WASHINGTON — If the Pentagon wants to maintain a technological edge over near-peer adversaries, it needs to develop a serious strategic plan and not just focus on improving the acquisition systems, a new report from the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) has concluded.

The report, "Future Foundry: A New Strategic Approach to Military-Technical Advantage," concludes that "the Department of Defense must recognize that its military-technical challenges are a matter of strategy — the fundamental approach the department takes to generating technological advantage — not simply of acquisition policy."

That is contrary to much of the focus from both the Pentagon and Capitol Hill in recent years, which tends to emphasize the need to increase the speed of the acquisition system.

The authors of the report — Ben FitzGerald, Alexandra Sander and Jacqueline Parziale — conclude that the presidential transition provides a special opportunity to pause and rethink how the department does innovation and what, exactly, is the best way forward that encompasses all the elements of the DoD and the commercial sector.

"A new strategic approach to military-technical advantage must be at the top of the next secretary’s agenda, and not simply as an end in itself or as a method to address rising costs and fragility in the defense industrial base," the authors write. "The next secretary must communicate a new vision within his or her first 100 days in office, and convince stakeholders from Congress, industry, and inside the DoD to take action in line with that strategic approach."

(Disclosure: The author of this story was part of a small group giving broad input to the authors of the CNAS study.)

To get to the desired goal, the Pentagon should pursue an "optionality" strategy, the authors write — a strategic approach with the goal of expanding the range of military and technological options available to war fighters. In order to accomplish that, the DoD needs to both drive "institutional and policy reforms" in order to make sure component organizations can field all the technologies required, as well as develop correct industrial policies that align incentives for industry.

"For the traditional defense industry, an optionality strategy would provide more opportunities to innovate and to focus on rapidly fielding new technologies, thereby increasing investment, competition, and industry vitality," the authors write. "In parallel, a new defense industry sub-segment would emerge, based on policies and processes that support the development of military adapted commercial technology."

And the best part, according to the authors, is that such a strategy would not require an increase on the DoD’s top-line budget.

"Under such a strategy, the DoD could leverage the almost $2 trillion of global commercial research and development (R&D) more effectively, mitigate the risks of overruns and program cancellations (estimated from $58 to $116 billion between 1997 and 2015, not including classified programs), and better manage its operational and maintenance costs," the authors write. "Above all, this strategy will help the DoD avoid the incalculable costs of losing the nation’s military-technical advantage."

To read the full study, click here.

Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.

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