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Recently COTS Journal’s Jeff Child had the unique honor and privilege to interview General Peter Pace, who served as the 16th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. General Pace shared with us his unique perspectives on military technology and the defense acquistion business. In his role as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, he served as the principal military advisor to the President, the Secretary of Defense, the National Security Council and the Homeland Security Council. He is currently serving on the board of directors of several corporate entities, and last month was appointed to the board of directors for Wi2Wi, a provider of modular wireless technology for military and commercial embedded applications.
COTS Journal: It’s been said that military networks, and specifically networked information sharing on the battlefield, was once just a force multiplier, but it is now viewed as a warfighter necessity. Would you give me your perspective on how you see the impact of real-time networked information sharing on the battlefield?
General Peter Pace: Yes, the “network” was once just a force multiplier but is now an essential part of power, both soft and kinetic. As we look to the future, the speed and precision of those network technologies are going to be more and more important. That’s especially true when you’re operating in highly populated areas where most of the people on the battlefield are not part of the battle. Situational awareness and intelligence sharing is important. Interoperability is important. And sharing across agencies is important. All those reasons reinforce the importance of the network and information sharing among warfighters.
CJ: There’s been a number of military programs that have suffered problems and delays because of their reliance on what are deemed “immature technologies.” These are defined as technologies that haven’t advanced to a sufficient state to where they fit the requirement of the program. The application of wireless networking in military systems often falls into that category. On the other hand, I know that being forward-looking is important when conceiving program requirements—especially because of the very long development cycles of defense programs. Can you share your thoughts on this trade-off and how it can or should affect businesses practices?
Pace: I see things a bit differently in the past couple years now that I’ve had the chance to talk extensively with a lot more business leaders than I could in the past. Understandably—and for correct reasons—there are some firewalls between the guys who develop the requirements inside the building—as I was responsible for when I was Vice Chairman—and the acquistion community that goes out and gets the industry to produce the deliverables.
When you’re inside the building on the requirements side you don’t have a clear picture of what industry is capable of producing. You might think that—on a scale of 1 to 10—the industry can produce a 6, so you ask them to stretch that and give you a 7 or an 8. But in fact, they’re able to produce an 8 or a 9 right now, but you don’t know that because there is not enough deep dialog happening to make that clear.
That’s one problem. The other problem is that when we ask for something companies tend to be optimistic about their abilities to produce and deliver. They’re not telling stories. They just have great confidence in themselves and their ability to solve problems. We need to find a way to get more trust built in the sharing of data between the requestor and the provider. I hope we’ll get to a point where it happens more like the following: I ask for an 8, but you look me in the eye and tell me “Look Pete, we’re at a 2 right now. We might get you to 5 by such and such time, or 8 by such and such time.” The key is to have a very open dialog to help set expectations.
A great example is the current developments in Army vehicles. The current vehicles under development are going to be very dependent on space-based technologies like satellite communications. If the guys developing the ground vehicles believe something that’s not true about the capabilities of the space-based systems, and develop a whole platform based on that, then you end up with as you said “immature technologies” not being ready when the warfighter thought they would be ready. Then everybody gets disappointed and frustrated in the system. It’s helpful for people to step up and say “Look, this is where we are. This is what’s possible and the probability of getting here is this.” Bottom line is you want to push the envelope, but you’ve got to know where the envelope is.
CJ: With that in mind, I see a lot of positive signs in that engineers at the prime contractors seem to be relying more on the expertise of their suppliers. They’re realizing they don’t have to be the experts in designing embedded computers and network gear for example, but can instead rely on their technology suppliers.
Pace: That’s great and I agree with you. I just think the more we can push for more Industry Days kind of events the better. Those allow industry a chance to explain what they can do to those who are producing requirements and brainstorming the kinds of capabilities we’d like to have down the road. If we can share that information more openly, then those who are responsible for requirements and acquistion have a better understanding of A, what’s possible, and B, what the risk involved is.
The bottom line is that it’s always about where you want to go to, and where we want to go to is always an “immature technology.” The discussion has to be about how long it will take to get from an immature state to where it becomes absolutely reliable and you’re worried about your next immature technology problem.
CJ: As the number of reconnaissance platforms increases—both manned and unmanned—so too do the capabilities of those platforms to capture ever greater amounts of video, images and so on. The result is a deluge of situational awareness information streaming in perhaps faster than the warfighter users of such information can act on it. Do you see that situation as forcing a change in how warfighters manage information or as highlighting a need for technologies that better process, sort and manage information for the warfighter? Or both?
Pace: I see it as both. First of all the warfighters must prioritize their information needs. And then the technology needs to support that menu-driven set of priorities. The warfighter can’t sit there and say “I’ve got too much information.” As a commander I need to tell you what’s important to me. What are my essential elements of information? Then, out of the same database you can program what I need, what you need and what he needs in a way that optimizes the shared database rather than trying to give all of us all the same information. Then it’s about feeding us the data we need to make the decision we need to make on our part of that battlefield.
CJ: While the term “COTS” gets misused and distorted at times, it’s clear that the application of commercial-off-shelf products—like embedded computers, networking gear and chip solutions—has enabled military platforms of all kinds—on land, sea and air—to employ best-of-breed technologies. In a way it’s all COTS because any military computing system today is based on microprocessors and memory chips from the commercial world. The idea of a military-specific processor chip doesn’t really exist anymore. As someone who has lived through the DoD’s and defense industry’s transformative COTS movement, what are your thoughts and perspective on the COTS movement and how it’s impacted procurement and military technology?
Pace: There are certain things that are uniquely military. But, as you pointed out, the vast majority of sub-components that comprise a final system are commercial-off-the-shelf, and therefore, in my mind, COTS is fundamental to accessing the best of breed. Dual technology that serves both the private sector and government is in fact the most efficient way to go both cost-wise and in terms of time-to-market. If you look at major U.S. Military weapon systems, they take years and years to develop and build. From the time you start thinking about the F-22 to when it gets built, the computer systems embedded in it have morphed X numbers of times. So COTS and all that the marketplace outside of government achieves really needs to be leveraged as much as possible. It is important because it ensures the best technology is available to the troops and it keeps the cost of individual systems down for the taxpayer.
The bottom line is that technology is not the be all and end all—but it sure does facilitate a lot of efficiency and effectiveness. It’s an area where we as a nation have always been very efficient in adapting to. In doing that, I really believe that it is not possible for the industry and government to talk to each other too much. We need more opportunities to share where we are and where we’re going and what’s needed. I’ve been tremendously impressed by the patriotism of those that are producing these tools for the nation. Yes, it’s good business. But they’re proud of what they’re doing and want to put the world’s best technology into the hands of our warfighters.
General Pace served on the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board and is currently on the Secretary of Defense’s Defense Policy Board. He served as leader-in-residence and the Poling Chair of Business and Government for the Kelley School of Business, Indiana University for the 2008-2010 Tenure. General Pace is a graduate of the United States Naval Academy, holds a Master’s Degree in Business Administration from George Washington University, attended the Harvard University Senior Executives in National and International Security program, and graduated from the National War College.
Wi2Wi is a leading supplier to major defense and government companies including General Dynamics and Honeywell.