DOD must overcome 'Stone Age IT' to keep competitive, official says

DOD at tipping point for keeping pace with technology, acquisition cycles and budget struggles

The Defense Department can't afford to stay behind in implementing modern technology, and it must balance tech demands with pressing budget issues. If the department can’t keep up, it stands to lose the competitive advantage on the battlefield, a top DOD official said July 19.

“We’re still an industrial country; we still have that industrial construct. We’re trying to figure out how to make the transition to the technology age,” Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at the FOSE conference in Washington. “When we did this before, it was from an agrarian society to an industrialized one.”

But that major transition is hindered by unprecedented debt, and a balance must be struck between evolving technologically and financial resources, he said.

“We’ve been a nation at war for 10 years. ... But it’s a huge national price, and it leaves our country at a $15 trillion debt. We could shut down [DOD] for the next 15 years and we still couldn’t pay that,” he said.

However, Cartwright said he is confident in the nation’s resiliency and that solutions will be found.

“That competitive advantage is critical to our ability to compete on the battlefield,” Cartwright said.

However, he acknowledged that DOD faces major hurdles in catching up to the speed of technology.

“DOD is pretty much in the Stone Age as far as IT is concerned. We’re still trying to reconcile wired and wireless,” he said.

That sluggishness is compounded by an acquisition system that leaves troops with outdated technology before it even reaches their hands, Cartwright said. Faster acquisition methods are needed to counter an improvised explosive device threat that tends to evolve on a 30-day cycle or a seven-year process for replacing the Humvee, he said.

He praised the incremental approach to acquisition used for the Predator unmanned aerial vehicle, pointing to that program as a model for development and deployment of military systems. He said that the first instantiation of the Predator has had three iterations, each integrating new technologies.

“That has to be the way we move,” Cartwright said.

Cartwright said that the cyber domain is promising for the U.S., but that it is critical to get it right early.

“The Cyber Command and the military cyber components are part of a new structure integrated across many disciplines,” he said. “But we can’t isolate cyberspace the way space was [when it was established as an operational domain]. This is too important for our nation.”

He also stressed the importance of the new DOD Strategy for Operating in Cyberspace, noting that it serves as a basic framework from which the department – and broader government – can use and build on.

“The cyber strategy is an iterative framework to take us forward in cyber…it’s going to evolve, there’s no doubt about it,” he said.

And while it’s a good start, there will always be work to be done, Cartwright said.

“We’re moving along at apace. But it’s never fast enough,” he said.

About the Author

Amber Corrin is a former staff writer for FCW and Defense Systems.

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