DOD tells Hill IT central to readiness

Two weeks after senior military commanders warned Congress that defense readiness is spiraling downward, a top Pentagon acquisition official this month implored lawmakers to fund modernization efforts or risk losing its edge on the battlefield.

Jacques Gansler, undersecretary of Defense for acquisition and technology, told members of the House subcommittees on Research and Development and Military Procurement, that to maintain the Defense Department's long-term readiness goals, DOD and Congress must shift their focus from a Cold War defensive strategy to emerging "asymmetrical" threats such as biological and chemical weapons and information warfare. DOD must modernize existing legacy systems by "increasing their reliability and creating an integrated digital battlefield," Gansler said.

Gansler told Congress that the United States "must increase...funding on enhanced and secure [command, control, communications and intelligence] and long-range, all-weather precision weapons."

Gansler testified two weeks after the heads of the four military services outlined before the Senate Armed Services Committee problems affecting DOD's ability to carry out its military strategy, including high deployment rates for troops, replacing aging equipment and upgrading base infrastructure.

"The difficulties we are now experiencing stem from a problem that will only get bigger and cut deeper into the readiness of the force in the 2000-2010 time frame— a lack of funding for modernization," said Gen. Charles C. Krulak, commandant of the Marine Corps.

Sen. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.) said questions surrounding the modernization of research, development and procurement must be answered now so that the next Congress can deal with them when it considers the fiscal 2000 Defense budget.

"With the painfully evident, steady decline in the services' science and technology accounts, how can we expect to provide the 'seed corn' of advanced technology that will be necessary to enhance the effectiveness of our armed forces on future battlefields?" Weldon asked.

To break free from what he termed a "death spiral," in which DOD takes money away from modernization efforts to fund contingency operations, Gansler outlined a plan that he said would require significant cultural change for DOD. "The result may be that we will have to put some sacred cows out to pasture," Gansler said.

At a recent Pentagon briefing on the status of the Defense Reform Initiative, Deputy Secretary of Defense John Hamre said DOD has made significant progress toward reducing acquisition costs and that it may be premature to conclude that certain weapons systems will have to be terminated to realize further savings. Hamre said current savings from initiatives such as competitive outsourcing and paperless contracting have been programmed into the service's future budget requirements.

However, the biggest challenge facing DOD is its aging infrastructure, Hamre said. "We still have to tackle the inefficiency that comes with this department carrying forward a 1970s [or] 1980s support structure into the next century," he said. "If 10 years ago we said we want to...continue to have government-owned telephone circuits and switches and networks [in] the future and we don't have to privatize [these services] because we're going to get extra money, that would have been a colossal strategic mistake."

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AT A GLANCE

DOD initiatives for modernization:

* Competitive outsourcing of all but inherently governmental functions.* Rapid reduction in the civilian and military work force.* Widespread use of acquisition reforms.* Increased use of performance-based contracting.* Transformation of DOD's logistics system into a more responsive, less expensive system.* Transformation of military tactics, doctrine and procedures to assist DOD in realizing the goals of Joint Vision 2010, an effort to create seamless battlefield communications across the services.

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