DOD leaders discuss transformation

As its ongoing transformation changes everything from battlefield strategies to business processes, the Defense Department must overcome the challenges of cultural change, acquisition reform, and defining what transformation really means, according to a panel of DOD leaders.

Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said it is hard to define transformation, "but I know it when I see it." He added that not having a definition "doesn't mean we can't facilitate it."

"If the only thing we changed is our mindset, and we didn't buy any new toys, we've come a long way," Pace said during his Oct. 17 keynote presentation at the Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis-Fletcher national security conference in Washington, D.C. "It doesn't bother me one bit that I can't define transformation for you."

"We have begun to do the homework that allows us to identify the forks in the road that we can take towards transformation," he said. "In the budget process, we can allocate resources to take us to that fork...[and] by that time we can develop process to know what to buy."

Gen. James Jones, commandant of the Marine Corps, credited the Army's chief of staff, Gen. Eric Shinseki with first using the term "transformation" and providing the necessary visibility within DOD. Jones defined it in two ways: a completely new capability that the department couldn't do before; or making a current system or process exponentially better than it was before, like turning a bomb into "smart bomb."

Jones said the evolution and use of the Global Positioning System was an example of a completely new capability. "God forbid we run up against someone who could ever jam it.... We'd be in big trouble."

Even though both of his examples were technological, Jones said transformation is not just about technology. "It's a process, not an end state, and the reality is you never get there."

Navy Adm. William Fallon, vice chief of naval operations, agreed and said that to successfully execute the DOD's transformation, "the greatest challenge is cultural change."

Gen. John Jumper, Air Force chief of staff, said the most fertile ground for making that happen is in the development of a concept of operations that uses technology to create an asymmetric advantage, while eliminating the stovepipes of information within — and among — the military services.

Those cultural and technical changes are necessary so that sum of the DOD's intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) knowledge "ends up with a cursor over the target" as quickly as possible, Jumper said.

The DOD leaders agreed that the acquisition process had to become faster and more flexible. Jumper said the Air Force was putting system testers, operators, and developers in the same room to work on projects in order to streamline the process. Jones said acquisition laws should be changed to include the service chiefs, who are currently precluded from participating in the process.

Gen. John Keane, Army vice chief of staff, said that service has first-hand experience in pushing the acquisition envelope because of its goal of having the first Objective Force unit partially fielded by 2008 and ready by 2010.

The Objective Force is a strategy to develop advanced IT tools, vehicles and weaponry to make the Army's armored forces more agile and lethal, and better able to survive an all-out fight.

Keane said the Army was aware of the risks associated with the aggressive timeline, "but if you don't push acquisition system around, you won't get it." He added that in the past if the Army wanted a system ready by 2012, the service wouldn't get it until 2018, which is why the service is "doing everything we can" to meet Objective Force deadlines.

The only non-DOD member of the panel, Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Thomas Collins, said his military colleagues might be able to take some lessons learned from the Coast Guard's $17 billion Integrated Deepwater System.

Deepwater will replace an aging fleet of cutters, aircraft, sensors and the supporting command, control, communications and surveillance systems. Collins said Deepwater could serve as an example for the DOD services, because of its network-centric foundation, and the flexible partnership with industry, which is tied to performance and has accountability measures built in.

"It was important before 9/11, now it's urgent for the nation to have that capability," he said.

In addition to the IFPA, the International Security Studies program of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, the Marine Corps and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency sponsored the national security conference.

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