Is the US military too antiquated to win modern wars?

Experts in technology and warfare gathered Wednesday to discuss the U.S. military's efforts to innovate in response to rapidly changing threats and its place in modern warfare.

Bernadette Johnson, a chief science officer at the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental, or DIUx, spoke at the forum hosted by the Center for a New American Security, where he wondered why domains of warfare are separate.

"One thing that has struck me as someone who has tried to solve [Department of Defense] problems for 30 years: Why is it separated the way it is? Why is there a land, a sea, air?" Johnson said. "We were a fresh, brand-new country; standing up today we wouldn't design the military that we currently have the way we have it, not when we have so many crosscutting problems and capabilities from cyber and air and so forth"

Johnson offered an unconventional notion that members of each service rotated through the others for a period in order to gain a perspective on the operational environments, the problems and the capabilities, acknowledging this is done at some small level, especially within the joint offices.

Col. Mark Kappelmann, of the Carlisle Scholars Program at the U.S. Army War College, responded to Johnson by noting that the Army is considering formalizing this notion of multi-domain battle, which makes interoperability and joint efforts all the more important in the future.

In the future operating environment, military leaders are acknowledging that they must better coordinate and seamlessly operate across the five domains of warfare — air, sea, land, space and cyber — as opposed to a stovepiped nature.

"If we’re looking at shore-based anti-ship missiles that are run, managed and employed by the U.S. Army, we need to do that very closely in conjunction with the U.S. Navy in terms of how do we look at that cross domain," he said, citing a common example made by many officials in the Army. "Air superiority — we always defer to the Air Force and we let them handle that, but there’s a whole panoply of ideas in terms of swarming drones, [short-range air defense] … and things like that that are Army-based systems that maybe we should ensure are interoperable with F-35s before we cede air superiority to the Air Force."

Moreover, acquisition time cycles have been derided in Washington as antiquated and too slow for field delivery needs. This was one of the reasons DIUx was created — to partner with nontraditional organizations and create pathways for rapid acquisition and equipping.

"We don’t have to have the 100 percent solution every time we try to procure something or address some particular capability gap," Johnson said. "If we are willing to address a capability gap that will meet most of our needs right now, we can either evolve a better one and take a little time or know that all these things are going to be obsolete anyway in a few years."

"Perhaps not ships, but an awful lot of the tech we use doesn’t need to last as long as we sometimes [expect] it to last," she said, adding that perhaps managing expectations on acquisitions and programs could be a way to accelerate them.

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