Culture trumps technology

As the Defense Department continues to fight the war on terrorism, the military services are also in the middle of another battle: moving from Cold War-era tactics and systems to the newest technologies they can buy and field.

But as DOD's ongoing transformation changes everything from battlefield strategies to business processes, the services and civilian leadership must overcome the challenges of cultural change, acquisition reform and defining what transformation really means.

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 mind-set, and we didn't buy any new toys, we've come a long way," Pace said. "We have begun to do the homework that allows us to identify the forks in the road that we can take toward transformation. In the budget process, we can allocate resources to take us to that fork...[and] by that time we can develop a process to know what to buy."

Jack Spencer, a defense analyst with the Heritage Foundation, a Washington, D.C., think tank, said the armed services are trying to transform after a decade of little procurement and are trying to "do more with [fewer people], and do more with aging equipment."

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 making it a high-profile issue. Jones defined transformation in two ways: a new capability that the department couldn't do before, or making a current system or process exponentially better than before, like turning a bomb into a "smart bomb."

Speaking on a panel of DOD leaders at last month's Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis-Fletcher national security conference in Washington, D.C., Jones said the evolution and use of the Global Positioning System was an example of a 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 DOD's transformation, "the greatest challenge is cultural change."

Gen. John Jumper, Air Force chief of staff, said the most fertile ground for sowing cultural change is in developing a concept of operations that uses technology to create an asymmetric advantage, while eliminating the stand-alone information systems within and among the military services.

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 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 the service has firsthand experience in pushing the acquisition envelope because of its goal of having the first Objective Force unit fielded by 2008 and operational by 2010. The Objective Force is a plan to develop advanced information technology tools, vehicles and weaponry to make the Army's armored forces 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 [the] acquisition system around, you won't get it."

Loren Thompson, chief operating officer at the Lexington Institute, an Arlington, Va., think tank, said the Bush administration's military reform efforts have been "moderately successful, but they will probably fall far short of the overblown rhetoric associated with 'transformation.'"

Thompson said there are four basic problems with the administration's approach to military transformation:

n No clear goals have been established.

n Pentagon managers lack an effective management model.

n Key policy-makers do not appear to understand the limitations of the technologies they favor.

n They have not formulated a political strategy for eliciting support from Congress and the military services.

"The administration's transformation efforts have accelerated service efforts to change, but also created confusion and resentment by undercutting long- overdue modernization plans," he said. "If the administration decides to further cut the Air Force's F/A-22 Raptor fighter or the Army's RAH-66 Comanche helicopter — which are genuinely transformational systems — then history will remember this moment as a destructive detour rather than a constructive turning point in military preparedness."

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