Speaking to a group of information technology professionals at a conference here, Deputy Defense Secretary William J. Lynn III, laid out some of the challenges the defense acquisition process faces related to IT systems, and what the department is doing to remedy them.
Lynn said the current timeline means technology systems are being fielded five generations behind the state of the art. “By comparison, the iPhone was developed in less time than it takes [the Defense Department] to budget for an IT program,” he said.
Laying out other challenges, Lynn said the military’s infrastructure does not always take into account the technology savvy of many of its users – servicemembers whose youth and familiarity with gadgets puts them in the “digital natives” demographic.
“Unless we build systems for tech-savvy soldiers,” he said, “we will continue to limit ourselves in the fight against tech-savvy enemies.”
How the department integrates information into operations is among the most important determinants of U.S. military power, the deputy secretary said. “That’s why IT is a focus of the Quadrennial Defense Review — the department’s once-every-four-years look at the threats we face, how we respond to them and what our national strategy should be,” he said.
Quoting his boss, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, Lynn said the old paradigm of looking at potential conflict as either regular or irregular war, conventional or unconventional, high-end or low, is no longer relevant.
“We now face a world of hybrid warfare — insurgents with [improvised explosive devices] that can pierce heavy armor, terrorists that aspire to use cyberwarfare, and rogue states with weapons of mass destruction,” he said. “These are the threats the QDR is grappling with. To defeat them, we need a portfolio of military capabilities with maximum versatility across the widest possible spectrum of conflict.”
IT plays a crucial role in the era of hybrid warfare, giving U.S. warfighters more information about the threats they face and equipping them with the tools to defeat them, Lynn said.
“When our soldiers leave their bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, they travel with computers networked into powerful databases and combat support systems,” he said. “Information that used to be squirreled away in headquarters, or on file in Washington, can now be accessed on displays in their vehicles.
“Not too far away, it will also appear on handheld devices that they carry individually,” he added.
Lynn said such systems have made possible successes on the battlefield and in the realm of intelligence.
“Yet many of [these systems] did not exist when the conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan began,” he said. “They are here now only because of the dogged inventiveness of our troops in the field, who refused to accept the slow speed of the acquisition process in Washington.”
Lynn said the U.S. military’s continued success on the battlefield is contingent on continuing to field game-changing technology.
“Our challenge is to take wartime successes in innovation and institutionalize them departmentwide,” he said.