Innovation in Difficult Times

The Air Force and the entire US military face one of the most difficult periods of transition in recent memory, a longtime veteran of various military and intelligence advisory boards said Thursday at AFA’s Global Warfare Symposium in Los Angeles. He believes that one of the keys to getting through it is acknowledging it and embracing some tough challenges. “I have advised a lot of organizations, and a lot of time I see broken programs,” said a blunt speaking Bran Ferren, co-chairman of Applied Minds LLC and former member of the Defense Science Board. Whether a company or a government organization, the reaction to stress is to circle the wagons and hold ground, he said, and innovation—and risk—is avoided. “This reduction means a whole bunch of innovation doesn’t happen,” he noted, adding that great inventions— from electric light to the GPS constellation—that changed civilization didn’t emerge from requirements processes or demands. Rather than lean on illogical constructs such as the Quadrennial Defense Review process, the Air Force should seriously look at a “250-year plan” and encourage some deep out of the box thinking on core subjects, such as fixing the “broken” acquisition system and treating the intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance mission as a holistic system rather than one based around platforms. Speed and agility, rather than capability, need to be emphasized in the future, he said, because technology changes so rapidly the only way to stay ahead of it is to build a culture which can adapt to it.