Pentagon Wants Inexpensive, Less Complex Ships
PORTSMOUTH, Va. – The Defense Department is placing more emphasis on affordability over capability when it comes to ship procurement, according to a top acquisition official.
“In the ship community, we’re looking at mass," said Katrina McFarland, assistant secretary of defense for acquisition. “We are looking at numbers, quantities.”
It is counterproductive to build ships with a multitude of “Swiss army knife” capabilities if the cost severely limits the amount of vessels the military can purchase, she said Oct. 27 at a National Defense Industrial Association expeditionary warfare conference in Portsmouth, Virginia.
“If I can only buy and afford one great Swiss army knife … [I can’t put it] in three places at the same time,” she said. “So I have to have scalable capability.”
McFarland’s remarks come at a time when some officials worry that the U.S. Navy is too small, and high-profile shipbuilding programs have run into trouble.
The Pentagon is also concerned about cost ratios when it comes to defeating enemy threats. Electronic warfare, long range air-to-air missiles, counter-space capabilities, undersea warfare and cyber are all areas where potential adversaries are making technological advances, McFarland said.
“We’re looking at how to build low-cost options” as we advance our own capabilities, she said. “I’m trying to put the burden of cost on my adversaries.”
The Navy’s pursuit of an electromagnetic railgun — which could potentially be used to shoot down enemy missiles or aircraft at a cost of $25,000 per firing — is an example of this effort, she noted.
“Railgun is cheap [to operate] but it’s expensive to defend against,” McFarland said.
The Defense Department needs to acquire new technologies but “I want to do it in a manner in which I create the cost imposition on my adversaries,” she told members of industry. “You need to come in with thoughts along those lines.”
McFarland defended a recent, controversial proposal to put defense contractors’ internal research and development (IRAD) spending under greater Pentagon scrutiny. The government subsidizes those investments through reimbursements, she noted, to the tune of billions of dollars each year.
“That is a significant bill the public is paying and we’re very interested to make sure that those dollars are being spent on things that … have an outcome for our long-term national security purposes or industrial proposes,” McFarland said.
“What we’re seeing … is that we do not have an alignment between government and industry,” she added.
The Defense Department wants greater situational awareness of these investments, not bureaucratic control over them, she said.
“We’re not looking for [a requirement for us to say], ‘I approve your IRAD,’” McFarland said. “We’re looking for [the opportunity to say], ‘Hey that makes sense, it’s in alignment’” with our goals.
The office of the secretary of defense has tasked the services to come up with a mechanism to improve communication and reporting between industry and the Pentagon when it comes to contractors’ internal research and development, she said.