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Time is Now to Execute National Defense Strategy, Shanahan Says

The National Defense Strategy unveiled earlier this year has had time to percolate through the force. Now it is time to execute it, the deputy secretary of defense said at the annual Air Force Association meeting here today.

“We have a unique window of opportunity,” Patrick M. Shanahan said. “Congress is firmly behind us and has given us the money we need. However, if we don’t deliver results, Congress won’t lift the budget caps in 2020 and we won’t have the money to fully implement our strategy.”

The deputy said Congress won’t be impressed simply because DoD tried hard. “They will judge our output,” he said. “So we need to get to work.”

Shanahan is the department’s chief operating officer, and it is his job to ensure execution of the National Defense Strategy. “I’m focused on performance and I’m focused on making change at scale,” he said. “When I say I’m product driven, it means I am focused on the product – or in our case – on the warfighting capability we need to win. Based on that capability we derive process, structure and resources.”

If a company misjudges, it doesn’t make money. If DoD doesn’t do what is necessary, lives are in danger and American liberty itself could be at risk. “When it comes to performance, the question is not ‘Are we getting better?’ It’s ‘Are we good enough to win?’” Shanahan said. “We must win against our competitors. Every day, wake up and ask yourself, ‘what will it take to win?’”

Great Power Competition

The strategy signals a return of great power competition, and the deputy secretary called this “a muscle we haven’t used in a while.” But China and Russia have studied this and studied the way America fights for the past 30 years. They have built systems and fashioned doctrine specifically to thwart the American way of war, he said.

China and Russia are not the only threats, he noted, and the United States continues to deal with threats from North Korea, Iran and terrorist organizations.

Defense Department reform is a topic near and dear to Shanahan’s heart. “The need and opportunity [for reform] are self-evident,” he said. “We must concentrate on developing reform habits — habits of doing, habits of performance evaluation, habits of working as an enterprise, habits of achieving scale.”

It is not simply about money, he said. Reform means ensuring service members have the tools they need to perform at higher levels. This means faster downrange support, making it easier and faster to hire new employees and conduct background investigations, and paying what things should cost rather than what has been paid historically, he said.

Shanahan said Defense Secretary James N. Mattis told him when he was hired as deputy secretary that he wanted DoD to be the benchmark. “That is my goal,” Shanahan said.

Priorities for Reform

Logistics, health care and information technology are priorities for reform just because of the size and function of these areas, he said. Each year, DoD spends $150 billion on logistics, $50 billion on health care and $35 billion on information technology.

Changes coming in all these fields, he said, noting that logistics companies already are experimenting on deliveries by drones or self-driving vehicles.

“Selection, availability, ordering, fulfillment and distribution are all miraculously getting easier, faster and cheaper,” Shanahan said. “Can you imagine the burden we would lift from our teammates if we could be a part of the logistics revolution?”

The same is true of health care, he said, though he was careful to stress that reform in this area “is about delivering better care and doing it at a lower cost.”

Information technology is modernizing daily, Shanahan said, and DoD should have ample opportunities for reform and savings in that field. “Many of the back-office [human resources] and material management systems that industry has deployed over the past decade are ripe for our adoption,” he said. “It’s what I call ‘R&D: rip-off and deploy.’ A custom federated approach is a trap.”

Strengthening Alliances, Attracting New Partners

Another line of effort in the strategy is strengthening alliances and attracting new partners. “Relationships aren’t monolithic; they’re complex,” Shanahan said. “We will agree in some places and disagree in others.”

Strengthening relationships happens at all levels, from Mattis visiting more than 60 countries during his term so far to airmen studying with and working alongside allies and partners around the world.

Finally, Shanahan told the audience, the mission of the department is to fight and win America’s wars. The National Defense Strategy’s first line of effort, building a more lethal force, is fundamental to DoD’s mission and anchors the strategy to the essence of warfighting, he said. “It is our lethality that deters our adversaries, and enhancing it should drive everything we do,” he added.

The department must restore readiness and modernize capabilities, Shanahan said. “Readiness is about being combat-credible, having the capabilities and capacity … to fight and win,” he said. “Generating that readiness has many different elements: people, training, munitions, equipment and sustainment.”

Air Force Progress

The Air Force has made measurable progress, he said, noting that the maintainer shortage is being addressed and should hit zero by December. The service is looking at ways to leverage big data, 3D printing and other technologies in sustainment, he said.

“I’m encouraged by your progress, but there is so much we can do, particularly on sustainment, which, as we all know, is the biggest portion of life cycle cost,” Shanahan said.

Modernization is about retooling for great power competition, the deputy secretary said, something the country has not seen since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. “Just as we needed stealth bombers to penetrate advanced air defenders and precision guided missiles to increase lethality during the Cold War, we need a next generation of weapons to counter Chinese and Russian threats,” Shanahan said.

The budget must be strategy driven and must capture programming and integration of plans to transition from technology demonstrations to development, he said.

“It’s like the old adage, ‘Don’t tell me your strategy. Show me your budget and I’ll tell you what your strategy is,’” he said. “Now is the time to make choices about what we will and won’t do. Those choices, as reflected in this budget, will determine what our military looks like for the next 50 years, and we’ve got 10 weeks to complete it.”

(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)