Yesterday the HASC Subcommittee on Military Personnel held a hearing on “Professional Military Education and the National Defense Strategy.” Coming from the Navy's graduate education university, we here at NPS find the discussion about the value of PME especially important. Among the comments from the testimony: "Investing in human capital has a much bigger payoff than investing in technology alone.... DoD budgets should in fact reflect the outsized importance of applying resources to professional military education." This came from LtGen USMC (Ret.) Schmidle, who also called for a commission on PME similar to the cyberspace solarium commission.
The Senate has finally confirmed Christopher Lowman as the assistant secretary of defense for sustainment. Bryant Harris's article on the subject reminds us that the delay on this confirmation came from Josh Hawley's refusal to confirm any DoD nominees out of frustration over the Afghanistan exit.
You've probably been following the infant formula shortage either out of curiosity or horror, depending on your relationship to formula. This week President Biden invoked the Defense Production Act to, in part, transport European formula to the United States. I wasn't the only one to notice, on reading about the baby formula industry, the uncanny parallels with the defense industry: limited suppliers (only three large companies manufacture formula) and heavy government regulations -- all of which limit competition, reduce supplies, and increase costs. While a bit tangential to this newsletter's typical focus on defense acquisition, I recommend reading David Leonhardt's orienting reporting on the topic (and pretty much anything else he writes).
In ARP news, we're bringing you a handful of videos from last week's symposium for those who missed seeing all the goodness. We have some ringers in the mix already. Set your playback speed to 1.5x and enjoy!
Our top story is commentary on the challenge of digital transformation, which ties directly to the challenges DOD and the federal government face in acquisition (or budgeting) reform. Bottom line: it's really hard to change the status quo when there's no clear solution everyone can agree on.
This Week's Top Story
Commentary: Digital Transformation Is A Cultural Problem, Not A Technological One
Brandon Leshchinskiy and Andrew Bowne, War on the Rocks
Twenty officers are seated around a table, mired in the discomfort of an “adaptive leadership” workshop. This framework, developed by Ronald Heifetz and colleagues at the Harvard Kennedy School, is designed to help organizations make progress on complex, collective challenges, known as “adaptive” challenges. Unlike “technical” problems, which can be solved with existing know-how, adaptive challenges demand learning and change — adaptation — from the stakeholders themselves.
Digital transformation presents an adaptive challenge for the Department of Defense. As long as the Department of Defense relies on painless, “technical” fixes — what Steve Blank calls “innovation theater” — America will become increasingly vulnerable to exploitation by foreign adversaries, costing both dollars and lives. To make progress on the challenge of digital transformation — and to maintain technological superiority — the Department of Defense should reexamine and reshape its deeply held values, habits, beliefs, and norms.
The officers in the workshop are an excellent example of a group wrestling with adaptation. As in many groups, they begin by looking outwards. One says, “It’s the ‘frozen middle’ that prevents us from doing anything digital,” while another adds, “Our higher-ups can’t agree on what they want, anyway. … What are we supposed to do?” The instructor nudges them: “It seems the group is shifting responsibility to anywhere but here. What makes it difficult to look inward?”
Next, the officers drift away from the challenge. They share stories of previous successes, appraise the instructor’s credentials, and joke about the workshop itself. Again, the instructor intervenes: “I notice we’re avoiding uncertainty. Can we stay longer in the nebulous space of ‘digital transformation’? Or will we escape the moment it’s not clear how to proceed?”