Innovation's biggest hurdle

Editor's Note: Innovation's biggest hurdle

Innovation is the hallmark of U.S. military success. The ability of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines to adapt, innovate and overcome is central to the culture of the military service — despite all efforts to quash it.

So it’s no wonder that the pace with which innovation gets incorporated into the way the U.S. military wages war drives warfighters nuts. Although the research, development, test and evaluation (RDT&E) agencies of the Defense Department are responding more quickly to the impetus for change, the procurement cycle often drags out that change and dilutes its value by the time it gets integrated into operations.

Asymmetric warfare means dealing with an enemy that rapidly adjusts its tactics and technology — and to succeed against them means not only quickly adapting to those new tactics but also anticipating their moves. “In the academic world, it’s ‘publish or perish,’ ” former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said during a luncheon at the IDGA’s recent Network Centric Warfare conference. “For us [in Defense], it’s ‘transform or perish.’”

But senior DOD officials speaking at that same conference complained about how long it was taking to get transformative technologies — such as the Command Post of the Future developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency — to the field as supported systems and modified to meet changing requirements.

It isn’t for a lack of trying — or spending. For example, Frost and Sullivan analysts project DOD’s fiscal 2008 budget for RDT&E spending on command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance at nearly $9.5 billion and C4ISR procurement at $8.6 billion — increases of 36 percent and 7 percent, respectively, from fiscal 2007. And offices such as the Navy’s Rapid Reaction Technology Office (see story, p. 20) are striving to find ways to rapidly pull together innovations into usable warfighting technology.

Still, many new technologies quickly find themselves married into larger development and procurement projects, as has happened to some degree with the Navy’s Unmanned Surface Vehicle programs, as Peter Buxbaum reports (see story, p. 10).

Real transformation requires constant innovation. And perhaps some of that innovation should be directed at changing the way systems acquisitions are handled, especially in a time when the enemy isn’t waiting for us to catch up.