Allies, Innovations and a Strategic Opportunity for the United States: Leverage and Learn


2017-08-10  As the Pentagon reforms its acquisition approach, the ability to mobilize assets and to support them as was well as to accelerate modernization are clear priorities.

But missing from the discussion is the allied dimension in terms of accelerating US combat modernization.

The shift from slo mo to preparing for high tempo and high intensity operations is a major challenge for the US military and its allies.

It is about a culture shift, a procurement shift, an investment shift. But mobilization is even more important than modernization.

To get ready for the shift, inventory needs to become more robust, notably with regard to weapons.

In visiting US bases, a common theme in addition to readiness and training shortfalls, is the challenge of basic inventory shortfalls.

The Trump Administration has come to power promising to correct much of this.

But there simply is not enough time and money to do readiness and training plus ups, mobilization and rapid modernization.

Donald Trump as a businessman might take a look at how DoD could actually functions as an effective business in equipping the force and having highlighted the question of allies might be pleased to learn of significant allied investments in new combat systems which his own forces can use, thus saving money and enhancing capability at the same time.

One way to augment the force would be to do something which would seem to be at odds with the Make America Great notion.

As one of Danish analyst put it: “I have no problem with the idea of making America great again. For me, the question is how?”

By leveraging extant allied programs and capabilities which if adopted by the US forces would save money but even more importantly ramp up the operational capability of the US forces and their ability to work with allies in the shortest time possible.

By so doing, the US could target investments where possible in break through programs which allies are NOT investing in.

And at the heart of building a 21st century combat forces is the multi-mission software upgradeable platforms, such as Wedgetail, the F-35 or the P-8. And here the interactive relationship with allies is a key driver for change, but to really leverage it requires a significant change in perspective.

As the head of the USAF materiel command, General Ellen Pawlikowski, put it:

“Agile Software development is all abut getting capability out there.

“The systems engineers approach drive you to a detailed requirements slow down.”

She highlighted that this cultural barrier, namely reliance on the historical systems engineering approach, needed to be removed.

“We have to change the way we think about requirements definition if we’re going to really adopt Agile Software Development.

“Maybe the answer isn’t this detailed requirements’ slow down.”

“By the way, once you put it in the hands of the operator maybe some of those requirements you had in the beginning, maybe they don’t make any sense anymore because the operator sees how they can actually use this and they change it.”

She went on to highlight what the Aussies are doing in Willliamtown with Wedgetail without mentioning them at all. 

“You need to put the coder and the user together…

Allies are already doing this, in this case of the RAAF and the Royal Australian Navy. If one would go to sea with the new frigates and watch how code gets rewritten that would be a harbinger of things to come for the US if we follow the technology rather than 20th bureaucratic rules.

And even more challenging is for the US to follow the technology with regard to its own multi-mission software upgradeable systems which as the General noted can not be rapidly upgraded with the current approach to modernization.

And this will simply be unacceptable to allies operating such systems such as F-35 or the P-8. It is hard to imagine the Israeli Air Force simply accepting slo mo software development when the F-35 is becoming a centerpiece for the national survival.

Allies will drive change but why resist why not embrace it?

Rather than following the outdated USAF practices of having a very long logistical tail to any aircraft flown to an area of interest, why not simply leverage global F-35 bases.

Why not let “foreign F-35 maintainers” maintain US jets working with those maintainers who have been flown in by the USAF as well?

All that is required is to have an enterprise security clearance to maintain the common F-35, but this is hardly an act of God or even of bold imagination. It is act of responding to the strategic opportunities inherent in the new combat capabilities and the technology built into them.

High intensity warfare requires higher sortie generation rates of the kind inherhent in the F-35 global enterprise. But this will not happen if the USAF follows its legacy sustainment rules rather than opening the aperture to embrace common working arrangements with allies on “foreign” air bases.

And as the US looks to develop new capabilities, in many ways, a key way to accelerate modernization is embracing foreign capabilities.

Notably, with regard to the new frigate program which is an essential element for augmenting the surface fleet, will not happen for a very long time unless the obvious is done. Pick a foreign frigate design and build it in the United States.

And then search the global market for capabilities off the shelf which can be put onto that frigate in a fast acquisition approach.

For example, the Australians have developed a world-class radar which is software upgradeable and very agile and adaptability on their surface ships. It has been developed in Australia by a company, which has Northrop Grumman with significant minority ownership in the company.

It would hardly be difficult to transfer this technology to the United States and get it onboard the new frigate with a rapid technology insertion process.

In this new Special Report  we look at a number of areas in which core allies have created new capabilities, which compliment and can supplement US capabilities.

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