Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Essay contest (12): We need to get back on the road to technological dominance

Stated simply, the U.S. military has done a less-than-stellar job of adjusting to the Information Age.

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By Lt. David Lilly, U.S. Army
Best Defense contest entrant

Stated simply, the U.S. military has done a less-than-stellar job of adjusting to the Information Age. Even when considering the advances in GPS, tactical and operational computer systems, and speed of information flow, the U.S. military can still be said to be lagging considerably behind rival countries such as Russia and China, as well as the commercial world generally.

 

By Lt. David Lilly, U.S. Army
Best Defense contest entrant

Stated simply, the U.S. military has done a less-than-stellar job of adjusting to the Information Age. Even when considering the advances in GPS, tactical and operational computer systems, and speed of information flow, the U.S. military can still be said to be lagging considerably behind rival countries such as Russia and China, as well as the commercial world generally.

One would wonder how this could be the case when the United States throws more money at defense than any other country, but the answer is simple. The U.S. military is not harnessing the enormous power of the commercial and private sector, that data giant Google and tech savvy Tesla and so on are offering.

What use does the military have for Facebook and status updates? It’s not so much the products that these companies produce for the general populous, but the type of employee they attract. More importantly, it’s discovering why those people gravitate more towards the private sector and not towards the defense arena.

Essentially, the military is failing to invest in its future. In order for the U.S. military to truly move into the information age, in order to get a step ahead of the competition, it is going to have to start opening up the way for these minds to innovate. There are two good reasons for doing this: security and safety.

It is a massive issue when it comes to protecting soldiers and equipment both on and off the battlefield. It really doesn’t make sense to develop software or technology for military application and use and then go and make it open source so China and Russia can go and make the same (that is if they haven’t already hacked it already). So the question then becomes, “How can we innovate with an open source mindset, but without the actual open source requirement?”

First off, it takes a budget that isn’t seasonal but merit based and revolving in nature. The current budget system (even for the R&D portions) requires that you know what exactly you’re requesting before you request it. That’s difficult to do when you don’t know what you’re innovating. It’s revolving in nature so that when one product comes out the work for an updated product has begun or is already in the process of being tested.

Second, it takes a definite vision for constant innovation that results in an updated force with the latest and greatest, but also a well-tested and developed version of that latest and greatest. You draw in the brightest minds with a budget that isn’t constrained by seasonal or other force limiters, and you keep them there by providing a proper vision and mission set that will test them, and see them produce greater and better products (that we actually need) than the current system allows them to. However, one key word to describe all this would be “expensive.” The road to information dominance will have speed bumps and potholes, but that’s the reality of this situation and there’s no way around it.

David Lilly is an Infantry Lieutenant assigned to Fort Benning, Georgia. He is a 2015 graduate of East Tennessee State University with a degree in exercise science and kinesiology. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. government. 

Image credit: YouTube

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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