We spend a lot of ink debating various acquisition reforms to help Pentagon officials to move at what Secretary Mattis calls the “speed of relevance.” Most of these are regulatory or legislative, but there’s another key factor that can’t be written down or voted on: good leaders. They have an intangible that not even sabermetrics can track; like veteran athletes, they motivate their teammates to play at their peak.
The head of Navy acquisition is one of those people. James Guerts — better known in defense circles as “Hondo” — is the antithesis of the risk-averse culture that exists in Pentagon acquisition. Geurts and I talked onstage at the Defense One Tech Summit on Tuesday. (The video is here, starting at 2:27:00.) But his leadership qualities were really on display afterward, when the event’s attendees approached him to talk.
While others might surround themselves with a coterie of aides to run interference, Geurts brought just one — and politely engaged anyone wanted to chat. He encouraged folks to send him their ideas, rattling off his email address as he walked down the hall.
His brought openness and transparency with him from his prior job as the acquisition chief at U.S. Special Operations Command, where he specialized in getting urgently needed weapons and equipment to the battlefield quickly. Geurts is approaching his Navy position in the same manner, even though there are a lot more zeros in his budgets these days.
“A lot of my time at SOCOM was really shrinking that distance down” from troops to acquisition officials to supplies,” Geurts said on stage. “The trick … now is: how do we create that same culture on something as large as the Department of the Navy, on large programs.
“If we can shrink down that and get all the right people in the room as opposed to getting purely a transactional kind of relationship, that’s a key that SOCOM really taught me,” he said.
Another point on speed: “I don’t think you have to have a ‘special’ in front of your name or a ‘rapid’ in front of your name…to innovate at scale,” he said.
Geurts said that while existing processes need to be leaner, “but we need to invent some new processes…not just try and work it by hustle.”
And he’s actually soliciting advice from anyone who has an idea.
“Help us experiment and prototype new ways of doing business, not just doing the old way of doing business faster,” he said.
You’ve reached the Defense One Global Business Brief by Marcus Weisgerber. What a great turnout at the Defense One Tech Summit this week! Thanks to everyone who showed up. If you missed it, there’s video of each session here. Also, here’s the latest Defense One Radio podcast, which includes my interview with BAE Systems CEO Jerry DeMuro. As always, send your tips here and thoughts to: firstname.lastname@example.org or @MarcusReports. Check out the Global Business Brief archive here, and tell your friends to subscribe!
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Updating Warships like a Tesla
Back to Hondo for a minute … The head of Navy acquisition wants ships to get combat system software updates as easily as updating the apps on your phone. James Geurts described a process of updating software similar to the way a Tesla automobile receives wireless updates to its computer.
While it might sound a bit far out for warship, Geurts said the Navy has already demonstrated it can be done.
“In 24 hours, you compile your software, get it all the way through digital twin, get it fully cyber certified, get it broadcast over the air to a ship at sea, upload it in the combat system and operating in 24 hours,” Geurts said. “We’ve shown that’s possible.”
The Pentagon’s defense acquisition guidelines — known as the DoD 5000 process — “isn’t the right way to attack that problem,” he said of this type of software buying.
After our panel, Geurts said the effort is “a series of ongoing tests” in recent months.
Crash Throws Air Force Light-Attack Experiment into Doubt
The Air Force has suspended its light-attack plane combat experiment at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, after a Navy pilot died in the June 22 crash of an A-29 Super Tucano. Gen. James Holmes, head of Air Combat Command, confirmed the fight suspension to reporters on Thursday morning. The Embraer Super Tucano is being put through its paces against the Beechcraft AT-6. The crash, which happened on the nearby White Sands Missile Range, is a big deal because investigations tend to take months and the Air Force has been trying to move quickly on this project. Buying these sort of propeller-driven warplanes has been debated for more than a decade, but for the first time has buy-in from several senior Air Force officials. Asked whether the experiment would be delayed, Holmes said, “Those are decisions that [officials] are working through now and I don’t really have an answer for you yet.”
More on Predictive Maintenance
Using artificial intelligence to predict when weapons will break is all the rage these days. The Air Force is experimenting with the technology. We’ve talked about how the Navy could use it. Now enter the Army. “Industrial artificial intelligence company Uptake … announced that through a prototype award facilitated by Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx), the U.S. Army will use its software to increase the readiness of Bradley Fighting Vehicle (Bradley) and warfighter safety,” the company said in a statement. “The Army will deploy Uptake’s Asset Performance Management application to predict component failures, decrease the frequency of unscheduled maintenance and improve the productivity of repair operations.”
Concept Photo: Hypersonic Airliner
It’s really just a concept photo that might be decades away (if it ever gets built), but hey, it’s futuristic and shows you how the company’s leaders are thinking about the future. The image was shown at a conference in Atlanta this week. CNBC has it here. (Remember, Lockheed is working on technology that could one day be used on supersonic passenger planes.)
SpaceX Wins Air Force Deal for Big Rocket
Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp, better known as SpaceX, continued its disruption of the military’s space launch market scoring a $130 million deal to launch a classified military satellite in 2020. The launch will be the first time the military uses the firm’s Falcon Heavy rocket. As my Quartz colleague Tim Fernholz points out, the pricetag for the launch is far less than the roughly $350 million it costs for the United Launch Alliance Delta IV, which was the military’s largest rocket.
Marta Stewart, a former CFO of the Norfolk Southern railroad company, has been elected to Raytheon’s board of directors.
Vicki Hollub has been elected to Lockheed Martin’s board. She is president and CEO of Occidental Petroleum. She will serve on Lockheed’s Management Development and Compensation Committee and Nominating and Corporate Governance Committee.
Robert Harward has been named chief executive for Lockheed Martin in the Middle East. “In this new role he will be responsible for the company’s strategy, operations and growth in the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Jordan, Lebanon, Qatar, Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan,” the company said in a statement. The retired vice admiral was previously the head of Lockheed’s business in the United Arab Emirates. Harwood was reportedly a candidate to become President Trump’s national security advisor after Mike Flynn’s dismissal.