Network & Space Systems
"Driving S&T to the Tactical Edge: Seizing Informational Advantage"
Army Science Conference
December 03, 2008
As I was preparing my thoughts for this year's conference, I realized that I represent industry among a group of distinguished military leaders and academics. And because of that, I am honored to speak today about the mutually supporting relationship among industry, the Science and Technology community and the end user in our quest to deliver the best of science and technology to the soldier. As industry's representative, I will try to keep my comments broad in order to address how we work together with the S&T community to provide warfighters with an advantage on the battlefield. The future conflicts in which our Army will find itself will require an evolving set of new capabilities. Requirements created by irregular warfare will drive the need to have information reach to the tactical edge. Accordingly, we must ask this question: "Is our acquisition process, from S&T, to design and development, to production and eventually to support, properly aligned to deliver this capability?"
It's a fitting coincidence that I'm speaking to you on December 3rd, an important, but perhaps obscure date in American history. December 3rd is the birthday of Gen. George Brinton McClellan, developer of advantageous military technology in his day...namely, the McClellan Saddle.
Some of you in the audience know more about this than I do, but for others, McClellan developed this saddle after an extensive European tour. Six years before the Civil War began, then-Captain McClellan was part of a military commission tasked with studying European armies, their tactics and their equipment. His saddle design was based on what he saw during his tour. In fact, the McClellan Saddle was just one design reviewed in one of the military's earliest wide-scale user tests of potential new equipment. Each design under consideration was tested by two or three cavalry squadrons -- some 250 to 300 troops -- and McClellan's model was eventually chosen. It was standard issue, in fact, for almost one hundred years - from 1859 until the Army retired its horse mounted cavalry units in World War II. It is still used today in some ceremonial Army activities.
When McClellan's saddle was put into production, it sat literally at the tactical edge -- on the very horses that carried cavalrymen into battle. It was simpler and less expensive than other saddles of its day. At the same time, it was light enough not to weigh down the horse, yet sturdy enough to provide good support to the rider and his gear. The net benefits were lower costs, longevity for horses and increased mobility and endurance on the battlefield for warfighters. McClellan's saddle blended the three key elements of successful innovation -- research, industrial production and the requirements of the end user; and it did not take ten years to become widely fielded.
History is replete with examples of how effective and innovative technology can be a game-changer for soldiers on the battlefield. Introduction of the self-contained metallic cartridge in the 1850s and the Spencer breech-loading repeating rifle during the Civil War proved a decisive advantage to Union troops battling Confederate soldiers.
Col. John Wilder's "Lightning Brigade" of mounted infantry was among the first to put this disruptive new technology to the test in the summer of 1863. At that time, the Spencer rifle was slow to be adopted by the Ordnance Bureau. After taking a vote, Wilder and his troops agreed to purchase the innovative breechloader for themselves. Their investment proved a wise one. Armed with rapid-fire Spencers, Wilder's brigade spearheaded one of the most successful campaigns of the war in the West, overpowering a much larger Confederate force at Hoover's Gap in Tennessee, forcing a general retreat and threatening the vital Confederate rail junction at Chattanooga. The Spencer rifle and the lighter, shorter carbine version eventually became widely used by Union cavalry units, thereby creating a formidable combination of rapid firepower and mobility -- a true force multiplier. And yes....those cavalrymen rode into battle on a McClellan saddle.
Lever-action, breech-loading rifles like the Spencer were a product of a robust supply chain and industrial base that could develop these innovative weapons and ramp up relatively quickly in order to produce them in quantity. The more agrarian-based Southern economy could not match the North's industrial production advantage, nor did they have access to raw materials, copper, to produce cartridges.
There are many other examples of the power of innovative and disruptive technologies -- the machine gun, the tank, and radar to name just a few. And the first primitive computers, developed by British scientists to aid code-breakers in deciphering encrypted German messages during World War II, ushered in the modern era of information warfare.
But let's fast-forward to the present. How do we -- that is, the S&T community and industry -- work together to get the most advanced technology we can muster into the hands of soldiers so they can prevail on today's battlefields. What does it take to do that today?
First, we start with research--at a basic level, like the research Gen. McClellan did on those foreign saddles. By pitting the information and technology available today against obstacles the soldier faces in the battlefield, we can offer improved solution sets. In addition to his European tour, McClellan poured over a hundred books to determine the best solution at the time, a modified Spanish tree saddle that proved a superior tool to cavalry units who used it. Colleges and universities similarly conduct such basic research today as our partners in science and technology, ensuring that we have a continuous body of new discoveries to support development. Nanotechnology, network science, and microelectronics/photonics are examples of areas where this activity is robust.
We, as a community, then take these discoveries and generate new products through applied research. Spencer's rifle was an altogether new approach that leveraged invention, discovery and the application of sound engineering principles. In this same way, silicon-carbide fibers became sheet stock, which became layered SAPI plates, which became light weight body armor -- armor that has saved thousands of soldiers' lives. The Army R&D centers, industry advanced design shops, and various not-for-profit labs all participate in this process today and utilize early-stage "proofs of concepts" to mature designs.
Science, technology and production come together in the Systems, Design and Development process. This is also where the handoff to industry occurs. Industry's task is often to alter the preliminary design with mass production and support characteristics in mind.
Industry can also lend speed and flexibility to the production phase. Think, for example, about our nation's seconding of the automotive industry to build tanks during World War II. Chrysler broke ground on a tank plant just one month after receiving a contract in 1940. Sixteen months later, the Detroit Arsenal Tank Plant had produced roughly 500 tanks, and in December 1942 alone, it built a record 900 or so Shermans. Chrysler and the rest of the auto industry together delivered roughly $50 billion in materials to the military during the war, because their executives knew how to build a facility and had the human as well as financial capital to get it done quickly.
During the Cold War, the process I just described could still outpace the Soviet system; S&T, design, development, and production timeframes of a decade or more were long, but they were still shorter than what our enemy could accomplish. Today America's Army finds itself on new ground; asymmetric warfare has created a situation in which it's impossible to discriminate among our allies, our enemies, and the neutral civilian population. Conflicts are no longer dominated by steel on tank, but by the degree of which one has information superiority and can achieve a higher degree of situational awareness.
Our acquisition system, which was developed to use America's industrial capacity to "out build the Soviet Union," is not evolving on par with our enemies, who are creatively changing their modus operandi in conjunction with Moore's Law and Metcalf's Law. They're adopting commercial technology, and doing so in months or weeks, while we still take years -- or decades in many cases -- to successfully nurture a new capability through the process.
In business parlance, our return on investment today isn't good. We're methodical in searching for the perfect solution -- if not the 110 percent solution -- to reduce risk, but the result is that too many programs fail to actually field hardware. We excel at refining what we provide the soldier, but we do so at great cost in terms of both time and money. Consider this: Out of roughly 70 ACAT-1 Army programs from 1978 to 2008 -- a 30-year span -- just 40 of them fielded products to our warfighters.
Our challenge today isn't merely our speed in adopting technology. The threats we face today are different and more complicated. In today's network-centric society, the loss of a single server can wreak havoc with our infrastructure, and our enemies know that. Consider the denial-of-service attacks Russia made on Georgia's Internet infrastructure weeks before a single tank crossed Georgian borders. For nominal cost, critical information technology was taken out of service.
The acquisition process that brought us an M1A1 Abrams Tank is not the same one that will work in a network-centric age. Information and situational awareness are the key elements on today's battlefield. I'd therefore like to propose four concepts around which we can morph our acquisition process to meet and defeat the challenges our soldiers face in information-focused warfare.
The first is velocity. By that I don't mean the speed at which "boots on the ground" can maneuver, but rather the speed at which they gain information. The next war may be decided not by how quickly we can mass fires, but how quickly we can achieve situational awareness to accurately locate our fires. Radio reached an audience of 50 million over the course of 38 years. Television accomplished the same reach in 13 years, and the Internet took only four. More recently, Skype hit 50 million users in 2 years, and MySpace in just one. With such acceleration in information flow, we need a process that can develop and deploy capability as fast as commercial industry can -- an increase in the speed of acquisition.
The second concept around which we should base our acquisition process is proximity to the end-user. By connecting the end-user directly to the developer, we get a better solution on the first try. In my previous example, Colonel Wilder bought the Spencer rifle directly because it best suited his brigade's needs. We're seeing the success of such an approach through our work on the Future Combat Systems (FCS) program. Industry engineers are working closely with soldiers in our System-of-Systems Integration Lab and at Fort Bliss where the Army Evaluation Task Force (AETF) is testing FCS systems in the field. Some of these soldiers recommended a simple solution for a controller device for the robotic Small Unmanned Ground Vehicle (SUGV). Why not use a device patterned after the Xbox gaming controller with which most young adults are already familiar? A gaming controller would reduce training time from days to hours, because the end-user is already proficient with the interface. Today's soldiers come "net ready." They're often light years ahead of some of us in their comfort with war at the speed of the Internet, and we need to take advantage of their skill and knowledge. Let's let the soldiers tell us what they need.
Third, we must employ modeling and simulation to a greater degree to reduce acquisition cycles. A virtual environment can be effective both for design, development, and testing during the prototyping and SD&D phases, while using fewer resources than traditional testing. What's more, we can easily bring soldiers into the virtual environment, thereby keeping them involved in early stages of development. Modeling and simulation is faster, cheaper and, if done correctly, can complement live fire exercises.
We can take our fourth thought on the acquisition process from research universities and the pharmaceutical industry. Large drug companies like Novartis and Pfizer are increasingly relying on small research firms to conduct applied research and early-stage trials. Venture capitalists pick up the costs, improving ROI for the pharmaceutical companies that will ultimately take drugs to market. Similarly, our research universities are becoming more like the incubators of Silicon Valley, enabling both students and professors to take their ideas to market. Such small, focused development teams produce great innovation. Where would the SUGV be without innovative thinkers like MIT professor Rodney Brooks and his robotics students? Interestingly enough, during the five years of SDD on FCS, two early stage One Team partners went through successful initial public offerings. We need to reinvent ourselves to behave more like those agile researchers and support these early stage organizations.
Together, we've accomplished remarkable things for the warfighter -- and we've done so by continually evolving. But the Army is faced with the decision today of retrograding, repairing and resetting the deployed force or retiring the equipment and modernizing the force with 21st Century systems.
To bring it to back to General McClellan...his saddle showed how the right research, field trials, and development work together to meet soldiers' needs. We're all here today because scientists before us made advances that gave an affordable edge in performance, an edge that made the difference between winning and losing. However, if we want to continue revolutionizing our military and its capabilities, we must also revolutionize the system for outfitting them. We need not just disruptive technologies but also disruptive ways of designing, developing and deploying them. I'm hopeful that we will continue to improve our procurement system by embracing acquisition strategies that are responsive to the needs of the Army.