In his A Design for Maritime Superiority, CNO Adm. John Richardson stated: “These three forces — the forces at play in the maritime system, the force of the information system, and the force of technology entering the environment — and the interplay between them have profound implications for the United States Navy. We must do everything we can to seize the potential afforded by this environment. Our competitors are moving quickly, and our adversaries are bent on leaving us swirling in their wake.”
Referring to the CNO’s Design, Thomas P. Dee, the former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Expeditionary Programs and Logistics Management) Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Research, Development & Acquisition), said that technologies are fusing in increasingly unpredictable ways, and potential nefarious uses are not always immediately apparent.
Even if they were, Dee said, innovation is often hampered by the need to comply with multiple policy and regulatory oversight requirements. Breakthroughs in a range of technologies — from robotics to nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, genome sequencing, human advancements or meta materials — could destabilize security and shift balances of power so we need to figure out how to move at a pace appropriate to the 21st century.
“The need to leverage innovation not only applies to the development of new technologies and weapons systems, but also to our readiness posture and logistics capabilities,” Dee said.
Speaking at the 21st Annual Expeditionary Warfare Conference in Portsmouth, Virginia, in October, Dee, who served as principal advisor to ASN (RD&A) on matters relating to expeditionary capabilities, urgent needs processes and acquisition logistics and whose portfolio includes U.S. Marine Corps ground programs and Navy expeditionary programs to include combat vehicles, explosive ordnance disposal, counter-IED, and multiple other programs that support naval expeditionary forces, said that it’s necessary to understand industry incentives to achieve readiness.
Budget constraints continue to be a challenge for the Navy and the Defense Department in general. As the CNO pointed out in his Design, “… the Defense and Navy budgets likely will continue to be under pressure. We will not be able to 'buy' our way out of the challenges that we face. The budget environment will force tough choices but must also inspire new thinking," Dee said. “We’re looking for greater efficiency and productivity.”
According to Dee, a policy is in the works, the purpose of which is to encourage greater innovation and informed risk-taking by promoting rapid prototyping to explore new concepts before initiating an acquisition effort. “We’re concerned about prototypes that happen before you know what you want,” he said.
Along with readiness and budget, acquisition reform continues to be a timely topic.
“The [Capitol] Hill wants to talk about becoming more agile and flexible,” Dee said.
“We produce the best stuff in the world but we are perceived as a risk averse, compliance-driven organization. I'm not speaking of the acquisition community specifically, but rather about the entire enterprise, from requirements to budget, to acquisition communities, and includes the oversight bodies in the Executive and Legislative branches. Acquisition reform is really about changing the culture, not adding statute or regulation. We need to be held accountable for outcomes, not for compliance with administrative processes,” Dee explained, posing the question of how to change a culture without dismissing legitimate oversight concerns.
There is currently an acquisition reform effort underway on the Hill. According to Dee, the Defense Department is actively supporting congressional efforts to “ensure we get this right and is conducting the reviews required within the NDAA.”
“While we are conducting those reviews, let’s stop making changes in the interim. We need to figure out what it is we want to accomplish and go after that,” Dee continued.
Dee mentioned that an “80 percent solution” is being sought for acquisition reform. Finding the right balance of cost, schedule and performance trades are necessary to achieve this degree of success, he said.
Dee emphasized the need for leaders and sponsors to take ownership and exercise initiative to reach acquisition reform goals, and how important it is to understand all the options.
“Acquisition reform is not a science, it’s an art,” Dee said. “Learning that art is what we should focus on.”
Dee, who currently is serving as the Vice Director of Navy Staff, is no stranger to the idea that knowledge must be collected and shared from the deckplate up. “On their own, everybody strives to be the best they can be — we give 100 percent when on the job. Our leaders take ownership and act to the limit of their authorities. We foster a questioning attitude and look at new ideas with an open mind. Our most junior teammate may have the best idea; we must be open to capturing that idea,” he explained.
Every project is different, Dee said, and values are different across the Department of Defense.
“Changing the culture lets people know they’re held accountable for outcomes. Starting from the bottom up creates a culture change,” Dee said.
Dee also emphasized the importance of expanding network partners and making use of the sources that are already out there.
“It’s all part of the CNO’s Design,” Dee said.