Mr. Keegan: Welcome to another edition of the business of government hour. I'm your host Michael Keegan and managing editor of the business of government magazine. Combat differs significantly from just a decade ago. Anticipating the future is key and the US armed forces continue to prepare for future conflicts evolving to meet emerging challenges. It does this by engaging in rigorous science and technology research. With us to discuss his efforts in this area is our very special guest Rear Admiral James Shannon, commander of the naval surface warfare center. Admiral, welcome back to the show.
Adm. Shannon: Michael, it's great to be here.
Mr. Keegan: Also joining us is Kevin Green, IBM's defense industry leader. Welcome, Kevin.
Mr. Green: Thank you, Michael. Good to be here.
Mr. Keegan: Admiral, for those unfamiliar with the naval sea system command, would you briefly describe the mission and the evolution of the surface warfare center?
Adm. Shannon: Well, the surface warfare center first is not just one place. It comprises 10 major commands geographically situated across the United States, and the warfare center does the full spectrum of research, development, test evaluation, engineering, whatever the fleet needs and also supports the Marine Corps.
Mr. Keegan: What can you tell us about your role as the commander?
Adm. Shannon: Well, my job is traditionally, I'm a echelon three commander, report to commander of naval sea systems command, vice admiral Kevin McCoy. And, my job is to lead people. I lead 14,000 people. I'm responsible for the infrastructure for all these warfare centers. And, I provide a supporting cast role, if you will, to the other admirals in the Navy that are responsible for product.
Mr. Keegan: I was wondering, could you give us a sense of the scale of the operation? What does the command look like? Where is it located? What is the geographical footprint?
Adm. Shannon: Okay. We are located principally very close here to Washington, DC. We have five commands within this region. And, that's right here in Carderock right off the beltway, Dahlgren, Virginia, which many people are familiar with, Indian Head, which was really one of the first proving grounds for the Navy. There is a explosive warness disposal technology activity in Stump Neck, Maryland, very close Indian Head, and then up the road we go to Philadelphia for ship systems, all mechanical and electrical systems. We go down the road to Dam Neck, Virginia, for combat direction support activity. And, then we have a coastal warfare systems site in Panama City. We do a lot of work in Crane, Indiana. And, then, out in California we have Port Hueneme where we do a lot of missile and radar testing. And, then, also Corona, California, which is in Riverside County, we do a lot of operational analysis on the systems that we have.
Mr. Green: Admiral, that's a wide array of responsibilities. With that in mind, what have been the top three challenges you face in your position and how have you begun to address those challenges?
Adm. Shannon: Well, I would say the top three really starts first with having a diverse workforce. That's not just my priority but you hear the CNO talk about that, Admiral McCoy has made that clear that's a top priority in the naval sea systems command. And, I'll get to back to diversity in a moment. But, we are also very interested in maximizing total ownership cost. That, again, is something that's being discussed a lot within the Navy to understand really what our costs are for our ships and to get the most return on investment in whatever we're doing. And, then, the third thing that I'm certainly a large advocate for is transparency in our product and what we do and open architecture and things like that.
With diversity really is the priority and something that were building on right now. There's a lot of congressional interest in what we're doing to hire our workforce to make sure that our acquisition workforce is robust. And, that starts with making sure that we have a workforce that represents the people of the United States. We have a very diverse young workforce, but we don't have a very diverse older workforce. And, that's because of just the way we hired people over the years. We really want to bring in more diversity, more cultures, and more innovation.
Mr. Green:. Well, you have a wide array of responsibilities. One of your roles is as the surface warfare chief technology officer. What does that role entail?
Adm. Shannon: That's a great question. Because, I'll tell you, a year ago, when something called me up and said, surprise, you're now the chief technology officer for the surface warfare enterprise, I had to Google chief technology officer and find out what it is. Because, it's really nothing that, it's not a term that we typically use within the uniformed force in the military. And, when I looked up what a CTO was, a chief technology officer, I was happy to learn that there is many different definitions.
So, that gave me the ability to come up with my own definition of a chief technology officer. And, what I'm primary responsible is to be the advocate for the surface warfare enterprises, surface warfare community, and work with the chief in naval research who has a large responsibility for science and technology across the entire Navy, not just the surface Navy. Today, Rear Admiral Nevin Carr is the chief of naval research. He is a surface warfare officer but he has to look at aviation, he has to look at sub-surface satellite communications - everything.
So, I'm a fellow flag officer who advocates for the surface Navy, and my role is really to look out way into the future to see that the technologies that are there and try to be a bridge between the operators and the research analysts, the scientists, the technologists, and help a dialog happen about where do we want to take the Navy in the future.
Mr. Green: Sure. Now, in that role, do you also work closely with folks in industry who might have the same title or have responsibilities in research?
Adm. Shannon: Well, we're not as far along as we should be, is the short answer to that question. And, one of the things that I found out when I took this job is we did not have that kind of dialogue happening. A year ago, I spent the first six months probably trying to understand what my role was going to be and making sure the senior leadership in the surface Navy agreed with that. But, what I've been working on for the past several months is trying to understand where is the Navy putting their money internal to the Navy. And, then, my plan is in a few months to have an industry day to really be transparent with industry and let industry know, hey, this is where the Navy's putting their money inside the Navy. It would be a good idea if you were researching things in the same area. And, then, sharing ideas and sharing technology to really be able to come up with the best solutions.
Mr. Keegan: Could you give us some background about yourself and how your career path led you to become the first chief technology officer for the surface warfare enterprise?
Adm. Shannon: Well, throughout my early career, I was a below deck engineer who served primarily on destroyers. Then, as I grew up in the surface warfare community, I got into anti-submarine warfare systems, missile defense systems. I had the great opportunity to command a couple ships. Following my command tours, I got into program management where I managed the evolved sea sparrow missile project and took it through its tests and evaluations. I got involved into the naval integrated FiRe control project and then was lucky enough to be selected to be the program manager for future combat systems open architecture. And, that all came together to the position I'm in today.
Mr. Keegan: Admiral, you have a robust portfolio, an import mission. Could you tell us what makes an effective leader? And, how has your previous experience formed your leadership style and your management approach?
Adm. Shannon: The biggest thing that you have to do, I think, to lead is to listen. You have to listen, not just to your people, your subordinates, but you have to listen to your superiors. And, so, my job is to understand where, what our superiors want. And, in the position I'm in today that's primarily listens to the chief of naval operations, and to the secretary of the Navy, and to the Secretary of Defense, and, of course, my own immediate superior, Vice Admiral McCoy. And, then, I have to go out and listen to the subordinates and understand what their knowledge is and to help focus them and focus their energy and get them to move in the direction that the superiors told me to move.
So, as a leader, your job is to lead somebody in a certain direction. You have to understand the requirement, what is needed, listen to what that need is, and take all those good ideas and point them all in the same direction and get on a path to success.
Mr. Keegan: Is there any particular leaders out there that have informed you?
Adm. Shannon: Well, Vice Admiral McCoy is doing a great job right now of keeping me informed. But, I would tell you, in this business, probably the person that we often refer back to is Admiral Wayne Meyer, who recently passed away. He's often referred to as the father of Aegis. And, it was his idea to build a little, test a little. And, to really embrace system engineering and to discuss the different trades that you can make to get the best product. And, to really integrate all your systems so that, that when one system trade is made, that you understood the repercussions to all the following systems. Admiral Meyer is credited with making the Navy understand that concept, and we still try to build off of that.
Mr. Keegan: Terrific. What about the Navy's approach to science and technology? We will ask Rear Admiral James Shannon, commander of the naval surface warfare center, to share with us when our conversation continues on the business of government hour.
Mr. Keegan: Welcome back to the business of government hour. I'm your host Michael Keegan, and our conversation continues with Rear Admiral James Shannon, commander of the naval surface warfare center. Also joining our conversation from IBM is Kevin Green. Admiral, could you describe the Navy's approach to science and technology?
Adm. Shannon: Investments in science and technologies are wide ranging, but highly focused on ensuring that the people out there in the fight have the advantage over our enemies in any battle space against all threats. You'll hear people talking about finding sometimes and saying the term we have to have a fair fight. When you're really involved with fighting, you don't want a fair fight. You want that asymmetrical advantage. And our Navy's comparative advantage to any potential adversary is our competitive will and our innovative drive. And, that's where it comes in the science and technology piece. We continuously operate. We continuously listen to our operators, and we try to apply the science and technology that we know well and apply it to whatever systems that we need to improve.
Mr. Keegan: Given the rapidly changing threat our nation faces today in conjunction with the pace of global technological innovation, what are some of the challenges the Navy faces in getting the right technology to our war fighters?
Adm. Shannon: The absolutely biggest challenge is affordability, and I'm sure that's not going to surprise any of the listeners out there. We are constantly combating the affordability challenge. And, affordability, though, gets often misunderstood, because sometimes the affordability is driven because the requirement is too great, and the engineers and scientists out there are always going to default to giving you the absolute best solution they can give. It's not in their intellectual makeup to give you a system that isn't the absolute best. So, it's imperative that the people that write the requirements and oversee the requirements manage that, such that we can expect exactly what we want. And, then, at the same time make sure the affordability or the prices come down. It's, it's a really tough calculus.
Mr. Keegan: Kevin mentioned, in your role as the CTO, collaborating with maybe somebody from industry. What about collaborating with the other armed services in this regard? In your approach to science and technology, could you tell us a little bit about that?
Adm. Shannon: We do collaborate with the other services. And, I would tell you at the working level, it's done much better than at the more senior levels across the warfare centers. At the deck plate level, as we say in the Navy, we do a very good job collaborating with other services, with academia, with industry. The tough part gets when you get up to the more senior ranks when money gets involved and people are trying to determine who pays for what. And, that's been something that I've often try to work on very closely in terms of architecture, and making sure that you have an open architecture and not to worry so much about the cost of it but just to come to agreement on what that architecture is.
So, in my own role right now, I do a lot with the Kenner IED systems to build, that's to defend against the improvised explosive device threat that is in the current wars that we face today. I work very closely with all the services, with the Department of Homeland Services, with the FBI, trying to collaborate on the best ideas to meet that threat.
Mr. Green: It's quite clear that the Navy is engaged and deployed globally in pursuit of missions in support of global stability and the New World order. What lessons have we learned from the multitude of missions the Navy is supporting today in Iraq, Afghanistan, and even off the coast of Somalia?
Adm. Shannon: Well, we've learned a lot, especially in this era of what we call irregular warfare with this IED threat, the improvised explosive device threat. You know, that was a threat that was really based off of commercial technology. And, it's a threat that, it was always out there. It was right in front of us. We recently, I think a year ago, celebrated 25 of the cell phone industry. And, so, it wasn't anything new. And, I'm sure many of our great scientists and engineers in our warfare centers knew how that threat could be used against us. But there was no forum, there was no way to bring that potential threat to our attention until it happened. So, we were sort of surprised by that. And, I think in the future, what we have to really learn from the Afghanistan war and from the Iraq war is that we have to understand the commercial technology is out there and how it can be applied.
Historically, we've already learned these sorts of lessons many years ago. I always like to refer back to over a hundred years ago the great white fleet was sailing in 1908. At the same time, you had a couple brothers out there on this thing called a flying machine. You know, nobody really thought of how to use that really in warfare. But, by the end of World War I, ten years later, it was definitely clear that you could use it. But, we never really even understood the power of airplanes until Pearl Harbor was attacked. So, today, we have the IED. Twenty years from now, what's the IED going to look like? We've got to be ready for that. And, we have to understand the power of that kind of threat and other technologies that are out there.
Mr. Green: Sure enough. And, you've described the fact that the Navy operates with other services and other partners. Are there any issues associated with interoperability that your office is engaged with, or your command is working on?
Adm. Shannon: Interoperability is always a very big challenge and we certainly are working on it. In my specific role as the single manager, one of my additional duties is I am the single manager for the counter radio electronic warfare systems that we use to defeat radio-controlled improvised explosive devices. I am responsible, regardless of the service feeling the system, to look at the interoperability and compatibility of those systems with other systems that put out radio waves such as radios, and to make sure that they're compatible and interoperable. So, we have a process in place to look at that. And there's a lot of processes in government to make sure we have that sort of thing.
Recently, the Navy has also reorganized the organization to bring a lot of our electronic systems all underneath one resource sponsor with the new N2N6 organization, which is going to be responsible largely to make sure that the interoperability challenges will be vetted very early in the process and resourced appropriately.
Mr. Green: That sounds like an awfully large endeavor to undertake. You're describing very significant change across the Navy and, in fact, across the joint technical community. Are they any other Navy organizations that will be standing up or taking a larger role going forward?
Adm. Shannon: We're still trying to understand what other organizations' responsibilities are going to be in terms of acquisition and requirements. But, certainly in the new organizational setup, the CNO created something called the Tenth Fleet. And, they're going to play a large role in understanding this interoperability challenge. The reason the Tenth Fleet was chosen, by the way, was back in World War II, we had the submarine threat out there that we were really not very familiar with in how to defeat that challenge. So, the leadership in the Navy in those days created the Tenth Fleet just to focus on that one threat, and we obviously did well and were able to mature our anti-submarine capability through the decades. Admiral Ruffet is doing the same thing in the cyber world and creating the Tenth Fleet to help shape the discussion, shape the requirements, and make sure we require the right things with the new Tenth Fleet he's standing up.
Mr. Keegan: Admiral, you mentioned earlier one of your challenges is the cost calculus. You also referenced the fact that, you know, anticipating the future. I was wondering what changes in the acquisition process may be required to facilitate the deployment of advanced technologies in accelerated manner?
Adm. Shannon: Well, that's a really good question. And, it's... I think this one is right down my alley to answer. First, really need to cultivate a culture of innovation that's built on collaboration. That was what the whole open architecture initiative was about. It wasn't plug and play or getting the standards right, it's like getting people to talk with each other and collaborate on the best ideas. And, the way we need to do that is to increase transparency in our science and technology investments. A large portion of our fielded systems have traditionally come from the same DOD laboratories or the same large Department of Defense companies or universities.
We need to broaden that to bring in many different industries together to make sure we get the right ideas. We have to protect our investment in basic research. The numbers I've been looking at show that in terms of research and development investments, basic research has actually gone down where some of our advanced research has gone well. But, you need to get the basic research and the understanding of the science down for people to be able to mature it to the next level. And, finally, we really need to develop a more efficient path for technology transition to the fleet. Some of this acquisition takes way too long, and we don't have the stomach to be able to do that.
One of the things that we did well, I would say heroically in this current war, is the way we rebounded from the IED threat. We were able to recognize the threat and then form up very large, both operational communities as well as technical communities, and to be able to come up with systems and field those systems, put the logistics behind them, and really be able to take on that threat. And, the results were just magnificent, and lots of lives were saved. So, we were able to do it but it took a lot of commitment and it took some money and it took resources and talent to make that happen.
Mr. Keegan: Speaking of talent, the federal civilian sector of the government is also looking at this acquisition contracting, getting the right people in there, the actual human resources to do this is an issue. Do you foresee that as a part of the problem in your area? Do you have a plan to maybe bolster the acquisition workforce?
Adm. Shannon: I don't have a personal plan. The Navy has a plan to build up that capability. There's been a tremendous amount of hiring going on to bring in more people as contract specialists. But, the one thing in contracting. It takes time and experience, and you just can't come out of school and expect to be a great expert negotiator in contracts. So, we have to build that force. We have to maintain that force and not lose these people. So, we have to make sure we keep them in the Navy and educate them along the way.
Mr. Keegan: How is the Navy fostering a culture of innovation? We will ask Rear Admiral James Shannon, commander of the naval surface warfare center, to share with us when our conversation continues on the business of government hour.
Mr. Keegan: Welcome back to the business of government hour. I'm your host Michael Keegan, and our conversation continues with Rear Admiral James Shannon, commander of the naval surface warfare center. Also joining our conversation from IBM is Kevin Green.
Admiral, you mentioned one of the changes needed in the Navy's approach to science and technology is to build a culture of innovation based on collaboration. What does the Navy need to do in order to forge this culture of innovation?
Adm. Shannon: Well, first, you know, I think what we always need to remember and remind ourselves every day that the Navy needs to remain flexible and adaptable to change. Whenever you look at history and you look at navies that didn't succeed and are no longer maybe with us today, it's because they did not remain flexible and adaptable to change. That's, the good news is that's part of our Navy. We tend to always come up with innovative ways that are not written in the book, and I think we need to maintain that sort of thing. But, yesterday's requirements were fairly stable and understood. We understood the threat. We knew how to deal with it. It was a single threat, in many cases monolithic. There was clear lines of control and accountability. But, today, those kind of options are relatively few.
And, I think what really need to understand is watch what's going on with the rest of society. Because the Navy is a microcosm of society, and we need to, not be so rigid or shouldn't be rigid with our military view of things and really see how the society is working. And, you see that with social networking. You know, things like Facebook and blogs, and that type of communication is starting to creep into our workplace. And, I think it's a very good thing because it's sharing ideas. It's a good opportunity to be innovative and to figure out things before you actually have to bring them up for a decision.
One of our commands out in Port Hueneme is actually creating their own internal Facebook kind of page just building off of a good idea. But, I would tell you all of our warfare centers are trying to figure out the best ways to do that.
Mr. Keegan: If you don't mind me asking, we have interviewed Admiral Allen, Thad Allen, of the Coast Guard, and he is really a champion of social networking and has the iCommandant blog. Do you have anything similar to that?
Adm. Shannon: I'll tell you, I am sort of concerned about some of the things that I do, just like any parent that I see on Facebook. And, before I start applying myself to that technology, I want to make sure I understand it fully. What I do like, though, is the energy that I see on it. And, I like the fact that it's fairly open and there's a way that you can control the information. I would say that Admiral Allen is, you know, he is a great leader and he is leading the way, and guys like me need to follow him. And I need to figure out how to do it better.
Mr. Keegan: Well, you mentioned earlier that sort of visionary role of a chief technology officer. Would you tell us what role that part of your responsibility plays in building the culture of innovation?
Adm. Shannon: As far as the chief technology officer, I think what my main role is to get people out of their comfort zone. That has been one of the ways I've approached it recently. We have some great scientists, some great engineers in the warfare center family of commands. But, they've been fairly comfortable in how they've tried to solve problems. And, they've always talked to the same people.
What I'm trying to do is to stretch that a little bit, to get beyond their comfort zone, and to challenge them to share their ideas with other people than they may have, because, when they do that, their ideas are going to be challenged. And, maybe the things that they think are a great idea are maybe not so great. But, when you bring all the ideas together and you listen to what people have to say, I really think we will get a better product in the end. So, I'm pushing that. I'm pushing people beyond their comfort zone.
Mr. Green: Well, you're clearly very close to your customers who encompass the entire Navy and other partners within the Department of Defense as well. So, how do you get an organization the size of the Navy, I mean, well beyond the technical community, to change the way that it thinks and behaves to forward or to improve innovation and innovative processes and approaches?
Adm. Shannon: One of the best ways we've been doing, and we've been doing this for a while, is education. Is, get out there and make sure that we get the information out there that we want people to behave the way we want them to behave. We have to reward people for doing a good job. We have to reward people when they are paving new ways of doing business. And, those are the ways I think we need to get there.
Mr. Green: It's often been said that innovation and technology need to move away from the silo model and toward a more collaborative and multiplatform model. What forms of collaboration need to happen to drive this kind of innovation?
Adm. Shannon: Well, the silo model is a traditional top-down approach. And, if you want innovation to work, I think the way you need to do it is you need to work from the bottom up. Diversity in our workforce is the way we need to do it. Open architectural implementation is a big part of that. And, all open architecture means is not being a closed architecture. It means sharing ideas. It means allowing people to see what's going on.
One of the things that we have not done well in the Navy or in government is control the data, though. We have to make sure that the data that we buy, we share throughout industry, throughout academia, with other services. And, controlling that data is something we haven't done well. So, we have to understand the data we have and figure out a way to make sure it's available to everybody out there. We have to improve the government contractor relationship by making people be more accountable to each other. So, it's not just a one-way street here. The government has to be accountable to the industry as much as industry has to be accountable to government.
When I speak to people in industry, they sometimes feel like it's only the government firing the questions at them and blaming them for whatever product is. The government has to stand up and be accounted for as well. I think we just need to share ideas and technologies that in the past were held as proprietary, because it was easy to say they were proprietary. You know, some things we need to challenge as being whether really proprietary or not.
Mr. Green: Well, as a defense technology leader, I think it's fair to say that you're one of our leading subject matter experts on open architecture. In your view, how well has industry responded to your call for more of a technical approach that folds more into the open architecture model?
Adm. Shannon: I think that's a really great question. And, how you answer it depends on where you sit in this play we call open architecture. Small businesses have aggressively come out and addressed open architecture, because they are looking at this as an opportunity for them to be able to play without having a larger company suck them in and tell them how to do the business. Small businesses, by their nature, really want to be independent. Then, there's also companies that have not traditionally played in defense industry are looking at opportunities to compete and they're looking for fair competition. The only way that can happen is if they can have the same access to that information that, in the past, may have been shut out to them. And, then, there's the traditional partners that we have within industry. I think, to a large measure, I give them credit for listening to us and trying to figure out really how to address this openness. At the same time, they don't want to lose their proprietary goods because they have a lot of investment in those sorts of things.
So, we're working really closely with them to try to understand, you know, how we can branch out, how we can be more collaborative. At the same time, it's very important, in my point of view, that everybody that's a player has the ability to make a profit, to be able to stay in the game as long as they want to stay in the game.
So, not everybody is equally addressing the open architecture initiative. It depends on the business model for each industry that's involved. The old way of, if you've got a niche product keep everybody out, still applies if that's your business model. What we're most interested in in the Navy is getting the best ideas, getting the collaborative approach. And, the other thing you've got to recognize the billions of dollars of taxpayers have invested in in the products that we buy. We ought to own some of it. We ought to be able to claim that we own those, that data because we're the ones putting the money behind it.
So, that's one of the challenges I have in some of my conversations that I have with industry members. That's one of the things I like to bring up is we ought to get something out of it. Now, on the other hand, government has not done a good job controlling that data and controlling that information and making sure that we share it with all vendors who are qualified to do that kind of work. There's a lot of responsibility to be shared but it takes a lot of energy and it takes everybody participating and not trying to go back to the old way of doing business.
Mr. Green: That's a very powerful statement, and you really seem to believe that collaboration is an important element of innovation. Within the surface Navy, how is that community moving to address collaboration and innovation as a cultural issue?
Adm. Shannon: Well, we regularly meet on the issue and what my role as a chief technology officer in the surface warfare enterprise is, I'm really working with the resource sponsors, in this case Rear Admiral Frank Pandoff, who is responsible for resources in the surface Navy. And, he leads what's called a future capabilities team. And, we meet regularly to talk about the different things that we want to invest in and understand how we can link those investments to the strategy that he's trying to follow that the CNO is putting out. So, facilitating discussion is really the main thing that we're looking at. We're really trying to understand the total ownership cost; what's difference between readiness and the actual cost of the systems that were buying. So, it just is a lot of discussion.
Mr. Keegan: Just stepping back a bit, we talked a lot about technology, science and research, and collaboration, but also innovation. I was wondering, before you assumed command or as you anticipated assuming command, was there anything you did to kind of look at the idea of innovation and how, are there any lessons learned from different industries, the federal civilian space? Did anything inform you as you took over your current role?
Adm. Shannon: I think we're living in a great age of innovation today just because of what we're all experiencing with the Internet. You know, just 10 years ago we didn't have the same power of the Internet, and 15 years ago, a lot of people didn't even know what the Internet is. So, we're still in the discovery phase, I think, in understanding this kind of innovative power that's out there. And, if our head was in the sand and we didn't take advantage of it, then shame on us.
So, what I've learned is what we have all learned is to be open-minded to different ideas. Ideas that are not typical within your own organization. Listen to what people's ideas are, and see that there's something behind there and see if you can use them. What has changed from days gone past is we are more open-minded today. We used to only have one way of doing business. Tradition was one of our major core values. I would tell you today tradition is not a core value. Tradition is very important, but it's not a core value of our organization. So, because we have to be adaptable and flexible to that kind of change.
Mr. Keegan: Well, most achievements in government, especially in the armed forces is not a solo act. Would you elaborate on your approach to empowering your staff, the folks under your command?
Adm. Shannon: Yeah, it's again a great question. My thing is to always delegate down to the lowest level. And, just a short anecdote on that. Recently, I had to go away for six weeks of training to what's called capstone training. It's training required by law for flag officers and general officers to learn more about what's going on in the military organization. So, for six weeks I was away. And, when I came back, I realized nobody missed me. Okay? So, the fact is we have a very good organization in the warfare center and everybody knows how to do the job for the person one up and one down. And, we empower people by trusting people. And, that's the biggest thing you have to do in any organization is build trust. We build trust internal to the warfare center, we build trust across the whole naval sea systems command. And, whenever that trust breaks down, that's when you find we have other problems. So, you have to always build trust.
Mr. Keegan: What does the future hold for the U.S. Navy science and technology research? We will ask rear admiral James Shannon, commander of the naval surface warfare center, to share with us when our conversation continues on the business of government hour.
Mr. Keegan: Welcome back to the business of government hour. I'm your host Michael Keegan and our conversation continues with Rear Admiral James Shannon, commander of the naval surface warfare center. Also joining our conversation from IBM is Kevin Green.
Admiral, let's transition to the future. What new technologies or trends in information technology do you see the Navy adopting in national security systems to benefit the future?
Adm. Shannon: The trend in technology has a lot to do with computers and the computing base. And, in terms of national security and defense, the term you're hearing a lot is called cyber war. We really need to get our hands around that. And, that was something I alluded to earlier in the radio show when we were talking about Tenth Fleet and what they're trying to do there. But, we really know, I think, in the future that personal computers are going to become smaller, more people are going to have access to a computer, and then you hear that term cloud computing going on where computers will be less of a tool and that will be more of a portal to the information that's out there. And, controlling that information and the volume of data and information is something that really nobody fully has their hands around and being able to control that value will be really important.
So, what technologies are going to be out there to power those sorts of things and how can we use that technology in warfare systems? You have to look at power and electricity. How are you going to make that system work? Is it going to be used solely with batteries or are we tapped out on batteries and we have to look at other forms of energy, such as the sun, or heat, or just motion? And, then, when you look at how you can use it to your advantage, how can a potential adversary use that against you? Such as motion being used to power a system to defeat you. It's passive all the time and all of a sudden your motion make something happen. We're going to have to really get our hands around that type of thing.
And, of course, we have to look at energy in the form of conserving energy. That's a major initiative in today's Navy. I referred earlier in the show about great white fleet. I think we're going to hear something about the great green fleet in the future with Secretary Mabus. He's really challenged us in our community to come up with ways to conserve fuel and energy, because the cost of fuel and energy is so great that it's hurting our ability to get underway and to train. As anyone who's gone to sea knows, you have to be at sea to really become experienced at that business. You can't be good at it if you're always tied up. So, we have to figure out ways to be efficiently get our fleet underway to do the missions that we want to send them on.
There's a lot of challenges there. Autonomous systems. You see that in today's fight with what's going on with unmanned aerial vehicles. Other autonomous vehicles, robotic systems. We're doing a lot in that now but we had to look at nanotechnology. And those are all the areas that where I'm trying to shape the discussion.
Mr. Keegan: Can I pick up on the green aspect? Are you folks adding that to your portfolio specifically or is it just something that's understood in the way you operate? That you're going to go in that direction?
Adm. Shannon: On no, it's definitely in our portfolio. The big thing going on today up in Philadelphia at our warfare center up there is the electric drive. We're looking at how to apply electric drive on our ships. We'll be doing that in the not-too-distant future and it's a way to cut down on fuel.
Mr. Keegan: The evolution of war fighting has undergone historic shifts within the last decade alone. What other shifts you anticipate in the military in the next decade? And how do you envision your role in office shifting to adapt?
Adm. Shannon: Well, I think we're in the right place in the warfare centers in adapting to this. One of the things that we're really looking at is hypersonic technology and directed energy systems such as lasers. Certainly, there's been a lot in the press over the past 10 years or so with regard to directed energy and how to use that, but, we need to understand it better. I think technology has really gone fast and far. We're seeing where we can actually start applying directed energy in some of our systems. But, it's all about speed in this business. One of the acronyms I learned as a young officer was called MATES, and that stood for mission, asset, threat, environment, and speed. And speed is life in our business. So, how fast we can come up with this technology, how we can apply to do things faster is really the idea that we need to understand.
Mr. Green: With respect to the people in the Navy who conduct research and development, science and technology, the population has been shrinking since mid-1990s. Do you see the trend reversing, and, if you do, why? And, to that end, what steps are being taken to attract and maintain a high-quality technical and professional workforce?
Adm. Shannon: I don't know if the trend has yet reversed. I think the trend is stabilized, though, in that perhaps we're at that tipping point. Not quite tipped over yet. And, I think a lot of it has changed just due to commercial technology and social networks. More people seem to want to get into the game. They want to get into the service. The current young generation sees value in government service, they want to live a life of consequence, they understand that they have a voice in government, they see equal opportunity in our employment and working with us. So, right now government we have a very aggressive hiring process going on. Recently, we went up to Detroit to hire some of the engineers out there that were looking at losing work. We're bringing in a lot of talent from Detroit and at the mid-level because you just can't bring everybody in at the younger level. You've got to bring some people in at mid level who have experience in other areas that can be applied to our systems.
We had a major hiring event out in Corona, California, where we brought in lots of people there, over 1000 people attended, and the talent is just simply amazing. So, I think we're starting to see that tipping point and we're going, the trend's going to reverse itself.
Mr. Keegan: Admiral, for those young system engineers and architects just completing their education who have an interest in the military or in public service in general, what advice would you give them in pursuing a career in public service or the military in science and technology, or, ideally, all three?
Adm. Shannon: Well, first of all, service doesn't apply to the military, and I always like to remind people that you can serve in many different ways. I've said this before publicly, but I do even tell my own kids this. It's important to serve because you're giving back. But, the great thing about government service is when you are in government service, you are living a life of consequence. The decisions you make will not just only impact the organization that you're in, it will impact everybody in the nation and possibly the world. And, even the young people that are making decisions can make decisions that are very consequential and very important to what this nation has to offer.
So, I always like to tell people that service is not about them. It's about giving back, and it's being a part of something bigger and feeling or being on a winning team. And, that's purely an American viewpoint. But, that's one of the things I feel in the United States of America that we are a winning team and everybody wants to be a part of that. When you serve in government, you're guaranteed some sense of purpose, some sense of duty, a real sense of honor. And, you get to follow the path of other great Americans that we've studied in history. It's a very much exhilarating and it's what Teddy Roosevelt spoke about when he spoke about the man in the arena. You're in there, you're doing something, you win some battles, you lose some battles, but you're in there doing the battle, you're not sitting on the sidelines watching what's going on. So, that's what this kind of service offers you.
Mr. Keegan: That's wonderful advice. I want to thank you for your time today, but, more importantly, Kevin and I would like to thank you for your dedicated service to our country.
Adm. Shannon: Thank you very much. You know, it's really a great opportunity for me to be able to speak to your listening audience and explain what the naval surface warfare center is all about. We go back a long time. A lot of people think the warfare center is just one location in Dahlgren, but, as I mentioned in the earlier part of the broadcast, we're all over the country. And, we are a legacy of the Navy from back in the 1850s and 1860s when we first created some of our proving grounds in Annapolis and Indian Head and Dahlgren, and then through the two great wars in the last century it kind of got a lot larger and created these laboratories to the early 1990s. We actually created the warfare centers in 1992.
And, we've created them to become more efficient and to reduce costs, to get our control around the total ownership cost. Even back in 1992, that was talked about. And, when you look at the indicators of what we've accomplished between 1992 and today, our overhead costs in the warfare centers have gone down by 30 percent. Our productivity has increased by 30 percent. We have close to 20 percent more scientists and engineers per capita in our work force. The cost, the hourly cost of labor is less today than it was just a few years ago, because there's so many efficiencies in what we're doing. We're getting more bang for the buck, or return on investment, less direct labor hours spent on overhead, more spent on actual labor. And, that's because of the great ideas.
Whoever was leading the Navy in 1982 when they said let's create this warfare center enterprise, it was a good decision. Because, the total ownership costs have come down as a result of them. So, I like to be able to tell that story. We've got a lot more work to do. We have a lot more efficiencies to find, but we have a very spirited and innovative workforce who are really the intellectual capital of the Navy. And, they're out there doing their best every day, not just for the Navy today, but building the Navy of tomorrow.
Mr. Keegan: An important mission. This has been the business of government hour featuring a conversation with Rear Admiral James Shannon, commander of the naval surface warfare center. My co-host has been Kevin Green, IBM's defense industry leader. Be sure to join us next week for another informative, insightful, and in-depth conversation on improving government effectiveness. For the business of government hour, I am Michael Keegan. Thanks for joining us.