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