Agility, flexibility key components of IT success, says SPAWAR director

The Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR) has a history of pushing the envelope in military technology and acquisition. So in an era of drawdowns, budget cuts and tough times all around, what can the rest of the Defense Department learn from the Navy’s leading authority on advanced IT?

According to one SPAWAR official, the defense community needs to get back to a more experimental approach in its technology development and deployment, especially as the entire department faces future challenges that go beyond just budget problems.

“What I see right now is the threat in our world has never been higher, and it’s coming in different ways that we never thought about. It’s not the same place we grew up in,” said Chris Miller, executive director of SPAWAR Systems Center Atlantic. “You just don’t know where the threat is, so you have to be much more agile and responsive and be able to basically do anything, anywhere, anytime. It takes a different kind of perspective, especially for the IT part.”

SPAWAR is helping rebuild Afghanistan, but the agency also is involved in some less conventional projects, such as partnering on information assurance with nontraditional organizations such as the Commerce Department, Internal Revenue Service and Veterans Administration. That ability to embrace new kinds of operations and renew focus on the leading edge is necessary for finding creative solutions. And combining those strategies with lessons from history may hold the answer to serious departmentwide problems, Miller said.

“Everybody’s talking about the budget and how bad it is, how we’re not going to be able to do anything…we all know what’s going on,” Miller said. “Think about what our nation was going through [in World War I]. If we think budget battles are bad now…can you imagine a discussion today about not having any ships built? That’s what was happening then.”

But that period of struggle yielded some of the most important developments in naval history, Miller noted, pointing to the USS Langely, the Navy’s first aircraft carrier that was constructed in 1920, by converting collier cargo ship as a prime example.

“If you think about what made us successful in World War II, it all happened during some of the biggest pressure in our history, when our nation was probably spending less per capita than at any other time period,” he said. “We’ve gotten to the point where we are not willing to fail, and we’ve got a lot to learn. We’ve got to go back to those days and get back to that kind of focus if we want to be successful again.”

About the Author

Amber Corrin is a staff writer covering military networks for Defense Systems.

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