DOD stuck in IT 'Stone Age,' top Pentagon official says

Cartwright tell FOSE audience military must improve technology process to keep battlefield edge

If the Defense Department can't keep up in implementing new technology, it stands to lose the competitive advantage on the battlefield, a top DOD top 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,” Marine Corps 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.”


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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That sluggishness is compounded by an acquisition system that leaves troops with outdated technology before it even reaches their hands, Cartwright said.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.

FOSE is run by the 1105 Government Information Group, parent company of GCN.

Reader Comments

Sat, Jul 23, 2011 Don O'Neill

The Department of Defense faces austerity challenges and needs to ensure that defense industry senior executives are committed to meeting these challenges. Consequently, there is a need for a software doctrine for large-scale, software-intensive systems development on fixed price contracts and the metrics to enforce it. An example of how a fixed price contract can result in a win/win outcome was turned in by IBM’s Federal Systems Division [Shadow Force 08] performance on the Global Positioning System (GPS) Ground Station, a $150M fixed price program. GPS is a high assurance real time system that provides continuous and accurate positioning information to properly equipped users. So naturally incentives were tied to achieving accuracy of results and a high availability operation. The Department of Defense needs to ensure that defense industry senior executives are committed to meeting the challenges and are accountable for demonstrating game changing progress towards solving these challenges. For example, the most significant game changer a defense industry senior executive can deliver is a commitment to accept fixed price contracts on large software-intensive programs along with a convincing capability to deliver that reflecting an understanding of the cultural changes required. Both the Department of Defense and the defense industry need to populate a tool kit of capabilities for successfully engaging in fixed price contracts and for evaluating the challenges and benefits of doing so. Reluctance to accept fixed price contracts within the defense industry community is based on risk and fear of failure in cost, schedule, and quality performance. This reluctance can be offset by Department of Defense incentives based on technical performance measures designed to tilt the risk calculation in favor of fixed price for those capable of delivering.

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