A Semblance of Stability: What’s to Gain from Gaining Efficiency
It’s been pretty depressing for me watching the recent news coming out of Iraq. I spent a year there in 2008–2009 working with local government officials and trying to build a set of stable institutions that could preserve some semblance of stability after the troops left. The Shia South, where I spent most of my year, has thus far been spared much violence from the ISIS / ISIL / Islamic State attack…it’s not really part of the planned caliphate. But places that are now in the news again every day, like Erbil, Mosul, Kirkuk, Taji and even Baghdad are all cites where I either spent time or had close friends stationed. The idea that, in a few short years, they’d go from U.S.-occupied and relatively stable to held by Al Qaeda was unthinkable to me in 2009. The fact that those same locations may now become launching bases, as Afghanistan once was, for attacks against the West is especially unnerving.
But recent events in the Middle East, and in North Africa, and even Ukraine, for that matter, have highlighted the persistent dangers in the world and our inability to influence them much from afar. Even as much of the public in the United States has become wary of playing an assertive international role (and I count myself among that group), the world has been showing that there are still plenty of threats to global peace and security. Calls by hawks in Washington to beef up our military, or at least reverse sequestration, have only intensified in response to these new threats. But despite the constant reminders of danger all around us, the likelihood that politicians in Washington are going to react by pumping more money into defense is low in my estimation.
There are still enough in the Democratic Party who are skeptical of military intervention and enough on the Republican side who oppose any increase in spending whatsoever that, absent another major terrorist attack on U.S. soil, the base budget is unlikely to do anything but stay flat for the next few years. There are no signs in the current electoral landscape to suggest a big change in trajectory after the 2014 elections, either.
What is likely, however, is an increase in the number of small tactical excursions like the current one in Iraq, using air power and perhaps special operations forces (“advisors”) and relying on local ground forces to gain, occupy and administer contested territory.
These efforts may be deemed necessary to maintain some semblance of global stability and to keep terrorist threats at bay, but they will also create strains on certain elements of the military establishment and eat up resources that might otherwise be spent on modernizing aging equipment.
It’s likely that these unanticipated new actions will generate what are known as reprogramming requests to Congress, plans from the Department of Defense to move money from the accounts that Congress had approved and into new accounts to fill an emergent need. In this case, the money would likely be needed to replenish depleted operations and maintenance accounts and would come from procurement or R&D funds that are not necessarily less important but are less urgently needed. The money may also be moving from Army and Navy accounts and into Air Force and Special Operations accounts.
And so the imperatives to cut operating costs and find new and less expensive ways of acquiring material, imperatives that came to the fore as a result of budget sequestration, are going to become even more critical. Some savings will come from cutting civilian and military headcount, cancelling some modernization programs and drawing out others. But there’s also a lot of efficiency to be gained by simply doing business differently.
GE is full of ideas and technologies that can help drive these needed changes. From more fuel-efficient jet engines to COTS electronics that offer superior performance at decreased cost, there are lots of ways that the lifecycle cost of programs can be driven down through hardware changes. Even more leverage, however, comes when those more cost-effective hardware offerings are combined with software and analytics. I discussed some of those in a previous post and, in my recent discussions with DoD officials, I’m happy to see that there’s a lot of receptivity to the message that data and analytics can drive meaningful cost reductions and readiness improvements.
The last thing the Pentagon needed in this time of budget austerity was a bunch of brush fires to fight, but our enemies tend not to weigh our needs when deciding to cause trouble…that’s why they’re called enemies. The added strain of periodic small operations will only add to the pressure on the Department, and industry, to get more for their money upfront and spend less to maintain and operate systems over the long-haul. Luckily, innovative companies like GE are ready and willing to help the military do its job better, faster and at lower expense than it ever has before.