This article was published at Business Insider.
The Department of Defense is about to undergo its biggest transition since 1946.
After winning World War II, the United States military had to transform itself in order to meet the demands of a new world order. The weapons systems that we invested in to win WWII were rapidly becoming obsolete.
The symbol of America’s airpower in WWII, the P-51, was completely outclassed by the time of the Korean War. Our best WWII tank, the Pershing M-26, had to be withdrawn from the battlefields of Korea. By the late 1950s, most of the US capital ships from WWII were transferred to other nations, mothballed or scrapped.
In 1946, we had just begun to transition from piston engine aircraft to jets, from conventional weapons to nuclear, from bombs to ballistic missiles.
It was the dawn of the computer age, television, and the first mobile telephones. It was also the beginnings of the Cold War, the peasant revolutions, the global rise of Communism and Socialism, and a bipolar world dominated by two superpowers, the United States and the USSR.
Looking back at 1946, it’s clear that many of the strategies we used to win WWII did not apply to how we had to fight in places like Korea and Vietnam. The Defense Department was not just waging a military fight, but an ideological battle as well.
Today, seventy years later, the Department finds itself at another crossroads. Work has already begun under Secretary Ash Carter to develop the next “offset” strategy for the department.
New disruptive technologies like autonomy, hypersonics, energy and particle weapons, cube sats, quantum computing, neural man-machine interfaces, cyber, big data, machine learning, swarming, and sensor networks will change how we defend and fight as well.
These disruptive technologies will make just about every deployed military system within the last two decades obsolete. In this new world, data, software, and algorithms are just as important – if not more so – than the hardware they live in.
Colonel Boyd was a USAF fighter pilot and a military strategist. He observed that military decision-making was made in continuous cycles of observe, orient, decide, and act – known as the OODA loop.
He realized that an entity or individual who could continuously perform the OODA loop more quickly than their opponents would not only survive but win. Over the past sixty years, the OODA loop has been applied to everything from dogfighting to business strategy. Time-based competition has become the foundation of strategic capability.
In the near future, Colonel Boyd’s famous OODA loop will be replaced with the SSICA loop which stands for Sense, Share, Integrate, Coordinate and Act. Warriors that can execute SSICA loop faster than their adversary will have the strategic advantage.
In fact, if you can deny your adversary of any of the SSICA steps, you will inhibit or deny your adversary the ability to fight. Our country’s investments into new systems need to provide us with a distinctive SSICA advantage.
Besides the ability to fight traditionally, the Department of Defense must continue to develop capabilities to deal with adversaries that are willing to deploy non-traditional methods of force and warfare, including hybrid warfare, terrorism, cyber and social influence.
We have learned that other nation states and non-state actors have, and are using, these capabilities successfully to project force and power and to counter and contain US interests.
As the Department of Defense considers how to develop and deploy these new disruptive capabilities, the department also needs to embrace time-based competition as a strategy of procurement. Currently, it can take over a decade to acquire, develop, test, and deploy major systems.
As with combat, even when dealing against a superior force, we’ve learned that the team that can consistently maneuver inside of the timeframe of its competitor will win. It’s time to rethink how we procure and use time as a key deciding factor for selection, rather than just looking at capability and cost.
The good news is that the Department of Defense has had numerous change agents throughout its history who risked their careers to serve our country.
Patriots like Billy Mitchell, father of the Air Force; Kenneth Whiting, pioneer of the aircraft carrier; Hyman Rickover, father of the Nuclear Navy; John Boyd, Pierre Prey, Tom Christie and Charles Myers, members of the fighter mafia; Paul Kaminski and Bill Perry, the instigators of Stealth are all great examples of visionaries who brought disruptive change, capability and leadership to the department. Today, with the changing of the administration, we must find the next generation of change agents and pioneers to lead the department forward.
As in 1946, today we find the world changing all around us: the rise of ISIS, the emergence of China as a superpower, and a re-awakened Russia. New nuclear threats are emerging. There is a nationalist movement sweeping the globe with alliances shifting and a new balancing of power.
With these changes, there will be new competitors, risks, and new threats. The next four years for the Department of Defense are critical. The choices that the DoD makes during this period will affect how we protect and defend for the next forty years.
As we search for the next “offset” strategy, we must also reinvent the Department.
This is the time for uncompromising vision, risk taking, and leadership. The Department is only as strong as the people who serve it and those who lead it. Now it’s up to the new Trump administration to choose its leadership wisely and to encourage a new group of innovators to leave the private sector and to join with the change agents inside the Department to help lead this transformation.
Adding Trae Stephens from Founders Fund, who is an incredible young talent with vision, to the DoD transition team is a great start. Hopefully, more like Stephens will follow.
Gilman Louie is a Venture Capitalist, Partner of Alsop Louie Partners; Chairman of the Federation of American Scientists, a member of the Markle Foundation Task Force on National Security in the Information Age; former founding CEO of In-Q-Tel; served as Chairman of the Committee on Forecasting Future Disruptive Technologies for the National Research Council of the National Academies; and was appointed as member of the National Commission for Review of Research and Development Programs of the United States Intelligence Community.
In 2006, Gilman was presented with the Directors Award by the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency for his service in creating In-Q-Tel and providing service to the intelligence community. In 2002, he received the Navigator Award for being a pioneer in advancing national science and technology policy from the Potomac Institute and he was listed as one of fifty scientific visionaries by Scientific American.
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