Best Defense

You want military innovation? OK, let’s start by cutting the defense budget

“Limited resources tend to drive innovative,” argues retired Air Force Lt. Col. Dan Ward, an expert in defense acquisition.

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“Limited resources tend to drive innovative,” argues retired Air Force Lt. Col. Dan Ward, an expert in defense acquisition.

He explains: “small teams with short schedules, tight budgets, and deep commitments to simplicity — in other words, teams with a constraint mindset — are not only more creative, but also more effective. Small teams consistently outperform large, unconstrained teams who pursue complexity and adopt a “take your time, spare no expense” mentality.

He also offers four specific rules:

1. Constraints foster creativity.

2. Constraints foster focus.

3. Long timelines increase exposure to change.

4. Delays foster delays.

Bottom line: “we tend to do the most when we have the least.”

Tom again: I am of course sympathetic to this view. I think that over the last 15 years, Pentagoners grew accustomed to blank check budgets. Lots of money got wasted erecting unnecessary buildings, I suspect. We now have a generation of younger officers who have never really had to think about cutting the defense budget.

Money is no substitute for thinking. Example: Imagine how many billions of dollars — let alone lives — we might have saved had we pursued an intelligent strategy in Afghanistan.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

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.

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