Technology in National Defense

Technology wins wars. Throughout history, the use of technological advances had a significant influence on the outcomes of military conflicts. Military leaders on both sides of the American Civil War used new technologies, such as the repeater rifle and the locomotive train network, to gain advantage over their opponents. Naval vessels used during the American Civil War marked the transformation from wooden sailing vessels to iron clad ships with mechanized propulsion (Henretta and Brody 2010). Airplanes and submarines introduced in World War I were deciding factors in the naval battles of the Second World War. Even the U.S. government’s ability to outspend the Soviets on weapon and surveillance systems determined the outcome of the Cold War, the undeclared war between the United States and the Soviet Union (Black 2013).

Throughout history, technologies initially developed for military and space applications became the catalysts for consumer products. Unlike the private sector that bases its research and development investments on the ability to sell new technologies, national security drives the government’s motivation to invest large amounts of money into technologies. Over the past decade, the consumer market’s ability to develop, deploy and drive mass acceptance of new technologies has created a transformation from a model where the government drives technology to one where consumer products drive military tactics and techniques (Fox and Allen 2011).

For as long as the United States has had a military, it has faced the challenge of ensuring that investments in the military are effectively managed and result in delivering capabilities needed by its military forces. As the volume of defense spending increased in the second half of the 20th century, so did the frequency of projects failing to deliver within expected cost, schedule and performance expectations. Over the last 50 years, the Department of Defense (DOD) has instituted a series of policies, instructions and regulations geared to reduce the risk of project failure (Fox and Allen 2011). The Defense Acquisition System (DAS) is the framework for management of the DOD’s investments in technologies, programs, and product support. The objective of the system is to acquire quality products that satisfy user needs with measurable improvements to mission capability at a fair and reasonable price (USD [AT&L] 2015). The Joint Capability Integration and Development System (JCIDS) manages the identification and prioritization of new capabilities. The DOD periodically refines these acquisition systems based on lessons learned or changes in the DOD industrial landscape. The most recent updates to the DAS now include a separate set of guidelines to cover the unique conditions and risks associated with IT intensive programs (USD [AT&L] 2015). Navy leadership faces a series of new challenges resulting from this rapid increase in information technology embedded in and connected to combat systems. The challenges require a level of enterprise governance not achieved by merely managing individual programs more effectively. These challenges span a multitude of systems used by multiple operational elements supporting multiple navy missions.

The United States government has invested billions of dollars in the development of new technologies and even more in weapon systems based on these technologies. Today, the U.S. Navy has arguably the most technologically advanced war-fighting capability in the world. This tactical advantage largely relies on information-based technologies that provide the ability to communicate faster and see farther than military adversaries.

The U.S. DoD uses information technology (IT) to facilitate communications between operators, between operators and their weapons systems and between weapon systems. These technologies not only provide tactical advantages, but they have also changed the tactics used by military leaders to plan, prepare and execute missions. Effective execution of defense missions is now reliant on the collection, analysis, distribution and presentation of complex information and the technological mechanisms used to facilitate these activities.

This reliance on information technology (IT) has created a new set of challenges for DoD leadership. These challenges include interoperability between systems, investments in duplicative systems, systems that fail to meet user needs and the inability to prevent unauthorized access to mission critical systems. Despite the countless regulations, policies and processes that govern IT investments, acquisition leadership lacks the information needed to address these challenges effectively.

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