Ditching the Old and Shaking Things Up in Omaha

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The commander of U.S. Strategic Command is determined to shake things up.

As the man in charge of the operational response to the most serious threats to U.S. national security, Marine Corps Gen. James E. Cartwright knows that the old ways of doing things are ill suited to meeting the asymmetric threats in an increasingly dangerous and complicated world.

His goal is to break down the traditional Napoleonic structure of the U.S. military where information and decision-making crawl up and down the chain of command. To accomplish that goal he is busy irritating and if necessary threatening those in his command to get them to break down long-standing barriers to improved performance and innovation.

Whether it is the organizational structure within his command, or the way that the military buys the space systems that have become critical to waging war today, Cartwright said during a Sept. 15 speech in Washington sponsored by Women in Aerospace that he is determined to find more effective and efficient ways of accomplishing Strategic Command’s mission.

Cartwright says he began his campaign against the status quo at Strategic Command as soon as he arrived at its Omaha, Neb., headquarters in July 2004. The command, which had long been focused on the strategic deterrence mission, already had seen changes to its agenda that included folding in the mission of U.S. Space Command in 2002.

Pentagon officials were optimistic that adding the space mission to Strategic Command’s portfolio would create operational synergy by placing responsibility of the offensive and defensive aspects of the nuclear mission within a single organization.

Cartwright, however, felt that more needed to be done. He asked three working groups — composed of officials from the military war colleges, retired officers and private industry — to find a better way of doing business.

The most valuable input in the general’s eyes came from industry. Cartwright has spoken in the past about the need for speed in military decision-making and operations, and compared it to animals in the wild that must continually move fast enough to avoid predators and find food themselves.

Cartwright chose to develop a new organizational structure for the command based on the business community’s model of outsourcing and moving operations offshore. Implementing that model has not been easy, he said, because it requires altering military organizations and cultures that have stood for decades.

The changes took operational responsibilities that had been handled at Strategic Command’s headquarters and put them in the hands of service officials who already had acquisition authority and were not resident in Omaha.

“If you can push power closer to the source of where you make decisions, and produce products, you’re going to have a better business model,” Cartwright said. “You’re going to make decisions faster, and the decisions you make have a better chance of being right.”

However, this has made some military officials who jealously guard the power they wield “very, very uncomfortable,” Cartwright said.

In at least one case , finding a taker for one new responsibility was not easy. Integrating missile defense activities was considered controversial and potentially expensive, said Cartwright.

In the end, Lt. Gen. Larry Dodgen, commander of the Army’s Space and Missile Defense Command, stepped up and now leads the Joint Functional Component Command for Integrated Missile Defense.

“Dodgen has authority I don’t have, and I can link him together with space and [intelligence resources] that he probably never had real access to,” Cartwright said.

The new structure also includes a Joint Functional Component Command (JFCC) for Space and Global Strike; Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance; and Network Warfare, as well as a Center for Combating Weapons of Mass Destruction.

This structure may not only represent a new approach for Strategic Command, but changes for the units that deploy to battlefields around the world as well, Cartwright said.

“A good military commander wants his own intelligence — and we refuse to allow that to occur,” Cartwright said. Instead, commanders must come to the new joint functional component commands for their needs in these areas, he said.

The biggest obstacles to making the new structure work are cultural, not technical, in nature, Cartwright said. While considerable lip service has been paid to concepts like network-centric warfare and horizontal integration, people have been slow to put those concepts into practice, he said.

The General’s Blog

Cartwright has implemented his own concept for better network-based collaboration at Strategic Command. Known as SKY Web, the network is intended to help bring together Strategic Command personnel around the world to use their access to the Pentagon’s Secure Internet Protocol Router Network to work together on addressing any number of issues.

Cartwright is the first to acknowledge that the concept was not universally loved at its inception. “It clearly was something you could rebel against and hate,” he said. “And they did. They truly did.”

Some of the personnel at Strategic Command, Cartwright said, have been skeptical that a nontraditional method could be used to exchange information and foster discussion on command issues that could in turn be used to take real actions. Some people do not feel comfortable using information that does not have the stamp of approval from a chain of general officers, and would prefer to wait for so-called “perfect” information, Cartwright said.

“So I had to get up and really irritate the crowd, and said ‘tell me what [about] the current system is perfect?’” Cartwright said. “Where do I get perfect information? It doesn’t exist.”

Participating on the network is not optional. In fact, those who are shy about participating should look for work elsewhere, Cartwright said.

“If you’re not contributing, I don’t want you as part of the organization,” he said. “And if you’re not contributing because you don’t think the information will be perfect, I still don’t need you. It’s just not how we’re going to do business.”

The input must be genuine, Cartwright said. Logging in to give answers to simply tell the commander what he wants to hear is not appreciated, nor are the “tethered goats” — sergeants typing with a general looking over their shoulder and feeding them info to boost the appearance of participation within an organization, he said.

Subversive Electrons

One example that Cartwright cited as a good, productive use of the network took place earlier on the same day of his speech in Washington. Strategic Command personnel were dealing with a landing gear problem on the Predator unmanned aerial vehicle, and troops in the Middle East were able to exchange ideas with colleagues back in Omaha and elsewhere — “anywhere they were awake” — to resolve the issue, he said.

Ken Allard, a retired Army colonel and national security analyst for MSNBC, said in an interview that fostering discussion on problem solving through internal computer networks has become increasingly popular in industry in recent years. Encouraging input regardless of a person’s relative spot on a corporate or military totem pole is part of a growing trend towards the breakdown of traditional hierarchies — a breakdown that has been accelerated by the proliferation of technology, he said.

That such hierarchies lasted for more than 100 years is a testament to their value, “but they’re not going to last forever,” Allard said. “The fact that it’s happening at all says something about what the electron is doing to us — it is really subverting hierarchies around the world,” Allard said.

Space Acquisition

Meanwhile, Cartwright also has serious concerns about the Pentagon’s satellite development efforts, particularly the number of programs that are over budget and behind schedule.

“We’re so darn close to Chapter 11 [bankruptcy] in so many areas that it’s really uncomfortable for me as a commander,” he said.

While he believes that the Pentagon has “turned the corner” on its acquisition problems, Cartwright said the Defense Department still needs to find better business models for space acquisition, both for how it acquires systems, and the types of systems that it chooses to buy.

Intelligence missions, he said in an interview, demand that the Pentagon do more than just put eyes on areas of interest. Instead those areas of interest need to be watched by multiple types of eyes, he said, because using a single type of sensor makes it too easy for an enemy to mask its actions.

The military has probably reached the point of diminishing returns with the accuracy of images from electro-optical sensors, and needs to push ahead with the development of new systems like the Space Radar constellation, Cartwright said.

The military hopes to begin launching the Space Radar satellites, which are intended to watch for moving targets on the ground regardless of time of day or weather conditions, in 2015, but the program is facing a significant reduction to its 2006 budget request of $226 million on Capitol Hill.

The increased data about enemy positions provided by Space Radar could lead to significant reductions in the amount of munitions needed to destroy targets and also help reduce civilian casualties and collateral damage, Cartwright said. Requiring aircraft to carry fewer weapons per sortie — weighing perhaps 90 rather than 900 kilograms — can translate into fewer logistics demands as well, he said.

Space Radar also offers the possibility of faster response time to tactical needs by turning a flexible radar beam, rather than the entire spacecraft, to look at different areas, Cartwright said.

However, the military will not be able to take full advantage of the data from those satellites unless it finds a new way of dealing with processing and distribution of the information once it reaches the ground, Cartwright said.

The solution will likely require heavy use of automation, as troops cannot afford to wait for data on moving targets to be analyzed, reviewed and approved by a long chain of officials, who also risk introducing errors into the data, he said.

The high projected cost of the Space Radar satellites will force the military to consider a variety of options for its overhead architecture — and not all of them will be satellites, Cartwright said.

The military must decide how big a satellite constellation is needed to keep tabs on the entire globe at all times, and how it can respond to times of peak need during a crisis with the launch of aerial reconnaissance assets or small spacecraft that can be launched on short notice, he said.

Promoting Competition

Cartwright also is hoping to find some innovative ideas for the development of new space systems from other parts of the government.

The desire for competition does not come from dissatisfaction with the Air Force Space Command, or a lack of trust that the Air Force has solved the problems that have plagued its management of new satellite programs, Cartwright said.

“My belief is that competition will drive the market,” Cartwright said. “If the only person that builds spacecraft for the government is Air Force Space Command, and I go to that warehouse for every product, there is not a lot of competition. There are a lot of well-intending, energetic people, but there is not a lot of competition.”

Cartwright said that he would like to bring emerging user requirements to the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) and Air Force Space Command, as well as other government and military laboratories , and ask for the best ideas that can be accomplished in the fastest and least expensive manner. Other entities that could play a role here include commercial firms that are developing innovative space concepts, he said.

“I would like to be able to give them business in a way that drives the competition and the organizations in a positive direction,” Cartwright said.

Asking the same satellite developers who designed a legacy system to develop a new generation often leads to incremental improvements, but asking other officials for a fresh take could yield something much different — and more capable, Cartwright said.

Cartwright said that his existing contacts in the intelligence community could help with the competition concept, but indicated that he would like to make it a formal part of acquisition procedures so that such work can continue well into the future.

One congressional aide cast doubt that having internal competition within the government for national security space systems would yield to new innovation for satellite designs, given that contractors who already compete amongst each other are the ones that ultimately build the hardware.

But another staffer disagreed, and said that contractors largely execute parameters given to them by the Pentagon, and that innovation on design and capabilities largely comes from the military.

One issue that would likely need to be worked out before implementing the concept of competition is how to pay for the satellites, according to one industry official. Agencies that traditionally build satellites primarily for the intelligence community may be reluctant to take on projects for the military unless funding came along with the requirements, the official said.

However, one intelligence community official already has expressed interest in helping to meet Strategic Command’s needs in this area.

NRO Director Don Kerr told reporters during a Sept. 1 briefing at the Pentagon that he had worked with Cartwright during the general’s previous assignment as director of force structure, resources and assessment for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and said that he hoped to be the first avenue that Strategic Command would turn to for the development of new intelligence capabilities. During that time, Kerr was the director of science and technology work at the Central Intelligence Agency.

“If we can do it, I want to make sure we’re good enough to merit that first call,” Kerr said.