Gen. Hyten calls DOD software acquisition a ‘nightmare’ in pitch for requirements reform

Gen. John E. Hyten appears at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on his nomination to be vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Washington, D.C., July 30, 2019. (DoD photo by Lisa Ferdinando)

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The vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff says the military needs to “re-engineer” how it writes requirements for and buys technology.

One of Gen. John Hyten’s top priorities as the No. 2 officer in the U.S. military is to re-inject “speed” into the requirements and acquisition process. During an hourlong event at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on Friday, Hyten stressed the importance of staying technologically ahead of near-peer competitors, primarily China.

One of the major speed bumps for the military is the Joint Requirements Oversight Council, or JROC — the body that advises the Joint Chiefs on prioritized military requirements. Hyten heads the council and said he is still in the “data gathering” mode on making a decision about what the future holds for it — but change is on the horizon.

“The JROC is an industrial age model, not an information age model,” he said.

Requirements being written for specific products won’t cut it anymore. Instead, Hyten wants to see acquisition specialists write evolving requirements that match the speed in which cyberthreats change. When it comes to software acquisition, the process is currently a “nightmare,” the general said.

Another way to improve requirement writing and acquisition is to delegate authorities to lower levels of officers. Hyten wants colonels and captains to have more authority to purchase and oversee projects, as was the case when he was a young Air Force engineer working on satellite acquisitions.

“If you want to see a military person go fast…just give them authorities and responsibilities,” Hyten said.

Hyten worries that China’s massive economic growth over the last four decades is a direct threat to the U.S. military’s technological dominance. The tight relationship between Chinese industry and the country’s longterm strategic-minded military growth has allowed it to move faster than the U.S. military, he said. Others have long accused China of stealing military technology from U.S. defense contractors.

North Korea also is at the top of the general’s mind. Despite being one of the world’s poorest countries, the military has been able to develop nuclear weapons and major missile programs. That type of speed, despite its bleak economy, worries Hyten.

“When you look at our competitors, one thing they have in common is they are moving very, very fast,” he said.

Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said in 2009 that the military “must look more to the 80-percent solution,” meaning that waiting and studying to find the perfect answer takes too long. Friday Hyten amended his acceptable percentage to “50 percent is good enough.”

Hyten’s forceful remarks had pockets of optimism. The U.S. private sector retains innovation speed that the military has lost, he said. One example: Space X. The space technology company has been working with the Air Force after “embarrassing” the military with how quickly it launched and learned from its failures. The military has a lot to learn from its private sector partners in Silicon Valley and beyond, Hyten said.

Before ascending to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Hyten was in charge of the nation’s nuclear weapons as commander of the U.S. Strategic Command. Since Nov. 21, he has served as the second-highest-ranking military officer and one of the president’s key military advisers as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

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Acquisition, Air Force, Cybersecurity, Military, public-private partnership, Silicon Valley
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