One of the abiding questions faced by the Defense Department and US defense industry is how to keep its edge in a fast-paced world where cutting edge consumer-oriented technology, much of it applicable in conflict contexts, gets steadily cheaper and more accessible. Meanwhile, the premier military platforms American armed forces are counting on in the 21st Century are becoming unaffordable and scarcer. Even attempts at buying relatively inexpensive ships such as the Littoral Combat Ship, or adopting unprecedented economies of scale as in the Joint Strike Fighter program, are not showing signs those bets will pay off as originally hoped.
There is another way to approach the problem than a singular focus on productivity, according to retired Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General James Cartwright. The industrial solution to cost-cutting is already at diminishing returns, said Cartwright, and the major savings required will not come from mere tweaks to business-as-usual weapons buying. Something bolder is needed.
“The platform is too slow to respond to a changing world,” he said. “We’ve got to figure out not how to compete with computers, but how man-machine [interface] and computational power start to come together in a way that gives you huge leverage,” said Cartwright.