Though the Defense Department is making progress in making meaningful change in how it develops and acquires new capabilities, that progress simply isn't happening fast enough, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said at a Brookings Institution discussion in Washington.
"This is not a judgment on the allocation of the budget or the effort," Air Force Gen. Paul J. Selva told Brookings Institution moderator Michael E. O'Hanlon. "It's a judgment on the cultural changes required to take advantage of the speed of change that is happening in the technology sector."
DOD must take advantage of the private sector and its speed, the general said. He noted that 20 years ago, the department was about on par with the private sector in developing and acquiring capabilities — in fact, DOD was the source of much of the money spent on research and engineering.
Today, the private sector has that advantage by around a 10-to-1 ratio, Selva said, and private firms can move quickly to develop and then market capabilities.
"We have to learn to take advantage of these cycles of innovation and change in the private sector," he added.
Chinese and Russian military developments will continue, he said, and to remain ahead of those adversaries, the United States military must learn to work with and build on private company breakthroughs.
O'Hanlon quizzed Selva on a series of "dyads" and asked for his opinion. O'Hanlon premised the first — satellites and space launch — noting that satellites seem to be making a lot of progress, but space launching hasn’t changed all that much.
"Satellites are becoming smaller, so miniaturization is key to them," the general said. "But it is not just miniaturization; it is integration and the capacity to make a small satellite that can do multiple things."
He disagreed to an extent that rockets have not changed much, saying the industry is turning a corner. He noted one company developed a 3D printed disposable rocket that has no moving parts. At the other end of the spectrum are companies such as SpaceX reusing rockets. Both innovations will cut the cost of launches, Selva said.
A second dyad is missiles and missile defense. The world is seeing hypersonic missile research, and it is a very promising technology. Missile defense progress, O'Hanlon said, seems not to measure up to the strides in missiles.
"The missile defense game is about responding to changes in your adversaries' behavior," Selva said. Right now, the hit-to-kill technology of missile defense is the most mature, but this still favors the attacker, he said. Planners need to think of new missile defense capabilities.
"I liken this to 'What's more fruitful? Killing the arrow, or killing the archer?'" the general said. "I view missile defense as an end-to-end solution. It's our obligation to think about 'What are the things that empower your opponents' offensive capacity?'"
“In deterrence, your adversary not only has to believe you have the capacity, but you have the will to resist whatever they want you to do, and that they can't win."
Air Force Gen. Paul J. Selva, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
Another dyad is artificial intelligence and robotics. "The current state of AI is not adaptable … to a condition where all the variables are changing at the same time," Selva said. "But there are some places where we are seeing developments that are quite hopeful."
O'Hanlon asked what changes have happened in military strategy given the changes in conditions. Selva said there are a great many changes in the way the United States would apply military force. "In most of our past war plans, logistics were an assumption," he said. "That is no longer true. In most of our past war plans, there was an assumption that we would have significant indications and warning of a potential or competitors behavior. We have shortened those timelines."
This takes away from adversaries their assumptions about U.S. intent, he said. "In deterrence, your adversary not only has to believe you have the capacity, but you have the will to resist whatever they want you to do, and that they can't win," he explained. "In lining up all of the things that are necessary to deter an adversary or prevent miscalculation when you are in deep competition, you actually have to clearly signal your intentions. And the extent that we obscure those intentions by burying them in assumptions and war plans, we don't actually prepare ourselves for the right outcome: If all else fails, we will go to war.
"In the end," he said, "that is what deters your adversary from taking the last step."