Challenges, Opportunities Ahead for Defense

By Arnold L. Punaro
In a world characterized by increasing threats and instability, the inability of the government to complete its most basic task of funding national defense is a disturbing inconsistency. Many events swirling through the world are outside of our control, so it is particularly distressing when addressing and managing something that is so obviously within our control becomes an extraordinary event.

As I write this column, we started the 2016 fiscal year under a continuing resolution, a sad but unbroken record since 1998. There is no shortage of national security challenges facing the United States today. None of these are insurmountable, but they are acute and many are certainly dangerous.

First among them is the state of U.S. finances. Former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, noted in 2010 that our debt was the number one national security threat, and I believe that remains true today. Fixing the dire U.S. fiscal situation will require reining in long-term entitlement spending, reforming the tax code and holding the line on discretionary spending. But efforts to date have only focused on the last piece, discretionary spending, and as a noted economist once commented, “that’s not the problem, and it’s not the solution.”

Since the height of the Reagan buildup, the military has been shrinking while the budget has increased. Nonetheless, our warfighting capacity is considerably reduced from those halcyon days. While sequestration constrains the topline, the defense budget is being pressured from within by unsustainable cost growth in three areas: the acquisition process, the full lifecycle costs of the all-volunteer force, and the department’s massive overhead. These three areas are putting significant strain on our warfighting capacity, but with strong leadership and smart policies, these trends can be reversed.

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter recognizes these adverse trends and has set the right strategic priorities to correct them. First, he’s undertaking significant steps to create the foundation for the force of the future. The military personnel system is a relic from a bygone era and must be reformed from top to bottom. Under Secretary Brad Carson has produced a plan that will significantly overhaul this system and allow the department to recruit and retain our most talented sons and daughters. Congress has included many of the recommended reforms of retirement and other benefits into this year’s defense authorization bill.

Second, Carter is seeking to transform the current bureaucracy, reducing its size while making it more responsive and innovative. By creating the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental in Silicon Valley, he is establishing a beachhead with some of the country’s most innovative entrepreneurs. One goal is to introduce non-traditional suppliers into our defense industrial supply chain, but another byproduct is to make the department’s acquisition system more responsive. Congress has also taken steps intended to improve access to commercial innovation and at the same time reduce the size of the bureaucracy.

As I prepare to hand off the chairmanship of the National Defense Industrial Association, we will continue to be engaged in meeting the larger strategic challenges and also DoD-specific ones. We have dynamic new leadership in key positions at NDIA, and we have a strategic planning review underway to identify the best course for our next 100 years. These changes will mean that NDIA as an organization will be at the forefront to solve the challenges described above along with others that will certainly arise in the future. I would like to thank the NDIA staff members for their hard work and dedication to our nation’s warfighters through this tumultuous time.

The U.S. military requires the best people, training and equipment. NDIA must remain the vanguard for ensuring our troops continue to have the world’s best, cutting edge technology. This year’s acquisition reform efforts laid the foundation for continued collaboration between Congress, the Pentagon and the defense industry on improving the performance of the acquisition system. NDIA is already finding ways to contribute to the broadening of the defense supply chain desired by Secretary Carter, along with an increased role in the acquisition reform process. And our Distinguished Speaker Series Luncheons and legislative breakfast series have solidified NDIA’s role as a key partner to the government.

Preparing for the future does not mean, however, that we’re forgetting our organization’s roots, history and mission. We will continue to connect industry and government — at conferences and in many other ways, but always with a focus on connecting industry’s technologies and ideas with the warfighter’s needs.

We will also continue advocating for the very best capabilities to make it possible for the soldier, sailor, airman or Marine to do the mission he or she is asked to do without ever having to face a fair fight. I can think of no one more capable than the new chairwoman, Sid Ashworth, to take up this great mantle, and I wish her all the best.

This calling is high, and the mission itself is sacred. It has been my great privilege to participate in the effort. With your strong support, we will continue — and even increase — the momentum of our efforts in the coming years, and always be ready to tackle the tough challenges ahead.

Topics: Defense Department

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