WASHINGTON — The Pentagon's top military leadership has been given their marching orders to move out on an ambitious wargaming plan to rescue a skill set that has "atrophied" in recent years, according to an internal Feb. 9 memo issued by Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work.
The wargaming effort fits into an increasingly expansive, yet interlinked Defense Innovation Initiative (DII) plan spearheaded by Work and chief weapons buyer Frank Kendall to push both the bureaucracy building and the defense industry to think critically about how and where the US technological advantage is slipping.
The memo stressed that as part of his desire to "reinvigorate" wargaming in the department, "effort must be made to incorporate commercial and defense industry expertise into the larger wargaming effort" in order to "ensure its vitality and flexibility."
The war games that deputy Work is proposing will look at three time horizons: near (five5 years), mid (five5-15 years) and long (more than 15 years), with the latter being led by the Pentagon's in-house think tank, the Office of Net Assessment.
And this And this isn't some vague plan will not that will be kicked around for months and studied before staffers take action. begin carrying it out. In March, Work said, he will convene a "wargaming summit" co-chaired by the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Adm. Sandy Winnefeld, to review his plan. Directly following that, The results of the summit and the swift rollout thereafter will have a directly affect on the fiscal year 2017 budget, Work wrote, "to ensure that we have a strategy-driven budget."
This new plan falls directly in line not only with the DII, but also within the related Long Range Research and Development Planning Program (LRRDPP).
But while the wargaming program will begin to have impacts across the department almost immediately, the LRRDPP is in no particular hurry to issue start issuing contracts for the technologies that it identifies as crucial to ensure the US nited States military's continued technological domination of potential enemies.
A request for information went out in December to industry for novel ideas in the realms of artificial intelligence, space, undersea, unmanned systems, and air dominance and long range strike, among other areas.
And a big part of the effort will involve reaching out to commercial tech firms and other companies that who may not normally consider working with the Defense Department, while also helping to inform the wargaming process.
It's hardly a secret that the commercial tech industry has the freedom to work more nimbly than its peers in defense, who are straddled with regulations, red tape, long lead times for material development, and the fact that they really have only one customer.
Small tech firms "don't see the department as a likely customer for the things that they're doing," said Stephen Welby, deputy assistant secretary of defense for systems engineering, who has been tapped to lead the LRRDDPP effort.
"Particularly for folks in the emerging high-tech start up areas, who don't have a lot of experience with the department, and don't see the department as an agile customer."
A big part of the Better Buying Power 3.0 effort is to reach out to commercial and non-traditional contractors, as seen by Welby's recent trip to Silicon Valley to talk with some tech innovators. He has a team looking at what are the barriers for the commercial tech industry.
"The department's open for ideas" Welby insisted, adding, that "there are a lot of things going on outside of the department" that are relevant to national security. "The sheer amount of energy, for example, that's going into big data analysis and its implications for the department are enormous … as are more robust capabilities in artificial intelligence."
But the fact is, this is all happening at companies far outside of the defense bubble.
"I can promise you that Google and Amazon are far surpassing the US government in terms of artificial intelligence," Dr. Missy Cummings, director of the humans and automation laboratory at MIT, said at a recent New America think tank event in Washington.
Reaching out to the commercial and high tech sector is an obvious move, Welby said, since defense and commercial technologies have been merging for years.,
"Today we are highly dependent on commercial supply chains for almost everything we do. ... The overlap between commercial and defense has been increasing and it's likely to increase further in the future. The number of defense-unique things is becoming smaller."
Unlike his boss Bob Work, however, Welby isn't so sure about his program having much impact on the fiscal 2017 budget. however. While he said it may find a place there, his teams are looking longer-term for game-changing technologies that can impact the battlefield of 2030 and beyond.
Since the requestRFI was released, Welby said that he has received about 300 responses, both from the usual defense prime contractors, but also from small business, and some responses from "non-traditional" companies that normally don't play in the defense sector.
He has several teams out meeting with some of the respondents proposal submitters, and plans to present a report to Defense Secretary of defense Ash Carter this summer about with some of the more most exciting ideas. that come out of that effort.
"We've been using small, agile teams to go out and explore and think about the future of the department in a different way." He said. "We've been trying to engage a broader community to help us think about ideas and help inform the planning for the department. We often get criticized for not asking people to help us contribute to our long-term planning, and this is really all about inviting the public and industry to help us think not about what we're going to invest in tomorrow, but the long-term picture about where the department should go."