Owens makes rich career in integration

Retired Adm. William Owens earlier this month was named president and chief operating officer of Science Applications International Corp. But for Owens this integration post is just the latest stop in a professional life that has revolved around the subject.

Owens a former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff joined SAIC last March after retiring from the Navy. He succeeded Lorenz A. Kull who retired last year. Owens had been corporate executive vice president at the San Diego-based integrator.

His interest in integration began long before his work at SAIC. During his military career Owens was a champion for improved integration of resources - technology in particular - within and among the services.As a Navy officer who moved up through the ranks as a submariner Owens stopped wearing his submarine dolphins in the early 1990s a move symbolizing his commitment to the concept of a total Navy. And as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs he continued to pursue the cause of sharing information systems among the armed forces.

Indeed integration has become something of a passion for Owens.

"I am a believer " Owens said during a recent briefing at the National Press Club Washington D.C. "It's not enough just to have good technology it's systems integration of technology. That is where the promise is."For Owens integration takes on several dimensions. In terms of warfighter support Owens has emphasized in a number of speeches the need for the services to share intelligence information. Intelligence systems are largely stovepiped today and prevent the services from accessing information gathered by another he said."As a father of a young naval officer at sea I am not proud of the leadership that all of us have exerted over the military to ensure that all of the information available to each service is available to all services " Owens said at the Air Force's Software Technology Conference (STC) last year. "We spend hundreds of billions of dollars to buy all these wonderful sensors...but often you cannot share that information with young people in another service."

Owens said he views intelligence along with logistics communications and medicine as the "four great enablers" of the military. "Each service has their own why would you not consolidate the four great enablers?" he asked noting the potential to save billions of dollars.

Owens also has voiced support for the Global Combat Support System (GCSS) the Global Command and Control System (GCCS) and other Defense Departmentwide warfighter support initiatives. "Everything we do as we think about new programs needs to focus on whether it is compliant or interoperable with GCCS and GCSS " Owens told STC attendees.

While GCCS and GCSS represent the latest wave of DOD software development the military also must deal with legacy systems Owens said. He noted that out-of-date software can impede the integration of new technology into older weapons systems.

"Legacy software systems are a big anchor around the necks of organizations especially DOD " Owens said. He said organizations need to take a more disciplined approach in managing software and he advocated the use of the Software Engineering Institute's Capability Maturity Model.

Owens however is also looking to the future and is described by colleagues as something of a visionary. For example he identified command control communications computers intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) systems as potentially playing a pivotal role in future military engagements. C4ISR systems seek to fuse intelligence data from different sources - such as satellites and unmanned aerial vehicles - to give commanders an overarching view of a given battlefield.

Owens believes current and emerging technologies could coalesce to provide this vision in about two to five years. "The ability to see a very large battlefield is profound " Owens said. Such technology would not only give U.S. forces an edge in combat but also serve as a high-tech deterrent. He said a nation considering an arms buildup might think twice "if we can see [their equipment] as targets in a carnival."

But systems able to see an entire battlefield will come about only if the money is available Owens said. DOD this year will undergo its quadrennial review in which the Pentagon decides where to spend its dwindling procurement dollars. He said DOD should strike a balance between spending money on replacing "platforms" - tanks aircraft ships etc. - and spending money on C4ISR which Owens termed the "smart front edge" of warfare.

Owens acknowledged the need to replace aging military hardware but added "I worry that the emphasis on [C4ISR] is not going to be as great as it should be."

On an optimistic note Owens viewed favorably the appointment of former Sen. William Cohen as secretary of Defense and the retention of key members of outgoing Secretary William Perry's DOD management team.


  • Government Innovation Awards
    Government Innovation Awards - https://governmentinnovationawards.com

    Congratulations to the 2021 Rising Stars

    These early-career leaders already are having an outsized impact on government IT.

  • Acquisition
    Shutterstock ID 169474442 By Maxx-Studio

    The growing importance of GWACs

    One of the government's most popular methods for buying emerging technologies and critical IT services faces significant challenges in an ever-changing marketplace

Stay Connected