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DOD Should Map the Competing Incentives that Hinder Innovation, Says Air Force 3-Star

That might point the way to needed cultural and structural changes, the service’s strategy-and-requirements leader told the Defense Innovation Board.

The Pentagon needs to better understand the competing incentives that get in the way of innovation, says the Air Force’s deputy chief of staff for strategy, integration, and requirements.

“Actors respond to incentives,” Lt. Gen. Clinton Hinote told the Defense Innovation Board at their Feb. 1 meeting. “We've got to incentivize risk-taking; the markets do it all the time. If we're not incentivized to fight better so that we can save lives and defend the country better, then I don't know what we have to do, but we’ve got to do something because the incentives right now are lined up against rapid, scalable progress.”

As a start, Hinote said, “I challenge this board to do something like this: map out the incentives” that guide defense-acquisition players: lawmakers and their staffs; prime contractors and startups; the military services; defense undersecretaries for research and engineering, acquisition and sustainment, and policy; and the Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation office. 

Taking the time to map out what each player is incentivized to do could unearth barriers and “maybe some opportunity,” he said.

Hinote, who has degrees in physics, public policy, and military strategy, said he was not speaking for the Pentagon or Air Force in describing their struggles to adopt new technology.

“I hope I can speak to you as Dr. Hinote and not General Hinote. Why? Because I want to be a faithful reporter to you of what I have seen since I have been in the innovation technology strategy space since 2015, when I came to work in the Office of Deputy Secretary Bob Work,” said Hinote, who was dressed in uniform. “With the exception of one year when I was in Baghdad serving in the U.S. Embassy, I've been here struggling with the adoption of innovation, and I want to be able to have that opportunity to tell you what I've seen.”

Hinote said strong leaders are needed to fix longstanding cultural and structural concerns, and called upon the Defense Innovation Board, which advises the defense secretary and other senior leaders on technology, to use its influence where it can. 

The board has nine members, including Michael Bloomberg, the chairman; Sue Gordon, former deputy director of national intelligence; Mac Thornberry, former congressman from Texas; Will Roper, former Air Force acquisitions chief; and  Michael Mullen, a retired admiral and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. 

New S&T strategy

The board is currently reviewing the Defense Department’s upcoming science and technology strategy, which will focus on 14 technology areas, including hypersonics and quantum science.

“We're focused on the right areas,” said board member Ryan Swann, a chief data analytics officer for Vanguard. But, he said, “The execution and how our culture can accelerate that is an area I feel like we can really move the needle on.” 

Swann and other board members said they’d like the document to better describe how academia, private-sector, and government entities could better use their relationships. The document should also detail approaches to developing talent and to making needed cultural changes, they said.

Hinote said Congress and the Defense Department must be more trusting and transparent with each other, and that the Pentagon needs to be more flexible in how it spends money and shares intellectual property. Without that, he said, there’s no way over the “valley of death” that separates promising products from wide deployment. 

“At some point, we're going to have to explore what types of transparency we need to get our congressional stakeholders semi-comfortable with, the type of flexibility that we know we have to get to,” he said.

That flexibility would extend to intellectual property, Hinote said, such as sharing blueprints with allies and partners who could manufacture the munitions they need to defend themselves.

“If that is true, it is in the national interest to lease the intellectual property, give it to the partner and let them build the weapons. Because at the moment, we are not able to build enough weapons fast enough.”