Turning Point Coming for National Security

By Sid Ashworth
The national security landscape has seen significant change over the past five years. The number of deployed forces declined by more than 60 percent from 2011 to the start of 2016, and the Budget Control Act of 2011 ushered in a period of uncertainty.

Meanwhile, the global security landscape grew more unsteady. However, I believe the beginning of 2016 will be seen as a positive turning point.

My tenure as the National Defense Industrial Association board chair began in November, and I want to take a moment to introduce myself. I started my career in national security as an Army civil servant, then served 14 years as a professional staff member with the Senate Committee on Appropriations, and have worked in industry for the past seven years.

The new year brings many reasons for optimism along with opportunities at NDIA. There were some significant events in 2015 that indicate positive steps toward the future. Congress and the president came to a two-year budget agreement just after the start of the fiscal year. This deal ended months of partisan bickering and ensures a stable budget through 2017. While the deal requires the Department of Defense to revise its plans during the next two years, it represents growth in the overall budget by about 5 percent over sequestration funding levels and a $20 billion increase over 2015.

That represents a starting point for a discussion toward a long-term deal that could put an end to the recent budgetary uncertainty. It better reflects the global security environment where threats may quickly emerge and change. Such a deal is vital as reminders emerge of the myriad national security challenges that the nation faces around the world on a near daily basis.

As I write this, I’m watching the aftermath from recent terrorist attacks in Paris, the taking down of a Russian airliner in Egypt, attacks in Africa and continuing chaos in Syria and Iraq. A long-term deal should ensure that U.S. military forces and the intelligence community remain well trained and equipped so they can respond in a moment’s notice to these global threats.

The nation must also work to regain its technological edge against regional threats such as Russia and China. Potential adversaries are focusing on developing military capabilities that counter traditional U.S. advantages, meaning that future operations will demand highly survivable, long-range systems that are able to adapt and incorporate new technologies.

To prepare for future military operations, the nation must reinvigorate a research-and-development agenda that will nurture new military technologies. Senior defense leaders have begun an effort to develop new systems that will give U.S. forces a distinct advantage against any possible adversary. Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work often calls for new prototyping efforts and recently noted that one of the key features of innovation is human-machine collaboration. The U.S. defense industrial base stands ready to provide these next-generation technologies. 

It is this industrial base that has worked alongside its customers to ensure that the U.S. military has been better equipped than any other nation since the end of World War II. In the coming year, NDIA will continue to engage with national security leaders to enhance industry’s ability to innovate. The 2016 National Defense Authorization Act included several positive steps in this direction, and the association’s “Pathway to Transformation” report proved to be a valuable resource in the development and adoption of many of the new policy provisions in the NDAA. 
The NDAA establishes an advisory panel to review all acquisition regulations and provide recommendations to streamline the system while also taking action to speed up processes for items that are critical to national security. It calls for steps to increase senior defense leaders’ understanding of military and commercial research and development. The 2016 NDAA increases the responsibilities of the military service chiefs in the acquisition process recognizing them as the primary customers of new systems. These early incremental steps will improve the Defense Department and industry’s ability to work together to field new military capabilities.

Congressional leaders recognize that the 2016 NDAA is only one step in the acquisition reform process. In order to ensure that the acquisition system continues to deliver the best military systems in the world, it must be continuously evaluated and improved. Many hurdles still stand in the way of rapidly delivering to U.S. forces the superior technologies they need for a changing world. NDIA will continue to play a critical role in this engagement with congressional and Pentagon leaders toward the next steps in this process. 

In closing, 2015 saw some steps to a predictable defense planning cycle with stable funding through 2017 along with an improving acquisition system that is growing somewhat more responsive.

It is for these reasons that I am optimistic, but I know that much work remains to be done. NDIA will continue to remain engaged as a representative and advocate for the entirety of the defense industrial base. We aim to have an impact on long-term stability in the defense budget and an acquisition process that is not only more responsive but is capable of delivering the innovation that the military needs into the future. 

Topics: Defense Department, DOD Budget

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