Valerie Insinna, DEFENSE DAILY
9 November 2015
New Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson wants to Navy to fail more – that is, he wants to see the service take more risk during the early stages of weapon system development and expand its use of experimentation, he said Nov. 7.
During a panel on innovation during the Reagan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley, Calif., Richardson said the acquisition system has become too risk adverse, and could benefit adopting greater agility and getting user input early on.
“There's just a tremendous amount of learning on both sides as you get these tools into people's hands and they start to use them. This adaptation makes us much more flexible and much more useful, “he said. “If it fails during that experimentation phase, as long as you learn something valuable and you make the generation and the next iteration
that much more capable, then I think we've got to be open to those sorts of models.”
Throughout his remarks, Richardson stressed the human side of innovation. He recently completed a tour where he visited fleets in Asia, Europe and the Middle East, where he often encountered sailors and Marines using equipment in new ways.
“Sometimes those tools are ideally suited to the situation that they face. Oftentimes a situation has modulated ... and they have this toolkit that’s been given to them, and then the ingenuity starts,” he said, likening it to a scene in Apollo 13 where astronauts had to repair equipment with duct tape and scraps of cardboard.
While the service is moving in the right direction, Richardson said he would be happy to exert greater top-down pressure to inject fleet-level innovation into the acquisition system. However, he also noted that the proper time to take risks is early in a product’s development.
The Pentagon’s top weapons buyer Frank Kendall agreed that the Defense Department needs to make greater investments in research and development of innovative technologies, but for programs of record that are vital for U.S. security – such as the Navy’s Ohio replacement submarine program – failure is not an option.
Using Better Buying Power 3.0 and Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work’s third offset strategy, department plans to identify where it will “roll the dice and gamble some money on concepts that may not work out,” Kendall said during the panel.
But in this tight budget environment, research and development must compete against other priorities such as ongoing operations against the Islamic State and in Afghanistan, readiness and existing programs of record, he said. “At the end, how much we’re going to be able to do is going to be a matter of how many resources we can put into experimentation, into the kinds of higher risk activities that we’ve been talking about.”
The Defense Department needs to more aggressively pursue novel, advanced technologies that could have implications for defense decades down the road, said Wes Bush, chairman and chief executive officer at Northrop Grumman. Some of those development initiatives may fail, but the military will not be able to hold onto its advantage unless it makes investments that grow technology by leaps and bounds.