Simpler is stronger
Defense organizations must be ready to generate force elements that are ready for the fight. These must have the capabilities required to thrive in the digital operating environment and to excel in fifth-generation warfare. In response to the paradigm shift in warfare, defense leaders need to be dynamic, agile and flexible.
To become swifter and more responsive, defense organizations need to support their armed forces through digitally enabled processes and people. By questioning outdated processes, simplifying extraneous requirements and losing long-held conventions, they’ll be able to move to game-changing technologies that will make them stronger.
Five areas of focus
Here are ways for defense leaders to meet these combined challenges:
1. Be smart about spending
Maintaining a military that’s prepared to face uncertain future challenges is an expensive business. Despite the uptick in global defense spending, defense organizations still find themselves under financial pressure. Anything outside of preapproved budgets is also subject to intense scrutiny. With the “new normal” of slower economic growth set to continue, defense organizations need to make smarter investments while remaining poised for action.
Smarter spending isn’t just about balancing the books. It’s about planning and investing for the long term, and managing assets and costs effectively. That includes accounting for where the money is spent and budgets are allocated, and understanding the value and impact of those investments.
2. Take an enterprise-wide approach to digital
Technology helps defense organizations gain strategic advantage over enemies, make balanced strategic plans, control operational performance and manage resources. Digital transformation can also help them tune operational processes to output requirements and therefore respond to emerging threats faster. It’s why defense organizations are investing hundreds of billions of dollars in AI and machine learning, cyber weapons and threat detection programs, cybersecurity apparatus, robotics, and digital tools for their employees.
However, to get more bang for digital buck, defense organizations need to do more than investing in stand-alone projects that solve short-term problems. They need back-office tools and systems that are fit for purpose today, but can also flex in the future while fitting into existing systems and structures. Taking this integrated, systems-wide approach to digital will ultimately make them nimbler and more effective.
3. Transform the workforce
Defense organizations need flexible, dynamic and sustainable workforces to meet evolving military needs and society’s expectations. Recognizing this, leaders are already integrating military branches to create new capabilities and making changes to the way they employ civilian and reserve members of the defense team. This is helping to broaden the pool of talent. Developing a fifth branch of service — the so-called “cyber corps” — is also a focus. However, building a workforce that’s fit for the future requires changing the whole organization.
Defense leaders need to get better (and faster) at recruiting and keeping good people. They need to motivate both frontline and civilian employees through higher-quality career development. And they need more diversity in both leadership and combat roles. Most pressing of all, though, is the rising tide of digital. This is reinventing work by replacing labor with technology, creating new workforce models and preferences, and transforming operational demands. The impact on defense organizations will be huge. Defense leaders must adapt while they keep the engine running and uphold the institution’s shared vision and mission for service.
4. Optimize the supply chain
Tomorrow’s defense organizations will need to deploy the right forces in the right places even faster than they do today. And those forces will need the right equipment and supplies in the right amounts. This reality will require a new vision for acquisition. That’s why defense organizations are investing significantly in equipment, innovation and digital technologies. They’re also shifting the way they manage their procurement and supply chain activities.
This will lead to swift changes in the defense industrial base, such as front line to industry integration, autonomous supply chains and physical-digital operational capacities. Defense organizations will look increasingly to predictive field maintenance, the warehouse of the future and intelligent asset management to help them sustain the future forces. To realize the full benefits of these changes, they’ll need to replace outdated processes, manage costs effectively and up-skill their supply chain workforce. The outcome will be next-generation defense procurement that’s faster, resilient and more secure.
5. Modernize infrastructure
All armed forces need infrastructure that’s modern, resilient and fit for the evolving nature of conflict and technology. Yet of the estimated US$2 trillion-worth of defense estates in the world, many are aging, outdated and surplus to requirements. And each year, they cost tens of billions of dollars to maintain and modernize. Accommodation and facilities must also match the expectations of today’s service people and their families. Also, bases must provide infrastructure that’s aligned to the operational needs of the services and is environmentally sustainable.
What’s more, much of the world’s defense infrastructure dates back decades, even centuries, when warfare was completely different. Some of these assets are now obsolete, while others are unnecessarily large for today’s mobile, tech-enabled armed forces and their equipment. This gives defense organizations an opportunity to save significant amounts of money by reducing the size of their footprint. They should do this by developing a vision for infrastructure that reflects what tomorrow’s armed forces will need — one that rethinks concepts such as the need to own that infrastructure.