US Navy Adm. John Richardson, chief of naval operations, to industry: "We need to talk leader to leader."

That's not to say Navy leadership and the private sector aren't communicating. But Richardson made it clear during a panel of service chiefs at the Navy League's Sea-Air-Space  Conference, the two groups aren't talking early enough. As he put it, leadership tends to "hunker down inside the Navy." They identify the problems, and they come up with solutions – often via detailed analysis and consideration. But it's internal.

And after that, conversations begin with industry.

"By then a lot of it has been determined – maybe over determined," he said.

It's a problem that persists across government, despite years of encouragement for dialogue and assurances that no, conversation won't jeopardize the integrity of a procurement if handled appropriately.

Richardson advocated for a cultural shift that does indeed tap the industrial base earlier in the process, supports creative thinking, and enables prototyping at the front end; to recognize that the industrial base is super dynamic, and they are motivated to move faster – addressing the dimension of speed that is essential for technological advancement, but so often counter to the traditional approaches to development and procurement.

We've heard these messages before, but the challenges persist.

"I want to challenge our industrial partners to challenge us," Richardson said, pointing to perpetual "politeness" as a frequent obstacle to progress.

Richardson's comments about the industrial base followed others about the information domain – which is "moving forward in an irreversible way," and directly shifting how international allies can contribute. They fall along different places along the spectrum of adoption; the key is not necessarily to demand quick advancement, but to "stitch together more effectively" the capabilities of nations.

"If we build this network properly, what you see is a tremendously effective and efficient sharing of the challenge, sharing of the burden," he said.

Jill Aitoro is editor of Defense News. She is also executive editor of Sightline Media's Business-to-Government group, including Defense News, C4ISRNET, Federal Times and Fifth Domain. She brings over 15 years’ experience in editing and reporting on defense and federal programs, policy, procurement, and technology.

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