JUST IN: Hyten Says Pentagon Moving 'Unbelievably Slow' with Modernization

By Mikayla Easley

Defense Dept. photo

The Defense Department is being slowed down by bureaucracy and risk aversion as it attempts to modernize its capabilities to compete with China, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff lamented Sept. 13.

During an event hosted by the Brookings Institution, Gen. John Hyten was asked about the implementation of the 2018 National Defense Strategy and related technological developments.

“The downside is, we’re still moving unbelievably slow,” Hyten said. “We’re so bureaucratic and we’re so risk averse."


"When you don't have any potential adversaries out there you can try to remove all risks in the system and you can go slow, but when you have a competitor like China and Russia ... going fast, you have to be able to move fast as well. And we still move way too slow," he added.

Hyten referenced the unprecedented speed at which Beijing is developing its military capabilities, particularly the modernization of its nuclear arsenal, as one of the Pentagon’s top concerns.

China has been rapidly building hundreds of new silos for launching nuclear missiles throughout this year — a sign of a significant expansion of its strategic arsenal, Hyten noted. The vice chairman said he was concerned about how fast the structures were being built and the motivations behind the growth, and contrasted the pace of China's nuclear modernization with the Pentagon's.

“It’s going to take us 10 to 15 years to modernize 400 [intercontinental ballistic missile] silos that already exist," he said, referring to the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent program. "China is basically building almost that many overnight,” he said, adding that the speed at which the threat is evolving "is what really concerns me most.”


Hyten noted that the GBSD system won't achieve initial operational capability until 2030, or full operational capability until 2035.

Hyten also highlighted frustrations with the Pentagon’s pace in developing more resilient space architectures. That problem has persisted for over a decade, although efforts are underway at the Space Force and other agencies to address it, he noted. While past investments in space capabilities have given the United States an advantage, the Defense Department needs to work quickly to stay ahead of China, he said.


When asked how the Pentagon could move faster as it tries to modernize, Hyten said it needs to more fully embrace efforts to reach out to the commercial tech sector to leverage their innovations.


"The second piece is that we have to empower people to make decisions," he said. "In many cases we've removed that authority from the people that are actually managing the program and building things. They have to come all the way to the Pentagon ... to get permission to do anything. When we used to go fast, that authority was handed down and people were allowed to take risk and fail and move quickly ... and that allowed us to move fast. So, we have to be able to push things down and allow people to take risks —smart risks — again." 

Topics: Defense Department

Comments (3)

Re: Hyten Says Pentagon is Moving “Unbelievably Slow” in Defense Modernization

There are several reasons for the slowness. One is the consequences of making that mistake General Hyten refers to, I.e. the “one mistake Air Force”. A second reason is the politicization of the Acquisition process, both Democrats and Republicans are guilty of this and have been for a number of years, particularly since the fall of the Soviet Union. A third reason is the bureaucracy itself, difficult to reward achievement/innovation along with difficulty in removing non-performers. Finally, the budget process with multiple account classification codes along with the anti-deficiency act makes good managers reluctant to be creative.
There have been numerous studies and commissions studying this problem and the recommendations have been remarkably consistent as to improving the Acquisition system, yet there has been little improvement over the past thirty/fifty years. I attribute that to the lack of fear on the part of the American public that this country is vulnerable to an attack by an adversary. Until they exhibit that level of concern, there will be little true change in the way that our politicians view the Defense budget, I.e. as just another way to reward their supporters.

James Gill at 9:40 PM
Re: Hyten Says Pentagon is Moving “Unbelievably Slow” in Defense Modernization

Having seen China's leadership bias for action, I concur completely and also share the General's concern. He is spot on. Further, these comments universally apply to other U.S. Governmental Agencies and far too many large U.S. Corporations who's leadership have bought into centralization of decisions by a few removed individuals. Control of decisions is comforting but comes with long term risk. Must be present to win.

Paul Spranger Sr. at 10:37 AM
Re: Hyten Says Pentagon is Moving “Unbelievably Slow” in Defense Modernization

Allowing folks to take risk is laudable, but you must also make sure if they fail, they are not crushed for a failure. This seems to be the place where we are risk adverse. Leaders need to almost ask for failures and highlight the great lessons learned from them to show that the PMs that make the decision and take the risk can prosper in their choice.

William Johnson at 3:52 PM
Retype the CAPTCHA code from the image
Change the CAPTCHA codeSpeak the CAPTCHA code
Please enter the text displayed in the image.