will each be led by an undersecretary: the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, and the undersecretary for acquisition and sustainment.
In a statement released by the Pentagon, Deputy Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan explained that this shift will emphasize “the speed of relevance,” and will lead to making America’s military more lethal while encouraging “partnerships within the department and with allied nations and to ensure acquisition processes fulfill the needs of service members now and in the future,” Shanahan said.
Shanahan went on to agree with the concerns voiced by many in the defense industry in recent years, saying that the Department of Defense has spent too much time and money focusing on the “here and now,” and now needs to redirect its focus on investing in the systems that will ensure the U.S. military retains its place as a technological leader in the global theater. An important part of that shift, he claimed, is expediting the process.
The way I think about speed is like baseball in the farm system,” he said. “You take a certain talent and [see] how quickly can you get it to the big leagues. Our whole system has to be about the same thing. Baseball doesn’t get a phenomenal 17-year-old player and finally get him to the major leagues when he is 45, and neither should DoD,” he said.
On the acquisition side of the new split, Shanahan explained that the focus will be on making the Defense Department easier to work with, and on finding ways for contractors to do more with less.
How do we stay downrange to make sure that the privates of today are being supported as well as the privates of the future,” Shanahan said. “My headset is more on them as our customer … and that is how we tend to work in business. You have a customer and the customer is always right. The smart folks can always figure out the issues that are most important to the customer.”
Service members “are the reason we come to work every day,” Shanahan added. “The way I look at it, I’m overhead, and I have to justify being overhead and that means being faster and with more lethality.”
Whether or not this new endeavor will successfully reduce the amount of red tape, over spending, and long delays America’s defense infrastructure has been riddled with in recent years is, of course, yet to be seen. Stories about blank checks and a lack of incentive for military contractors to meet their goals permeate the industry, punctuated by programs like Lockheed’s troubled F-35, and any time huge corporations stand to make less money, one can be sure that there will be a public, or private, backlash.
However, by combining this effort with the more stable and consistent defense budget being called for by America’s current leadership, this endeavor could indeed help turn the corner toward an American military that’s ready for the future of warfare, rather than one that’s struggling to maintain its equipment, and global footprint.
According to Shanahan, the first improvements should be visible to America’s warfighters “on the readiness side.” The changes will officially go into effect on February 1st of next year.
Featured image courtesy of DoD