Future of Navy, DOD debated at AFCEA West

Top DOD officials discussed critical issues for the military's future at AFCEA West.

The widely discussed, departmentwide measures to rein in defense spending have forced the Defense Department into a holding pattern while its finances and operations are sorted out, and that uncertain future spurred much debate at the AFCEA West conference in San Diego in January.

Top DOD officials, many from the Navy and Marine Corps, talked about a range of issues that included force structure, spending priorities, changes in policy, business operations, and the rise of electronic and asymmetric warfare.

Navy Undersecretary Robert Work outlined plans to reallocate $35 billion in the Navy budget, which would include canceling some high-profile weapons programs that have proved too costly.

One controversial move is the termination of the Marine Corps’ $12 billion Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, which Work said "would consume 100 percent of historical spending on all ground combat vehicles. We simply cannot afford it. The opportunity costs on the Marine Corps are too high.”

Work also said the Navy would be moving its spending from tail to tooth — a shift he said might be inevitable, but is nonetheless disconcerting.

“We’ve been in the midst of the largest military buildup since World War II,” Work said. "The tide will recede; it’s a question of how much and how fast. That keeps me up at night."

Other speakers discussed a new war front: cyberspace. During a panel discussion on cyber warfare, top DOD officials noted that such nontraditional warfare is unlike any other the military has faced. Thus, it requires a new approach, a deeper understanding and extensive resources — a tough proposition given the demands of ongoing military conflicts.

“Unlike the physical domain, achieving dominance may be impossible,” said Rear Adm. William Leigher, deputy commander of Navy Fleet Cyber Command. “Cyber warfare necessitates considerable demand on intelligence and resources. We need to know our targets and vulnerabilities and understand the relationship between them.”

The policy aspects also present hurdles for cyber operations because the military must deal with a Congress that is under mounting pressure to reduce government spending.

“We have a challenge as a nation," said Terry Halvorsen, the Navy's CIO. "We have the capabilities to [execute offensive measures] in cyberspace...but the policy piece…is something that has to be worked out. Cyber operations are as politically and diplomatically a weapon as [they are] militarily."

Despite those challenges, DOD is looking to streamline, and a big part of that effort revolves around the way it does business, which could help with broader efficiency efforts.

Elizabeth McGrath, DOD's deputy chief management officer, discussed her office’s plans for reducing red tape and overhauling DOD’s numerous business operations systems, processes and policies. Her strategies include using the Lean Six Sigma business methodology to re-engineer business processes, she said.

The effort to transform business operations could be a boon for other areas of DOD as it seeks to maximize technology and increase transparency — tenets the Obama administration has promoted.

“This is the first time we’re looking at end-to-end business processes in DOD,” said Dave Wennergren, DOD's assistant deputy chief management officer, who also spoke there. “We need to look at optimal processes and how to insert IT" as a strategy.

NEXT STORY: How to survive an austere budget

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