WASHINGTON: The current Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs is a careful man with words and much of his speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies echoed earlier policy pronouncements he and other senior Pentagon leaders have made over the last two years, about innovation, the Third Offset Strategy and more effective relations between the Pentagon and commercial industry.
But buried inside Gen. Paul Selva’s comments was a new theme from a man who knows lots of people in Washington and in commercial industry are skeptical about the Defense Department’s latest love affair with Silicon Valley and other tech centers. Simply put, we know you’re watching and please don’t mistake our careful risk management with bureaucracy or with a conservative military mindset.
“We grow up assessing risk,” Selva told the audience yesterday at CSIS. “We wire that into our leaders from the beginning of their training. It’s not that we’re risk averse; it’s that we’re imminently aware of that risk.”
But he also sent a message to Congress, who are closely watching the military’s push to boost innnovation. Past efforts have left promising projects and acquisition approaches littered about the budget and acquisition battlefields. Some of us remember Advanced Concept Technology Demonstrations (ACTD), which seemed an eminently sensible approach: build some prototypes before making the big leap to procuring the weapon system. While a substantial percentage of ACTDs produced weapons with military utility — including the Predator — they had great trouble making it into regular pricurement.
Aside from the well-known efforts pushed by Defense Secretary Ash Carter and his deputy Bob Work such as DIUX and the Third Offset, Selva said he and others are combing through the ranks of the Defense Department “to find a handful of people who are willing to take risks.” Selva averred efforts like these, combined with pushing everyone to come up with good ideas, mean the search for the new and the fabulous “is now becoming systemic in the department.” He pointed to GPS and stealth and other efforts that demonstrate DoD is more than capable of innovation.
So, Congress is watching and hoping. So are Silicon Valley, the American public, our allies and our adversaries. Of course, public proof may be difficult to find, given how likely it is that the best ideas will be classified.