Today, I will argue for the title of this symposium, “Reaching Forward Through Technology and Innovation,” but make the case that we must make some fundamental changes to the process in order to achieve the end result of delivering needed capability to the warfighters.
Recently, General Pete Pace, Vice-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, talked about how the Joint Requirements Oversight Council should work to identify capability gaps. This is a healthy exercise, and I’m all for it. In fact, the Submarine Force is ahead of the game on that front. We’ve all spent a lot of time over the past few years talking about what the submarine community wants to get from technology. We haven’t called them capability gaps, though we called them our four gets. Remember:
- Get connected so we can see and hear over the horizon, well beyond the shoreline. So we can net what we see and hear. And so we can then transfer that knowledge in real time to the battle group and joint warfighters.
- Get payload-not just payload that knocks down enemy defenses, but payload that goes over the horizon inland and loiters-or payload that escorts us through (or better yet, around) minefields and sitting diesels.
- Get modular so we can custom-tailor these dwindling, precious assets called attack submarines precisely to the mission at hand.
- Get electric-so we can use the full reactor output to power all this. And avoid having to use premium internal volume for energy sources. And to get to the next level of acoustic superiority.
These four gets remain the right road. With acknowledgment to our younger members, I’ve got a new one to add today, and it’s what I want to talk about: we need to get real. Real hardware, that is. And separate the doable from the PowerPoint.
Spiral development may sound like the name of a bad ’70s rock band, but it isn’t.
- Under Secretary of Defense Pete Aldridge’s concept is simply a development cycle that builds, tests, builds, tests, then deploys. It doesn’t have to be the 100% solution with milestone pedigree, and we shouldn’t be waiting for a whole new submarine to get new technology and capability out to the Fleet.
- Built into this philosophy is Pete Aldridge’s recognition that deploying 70 percent of a capability is a lot better than deploying zero percent while we polish the cannonball or change the font on the PowerPoint slides.
I fully agree . .. and further, I believe it’s the only way to make quick progress toward transformation-the only meaningful way to reach forward through the technology screen-is to build-test-build-test-deploy …
That’s not what we do today!
We must reduce our development cycle times, and increase the rate of technology deployment to the Fleet. And get needed capability (our four gets) to the Fleet faster.
I would propose that we’ve under emphasized the D in both government R&D and industry IRAD and that we must get this little d as large as what has been the large R, especially where the large R has come to equate to paper studies and PowerPoint discussions.
The submarine community has a long history of prototyping its way to improvement. We’ve certainly done it at the component level, and we’ve even done this at the platform level many times.
There have been plenty of submarines that provided front-line capability to the Fleet, successfully meeting warfighting requirements, while simultaneously prototyping new capabilities. Some were very successful, others were not:
- NAUTILUS and the first SEA WOLF were front-line, underway, warfighting, nuclear-powered submarine proto-types. We learned a lot. The unsuccessful SEA WOLF put us way ahead of the American Heart Association in identifying problems with sodium.
- With ALBACORE, we tested the prototype hull form chat led to our hydrodynamically efficient 637 class.
- We tested prototypes of an earlier generation of electric drive technology in TULLIBEE and LIPSCOMB. Although the technology they were prototyping was not terrifically successful, TULLIBEE and LIPSCOMB served ably on the front lines while teaching us a lot.
- We installed a prototype reactor plant in NARWHAL. NARWHAL not only had great Cold War mission success, that plant led to our huge advantage in Trident submarines.
- We started a transformation in the 1950s and 1960s (way before transformation was in vogue) when we cut a 594 class submarine in half and put in a missile compartment. That capability, of course, ultimately led through our 41 for Freedom to Trident and sea-based nuclear deterrence, and without question was instrumental in winning the Cold War.
- Even LOS ANGELES was originally a one-of-a-kind high-speed submarine. This one turned out okay, I guess. We built quite a few of them: 62, to be exact.
- And then we prototyped the revolutionary drive train in the last four 688s for the new Seawolf and Virginia classes.
To the community’s credit, we recognized some of these capabilities as diamonds and some as dogs. But remember: Rickover was right when he said that you learn more from failure than from success. We need to quit being afraid to fail occasionally, and keep our eye on the ultimate goal of high-frequency improvement in submarine capability.
This, currently out of vogue, tradition of demonstrating new capability in the Fleet has been somewhat renewed today as we drive toward payload demonstrations for SSGN. These demonstrations are a bridge-not just to the next SSGN, but to transformational payloads for the Virginia class.
But now. let’s be honest: Current Pentagon organizational structures and the current budget process make prototyping transformational capability difficult. But SECNA V and CNO have told us to challenge all the old assumptions-so here goes:
- Look closer at what we’re doing with SSGN payloads.
- The upcoming January Tomahawk demonstration is part of the acquisition program of record.
- Driven by technical requirements and mission needs.
- and is funded accordingly.
- However, the UUV demonstration is of equal technical importance because
- It’s one of the most important gets.
- It will demonstrate an advanced payload concept.
- But it is not part of the acquisition program.
- And there’s no money for it.
- We need to force people to think of more than Tomahawk and Special Forces when they think SSGN.
Why is there this disparity in funding between the Tomahawk demo inside the acquisition program and the UUV demo outside the acquisition program?
Why is it so difficult to build-test-build-deploy new concepts as part of developing and delivering SSGN? Where are all the great ideas from last year’s payload and sensors studies?
- Simply put, the current ship acquisition structure doesn’t permit significant development funding unless the development is tied to an acquisition program.
- Industry isn’t interested in gambles outside the program of record and acquisition program managers don’t want to commit to risky developments, because they’re worried about cost and schedule.
- Couple this with the fact that ship R&D in general is the poor third cousin to airplane R&D, and here we are.
That standoff makes it pretty hard to demonstrate advanced capability outside the program of record. The system talks a good game of transformation but in reality is lined up against it.
As Admiral DeMy Blair noted in a recent Proceedings article:
“The big money in acquisition . . . goes to the long-term replacement programs that are detached at an early stage from the dynamic reality of operations and warfare. They emerge decades later with new generations of systems. Yes, these new systems are better than what they replace, but they are not as good as they could be in meeting the needs of the warrior … ” Proceedings, May 2002
- Money doesn’t go to building, testing, and deploying new capability that’s not part of the bureaucratic milestone acquisition ‘system.
- This makes it almost impossible to deploy new technology while it is still new.
The shipbuilding industry and its subcontractors respond to the people with the money. Thus, Industry ends up being just as risk-averse as the acquisition programs. Look at the fonner DD 21 program. Even though we said we wanted all the technology under the sun, when it came time to ante up, both Navy and Industry balked at the risk of all that untested, un demonstrated technology. Should some of that testing have been done on the Arleigh Burke class or earlier? Well, it wasn’t-and now we’ve had to restructure the program to do more building and testing.
Risk aversion in the submarine acquisition community means the only funding available for advanced technology development is the limited and constantly shrinking N77 R&D budget.
- Lots of people have things they want to do, so the competition per available R&D dollar is fierce.
- When competition goes up, the amount of marketing goes up.
- More marketing means more reams of paper or PowerPoint slide shows and studies.
- The more paper there is, the harder it is to differentiate between one study and the next, so the funding gets spread out over lots more studies.
- The end result: piles of paper, little hardware.
I’m not saying that all studies are bad. A good study with a proven methodology that is rooted in solid facts is an invaluable tool to guide technology development. Even the marketing slides and brochures can be useful.[Editor’s Note: At this point, Admiral Bowman held up a papier-mache submarine.]
- This demonstration cost only $400,008. That’s $400,000 for the presentations and studies my staff cut up, and 8 bucks to put it together.
- I’m not sure if papier mache will pass fire and toxicity, but what do you want for $400,008?
So where does this put us?
We say we want transformational technology, but often get cold feet before letting the final contract.
- The system doesn’t support rapid prototyping and demonstrations if they aren’t part of the acquisition program.
- The PEO shies away from making them part of the program because new stuff equals schedule and cost risk.
- And then, industry is afraid to propose high-risk concepts that risk losing contracts. Let me be clear, it is not the daily decisions of the PEOs or the civilians in acquisition that are the problem.
- The drive for cost and schedule efficiency that exists in our acquisition programs is important if we are to be good stewards of the taxpayers’ dollar.
- The heart of the problem is that the only place we have in the Navy that can afford the R&D required to bring transformation to the Fleet is necessarily organized to avoid the risks that such a transformation inevitably entails.
If we’re to be revolutionary and transformational, we-Industry and the Pentagon must change our ways of doing business.
So what should we do? There’s no magic solution. It requires hard decisions from leadership, both in Industry and in the Navy.
For both industry and government, as I said earlier, getting the D to the same stature as the R is a good start.
For Industry then, the key is focusing efforts on more hardware, more demonstrations, more experimentation-and less on the iteration of studies.
- Building hardware is the best way for you to distinguish yourself from all the other organizations competing for that R&D dollar.
- Prototypes don’t have to be expensive, and they invariably teach you something. Remember Admiral Rickover’s admonition about paper reactors: they’re always smaller, lighter, cheaper, and easier than the real ones. But we need to stop generating all these paper studies that often become paper programs and money pits.
- A piece of hardware markets itself. Parochially, hardware that fits the submarine vision shorthanded by the four gets gamers a front row seat in our community.
• By delivering hardware, even at the 70 percent level, you naturally reduce the risk for the Navy, making it more likely a PEO will take a chance and that the submarine community would invest.
- In the end, this helps the Navy by overcoming the barriers to bringing new technology into acquisition. It cuts through the marketing and the studies, and gets to the heart of the technology: does it work, or not? Does it bring new capability?
However, Industry cannot solve this problem by itself. Ron O’Rourke’s criticism that the Pentagon in general and the Navy in particular is behind the transformation curve is the worst kind of criticism. It’s constructive. And it’s true. And it’s from inside the family (and not from that crazy aunt we keep in the basement). We must take a hard look at how we approach technology development in pursuit of transformational goals. We’d better start doing some looking ourselves, otherwise we’re going to get help from somewhere else. In this context, I would also argue:
- We need to continue developing our EDOs into warfighter engineers. We need people who can distinguish needed capability from marketing and help separate the truly transformational capabilities from the papier mache. The ideas that come back from industry need to be evaluated by educated customers.
- Our R&D community needs to look for opportunities to build hardware. As I said, studies aren’t all bad-but we don’t have time to do a 4 year iterative study before we make something. From what I’ve seen, you’re frequently around the 70 percent point after 6 months. That’s good enough for proof of concept-and maybe for operational deployment.
- If we are serious about technology development, we need to start creating opportunities to deploy new capability quickly. The necessary link between the build-test-build-deploy philosophy and Pete Aldridge’s spiral development philosophy is provided by real ships and submarines that are capable of testing unique systems, components, and payloads. We must make these platforms available more often.
- Today’s successful example of all this is ARCI. But why have we stopped there?
We need to take advantage of VIRGINIA and now SSGN modular capacity to accept new capability as it becomes avail-able-which was the plan all along, remember? Bundle 1 … Bundle 2 …
This approach requires adjustments to the acquisition process that encourage accepting some risk that a new technology won’t work out as planned . . . in exchange for the opportunity to take bigger strides faster. We must be willing and able to fail occasionally… but quickly learn from the failure and get going again.
And let’s not forget to look at how we evaluate new capability for the Fleet and demonstrate it to the national leadership. Who can blame Congress if their eyes glaze over when we show them yet another of our paper studies? We need to let hardware do the convincing.
Our national leaders can see the value of a new capability if it happens in 3-D right before their eyes. No explanation or marketing required. Industry needs to build, test, and deliver hardware so you can stop telling your customers about transformational capability, and start showing it to them.
Here’s another example: Over the past several years, Naval Reactors has been building, testing, building some more, and testing some more new reactor technologies that could significantly improve the life of the reactor core in future VIRGINIAs.
As a result of that prototyping work, we are now embarking on a program to develop a new reactor core for a future VIRGINIA that will fit in the same ship and same reactor compartment, yet increase the operating life of the ship and/or increase the baseline power usage of that ship for future payload requirements.
But I want to emphasize that we got to this point not by trading theories, not by waiting for next year’s model, not by wishing and hoping, but by building specimens, testing them in real reactors, building prototype hardware, testing that, and finally, with lots of data in hand, determining how far the new technology could go.
And most of you know of our work-even more revolutionary-to remove the entire steam plant from the submarine. We’re moving there, one piece of hardware at a time, and one efficiency point at a time.
Over the next few days I suspect you ‘II hear and see a lot of slides. I hope that many of them report on real hardware, and I am gratified to see the thought-provoking displays upstairs. But I would ask:
- How can we reduce capability cycle times?
- At the top of the hierarchy, why does it take 6 years to build the NSSN . . . but given that it apparently does, must we wait those 6 years before we introduce the next increment of capability?
- I ask you to consider how we can do this whole technology development process better and turn those slides into something real, something practical.
Alternatively, I suppose we could work on our papier mache techniques.