Regaining US and Allied Strategic Advantage: Dr. Griffin Weighs In


By Robbin Laird

Recently, the new Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Dr, Michael Griffin, provided an overview at Hudson Institute on how he sees the role of science and technology in regaining U.S. strategic advantage in an increasingly contested strategic environment.

In an earlier speech, he noted that cutting edge technology for U.S. forces does not always come with a US passport.

This would suggest that the is open to broadening the aperture on how the Department might deliver change by working more closely with allies, and certainly a number of partner programs are staring one in the face which can drive change, whether the Patriot, the P-8, the F-35, Triton, etc.

Indeed, as NASA Administrator, he worked closely with European and Asian allies on space development issues.

His presentation provides a very insightful look at how the global competition has shifted since he was head of NASA.

He sees a clear need to reset how the US addresses the challenge of gaining strategic advantage from science and technology.

But the applied side of how this has done has changed in recent years.

We founded the website in the wake of the firings of Secretary Wynne and Air Force Chief of Staff, General T. Mosley, because bluntly, we believed that a focus on fighting the land wars would lead exactly to the situation which Dr. Griffin discussed.

Notably, Griffin starts by talking about the hypersonic challenge, one which we highlighted through interviews with Dr. Mark Lewis, again from the start of the website.

We would also note that Dr. Lewis worked closely with allies in this area when chief scientist of the USAF, in this case the Aussies, to shape a way ahead.

We could ask how the Department is addressing those kinds of working relationships as well in any reset envisaged by Dr. Griffin.

We welcome his warnings and his emphasis but would certainly caution him to not leap into the great unknown without embracing the change inherent in a number of key warfighting capabilities coming into view currently.

There is a clear opportunity to embrace change being driven by new systems coming into reality, but whose full impact will not be realized by continuing the calcified requirements processes which the Department shoves down the throats of industry and the warfighting community.

Triton, P-8, the F-35 and many others come to mind rather rapidly.

It is not about science and technology alone, or looking for great leaps ahead, it is about changing the business rules, which impede innovation, which can be driven by ALREADY being procured systems.

It is about changing the way when which DoD bureaucrats can get out of the way of combat driven innovation.

As Geoff Brown, former Chief of the Royal Australian Air Force observed about the United States Department of Defense and innovation:

According to Brown, “the systems are all there in the United States. The shoots are there for fundamental change. But the legacy approach is like a giant tree blocking out the sun for the shoots to grow.”

He pointed out that the notion that one would modernize AWACS is “simply amazing to me. With the fuel savings alone from replacing the AWACS fleet with Wedgetails a new fleet could be paid for in a few years. But that in the US system it is difficult to get a tradeoff from keeping the old legacy systems running and simply shutting them down; putting the new systems into the force; and leveraging them rapidly.

The new systems require new sustainment approaches.

“The F-35 provides a great opportunity for a very different sustainment system but with the Congressional mandated depots the opportunities for an innovative industrial-government partnership are severely constrained.”

As the Trump Administration looks to rebuild the force if the fundamental barriers are not addressed, “even 50-60 billion dollars more won’t correct the kinds of logistical shortfalls which the United States faces.

“I’m a little frightened for the future if the US forces keep going down the path they’re on at the moment.

And Brian Morra, a recently retired senior defense executive underscored as well the inherent opportunities within the US force, if DoD could better manage itself or reshape itself to align itself with the major strategic changes which its OWN new combat systems are introducing.

Given the steady progress being made by adversaries, reforming DoD’s acquisition process is no longer just a smart thing to do; it has become existentially vital.

The digital nature of new weapon systems like the F-35 makes multi-phased development and multi-modal budgeting feasible.

This approach bears some similarity to the spiral-development approaches used in the past.

However, a new approach will need to be qualitatively different than traditional spiral development.

The ability to upgrade new weapon systems primarily through software upgrades makes this new approach possible.

The new approach would have shorter upgrade cycles or modes, based on 3-5 year centers.

Budget planning will need to change since each new “mode” would blend acquisition and O&S monies. Each new mode would require a business case to support decisions to deploy funds.

This is a very different approach.

It would require different business rules and procedures than are currently employed by the DoD’s acquisition centers.

The obstacles to this kind of reform are not technical, although some will assert that technical issues are insurmountable. The real obstacles are DoD’s current business rules and acquisition policies and budgeting procedures.

The question is will we reform these procedures now, or will we only do so when we are confronted with a crisis?

The US aerospace and defense industry maintains proprietary control over its core capabilities.

This is a key challenge that DoD confronts that China (in the main) does not. In order to have affordable, multi-modal weapons system development, DoD will have to establish new business rules to enable proprietary sharing or compartmentation schemes that create the conditions for development across proprietary stove pipes.

The need is clear.

The DoD requires business rules appropriate for high-intensity acquisition to meet the rapidly evolving threats represented principally by China and Russia.

The growing importance of cyber and digitally-enabled systems means that DoD can no longer operate with industrial-age procurement and sustainment rules.

Fortunately, the transition to digital systems lend themselves to a new, multi-modal approach that will help the United States keep pace with evolving threats.

We welcome Dr. Griffin and his leadership in the Pentagon, and certainly hope that he can lead the way ahead in great leap technology and leveraged change.

Dr. Michael Griffin, Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering

The USD(R&E) and the office s/he heads are charged with the development and oversight of DoD technology strategy for the DoD.

The post (or effectively the same post) has at various times had the titles Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering (ASD(R&E)), or Director of Defense Research and Engineering (DDR&E).

The latter title has itself historically varied between the rank of Under Secretary and that of Assistant Secretary.

USD(R&E) is the principal staff advisor for research and engineering matters to the Secretary and Deputy Secretary of Defense.

In this capacity, USD(R&E) serves as the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) for the Department of Defense charged with the development and oversight of DoD technology strategy in concert with the

Department’s current and future requirements.

The goal of USD(R&E) is to extend the capabilities of current war fighting systems, develop breakthrough capabilities, hedge against an uncertain future through a set of scientific and engineering options and counter strategic surprise. USD(R&E) also provides advice and assistance in developing policies for rapid technology transition.

From 1987 until February 1, 2018, ASD(R&E) was subordinate to the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics.

On February 1, 2018, the research and engineering were split into an independent office, with the head position being elevated from an assistant secretary to an under secretary level.

The remaining acquisition office became the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment (A&S).

The current under secretary is Michael D. Griffin, who took office on February 15, 2018, following nomination by President Donald Trump.

Earlier, Griffin was head of NASA under President George H. Bush.

The official biography for Griffin as indicated as follows:

Dr. Michael D. Griffin is the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering. He is the Department’s Chief Technology Officer, and is responsible for the research, development, and prototyping activities across the DoD enterprise and is mandated with ensuring technological superiority for the Department of Defense. He oversees the activities of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Missile Defense Agency, the Strategic Capabilties Office, Defense Innovation Unit Experimental, the DoD Laboratory enterprise, and the Under Secretariate staff focused on developing advanced technology and capability for the U.S. military.

Mike was previously Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Schafer Corporation, a professional services provider in the national security sector. He has served as the King-McDonald Eminent Scholar and professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, as the Administrator of NASA, and as the Space Department Head at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. He has also held numerous executive positions in industry, including President and Chief Operating Officer of In-Q-Tel, CEO of Magellan Systems, and EVP/General Manager of Orbital ATK’s Space Systems Group. Griffin’s earlier career includes service as both Chief Engineer and Associate Administrator for Exploration at NASA, and as the Deputy for Technology at the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization. Prior to joining SDIO in an executive capacity, he played a key role in conceiving and directing several “first of a kind” space tests in support of strategic defense research, development, and flight-testing. These included the first space-to-space intercept of a ballistic missile in powered flight, the first broad-spectrum spaceborne reconnaissance of targets and decoys in midcourse flight, and the first space-to-ground reconnaissance of ballistic missiles during the boost phase. Mike also played a leading role in other space missions at the John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Griffin has been an adjunct professor at the University of Maryland, Johns Hopkins University and George Washington University, teaching spacecraft design, applied mathematics, guidance and navigation, compressible flow, computational fluid dynamics, spacecraft attitude control, estimation theory, astrodynamics, mechanics of materials, and introductory aerospace engineering. He is a registered professional engineer in California and Maryland, and the lead author of some two dozen technical papers and the textbook Space Vehicle Design.

He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and the International Academy of Astronautics, an Honorary Fellow and former president of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, a Fellow of the American Astronautical Society, and a Senior Member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers. He is the recipient of numerous honors and awards, including the NASA Exceptional Achievement Medal, the AIAA Space Systems Medal and Goddard Astronautics Award, the National Space Club’s Goddard Trophy, the Rotary National Award for Space Achievement, the Missile Defense Agency’s Ronald Reagan Award, and the Department of DoD Distinguished Public Service Medal, the highest award which can be conferred on a non-government employee.

Griffin obtained his B.A. in Physics from the Johns Hopkins University, which he attended as the winner of a Maryland Senatorial Scholarship. He holds master’s degrees in aerospace science from Catholic University, electrical engineering from the University of Southern California, applied physics from Johns Hopkins, civil engineering from George Washington University, and business administration from Loyola University. He received his Ph.D. in aerospace engineering from the University of Maryland, and has been recognized with honorary doctoral degrees from Florida Southern College and the University of Notre Dame.

Mike is a 4000+ hour commercial pilot and flight instructor with instrument and multiengine ratings, and holds an Extra Class Amateur Radio license.

The photo above is an artist’s rendering of Lockheed Martin Skunk Work’s high speed strike weapons which was described as a “a hypersonic missile concept suitable for future bomber and fighter aircraft” Credit: Lockheed Martin