Geurts: Navy Must Increase ‘Pivot Speed’ For Expeditionary Warfare

By Yasmin Tadjdeh
James “Hondo” Geurts

Photo: NDIA / Melanie Yu

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Expeditionary warfare will be key to success in future battles, but in order to ensure overmatch, the U.S. military must increase its ability to quickly adapt to new threats, said the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition Oct. 16.

“You cannot compete and win at a global scale if you cannot be expeditionary,” said James “Hondo” Geurts. “You cannot be expeditionary if you don't have pivot speed at scale.”

The military must be able to anticipate what’s coming over the horizon, and if cannot then it must prepare to react faster than the enemy or it will lose, he said during a keynote address at the National Defense Industrial Association’s annual Expeditionary Warfare Conference in Annapolis, Maryland.

Key to future operations will be getting ahead of the “OODA loop,” he said, using an acronym that stands for "observe, orient, decide and act."

“Fairly soon everybody will get the first ‘O,’” Geurts said. “The real challenge in the expeditionary side … is if your enemy has a pretty good view of what you're doing, how do you keep doing what you want to do? … Technologies that allow you to do those last three stages of the OODA loop I think become more and more important.”

The Navy will need to field emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence, faster if it is to maintain superiority over adversaries, he said. The service is currently considering expanding its use of other transaction authorities to do so. OTAs are intended to expedite the acquisition of new capabilities by circumventing the traditional Defense Department acquisition process.

The Navy has already doubled the number of OTAs it has executed over the past year, Geurts noted.

However, "the Navy has not deployed them at the same scale of the other services yet,” he said. “That's an area we're working on.”

Other transaction authorities can be very valuable for the service, but they must be used properly, he noted.

“It's just a tool like anything else,” he said. The service cannot execute “an OTA for an OTA's sake.”

Geurts added that the contracting vehicles have been particularly useful during recent exercises where the Navy was able to rapidly award prototype contracts for technology that could support exercises ahead of time, or, if officials saw something they liked during the event, to rapidly purchase them.

However, the Navy still needs to get better at understanding how to use the rapid acquisition tools, Geurts said.

“The biggest challenge I have is deploying the skill to use OTAs effectively across … the government,” he said. The same can be said for industry, he added.

“While we didn't like it all the time, we've all been very proficient at FAR-based contracts,” he said referring to the Federal Acquisition Regulation. When it comes to other transaction authorities, the Defense Department and contractors must "get our collective proficiency up at scale to use them effectively," he added.

Meanwhile, Geurts noted that manned-unmanned teaming will be a key aspect of future expeditionary warfare missions. But the exact composition of capabilities still needs to be determined.

“We've got a whole menu of new things we could do,” he said. That includes using undersea, surface and aerial drones, he added.

“The challenge for us is understanding how to make those unmanned systems integrated into our formation in a way that makes sense,” he said. "Just saying we’re doing unmanned for unmanned's sake doesn't give me a competitive advantage. It’s how do we integrate those into a concept of employment enabled by technology used by humans.”

But the Navy cannot take decades to figure that out, Geurts noted.

Topics: Expeditionary Warfare, Navy News

Comments (2)

Re: Geurts: Navy Must Increase ‘Pivot Speed’ For Expeditionary Warfare

I totally agree with Mr. Guerts, we are taking many young engineers off the street and seem to be parking them. They are not engineering anything in my opinion; they are pushing paper, managing schedules, budgets and resources as Assistant Program Managers (APM), Principle Program Managers (PAPM), Deputy Program Manager (DPM), and finally Program Manager (PM). They do not want to be engineers, they all want to be Program Managers, they want power and authority handed to them without working for it under this system called Pay-for-Performance where they could exert their power and make judgements on who gets more money pushing the paper. The young engineers should not be starting their government careers at a Headquarters, they should be starting at Warfare Centers, Navy Shipyards where they will get to do real engineering and put those TI 89's to good use working on something other than program monitoring, in a computer lab, a data center, test facilities environment instead of a cubicle. They need to know how to follow before they can lead and being a leader is what is being preached to them and they don’t realized that what they are really doing is managing. There is a difference between being a manager and being a leader and the lines seems blurred at a Headquarters where we contract out engineering, services, and our finances in some cases. We oversee contractors performing the engineering, designing, developing and testing while we push and push them to do it better, faster and cheaper and attempt to manage it all. Our organizational structure keeps us at low speed. There are too many layers of management; we are all competing in this unfair, judgmental Pay-for-Performance System fighting for recognition that is keeping us all from achieving the necessary pivot speed.

Cynthia Lattimore at 8:28 PM
Re: Geurts: Navy Must Increase ‘Pivot Speed’ For Expeditionary Warfare

I agree with the premise addressed by the comments and the emphasis drawn. It is interesting that we have been confronted with not to dissimilar challenges to the 1940-45 period, its differences to today understood, the earlier experience illustrated the "pivot" aspect of effective expeditionary response and force integration of rapid innovation and adaptation in acquisition. The many lessons learned however, are difficult to retain through time. Nevertheless the points made are well on target.

Tom Rozman at 11:14 PM
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