WASHINGTON — In the era of great power competition, the speed at which competing militaries are capable to innovate and evolve could determine who would win in a war. In light of the need for speed, military innovation experts at the Defense News Conference tackled the question of whether the Department of Defense can still move quickly to develop new technologies and capabilities.
While the conversation surrounding innovation tends to revolve around the development of new technology, other organizational changes are arguably more important for military innovation. Col. Liam Collins, director of the Modern War Institute, said that while new technologies play a role, they are not the driving force of innovation.
“Sure, there were technological innovations that were part of it, such as new signals intelligence capabilities, but it was really more of an organizational or doctrinal innovation in which technology played a part,” Collins said. “Technology facilitates those other innovations, which are really often the most critical and often the less studied [of] what we focus on.”
One example of changes to organizational doctrine and behavior is the DoD’s uptick in using other contracting authorities, or OTA. Shawn Black, vice president and general manager for electro-optical and infrared systems are Leonardo DRS, said that from the commercial side, these alternative contracting authorities are appealing because they move quicker and better communicate requirements.
“They represent a faster procurement cycle. You are able to move through the process of responding to a solicitation and providing a proposal much quicker. There is more flexibility in the intellectual property provisions,” Black said. "[Leonardo] has seen much-improved communication with the acquiring organization as you move through the process.
“Right up until the submission we are able to zero in right on what they are looking for.”
So how fast are these alternative options able to pump out contracts?
Mike Madsen, partner and head of Washington operations at Defense Innovation Unit, said his office is looking to “leverage the OT authority and put award prototyping contracts within 60 to 90 days."
"The fastest we’ve been able to do is just under that, and we are averaging 100 days,” he added.
But OTAs may not always be the most appropriate approach. “An OTA is a great tool and we should use them when they make sense," said Tanya Skeen, executive director of the Army Rapid Capabilities Office. "We want to be judicious in our selection of OTAs because they aren’t the right match for every single purpose.”
Skeen argued that the DoD shouldn’t try to reinvent the wheel when it’s unnecessary. “One of the things that is primary [for rapid development] is, ‘What can I go steal?' And I mean that in the nicest sense,” Skeen said.
“A mature technology that can be repurposed or applied in a new way is the fastest way to get capability out the door, she said. “The key to going fast is to not try to be revolutionary. If I want to get capabilities out the door, I would rather leverage something that exists and apply it in a new way.”
Daniel Cebul is an editorial fellow and general assignments writer for Defense News, C4ISRNET, Fifth Domain and Federal Times.