The Cheese Has Moved: An Interview With Lt. Gen. Paul Ostrowski

By Arpi Dilanian and Matthew HowardNovember 4, 2019

The Cheese Has Moved
Lt. Gen. Paul Ostrowski, principal military deputy to Dr. Bruce D. Jette, ASA(ALT), addresses members of the Army Acquisition Workforce Jan. 24, 2018, at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, about ways they can streamline acquisition. (Photo by Catherine DeRan, ... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

Few people know acquisition better than Lt. Gen. Paul A. Ostrowski. As the principal military deputy to the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology (ASA[ALT]), Ostrowski is at the forefront of the Army's modernization renaissance. With prior acquisition assignments that include Program Executive Office Soldier and multiple stints within the Office of the ASA(ALT) and U.S. Special Operations Command, he knows what it takes to change the way the Army does business. We sat down with him to discuss the role sustainment plays in acquisition .

Can you discuss the fundamental relationship between Army acquisition and battlefield sustainment?

The key is to understand and be able to move forward in a multi-domain fight against a peer or near-peer competitor. We've been at war for the past 17-plus years in a counterinsurgency (COIN) environment. From a maintenance perspective, we had the best of all worlds--safe zones and forward operating bases where we could bring in field service representatives (FSRs) to maintain our vehicles and equipment. If we continue to rely on FSRs to be our maintainers in large-scale, multi-domain combat operations, it's going to be a "fail."

Going forward, we have to make sure systems we develop are easy to maintain by Soldiers. We have to spend more time looking into the logistics piece as we start the procurement process. As we buy capability for the Army, we've always looked at best value across the entire spectrum. The price is important, but what is the capability it's really bringing? We judge things based on technical aspects of the capability we're going to get.

Historically, what we've not brought in is sustainability. How intuitive is this system? Can Soldiers operate and maintain it without a ton of training? If we start bringing those factors into the evaluations up front, at the end of the day we're going to get a much better piece of equipment that is sustainable by Soldiers.

You've often said we're too focused on following processes rather than being focused on the end product. What are we doing to enable a shift in culture?

It starts at the top. You have to go out to the folks doing the yeoman's day-in and day-out knife fighting down in the trenches and let them know they're empowered. Whether it's sustainment or acquisition, let them know they are now in a position where they can take risk, because you've got their back. And that's what we've done. We've delegated authorities so they no longer have to bring 90 percent of decisions up to the Pentagon to get a "yes or no" answer; they're empowered to make their own decisions. We've cut down the amount of documentation required so they can focus on what's important.

What is important? The measure of success isn't getting to a milestone in the acquisition process. It is't, getting into the engineering, manufacturing, and development phase or going into low- or full-rate production. It's about getting capability to Soldiers. If you keep your eyes on that prize, everybody wins.

Change is hard. There is a great book about change, Who Moved My Cheese? If you haven't read it, the point is the cheese has moved and we have to embrace that and move with it because it's going to make the difference for Soldiers and their survival on the next battlefield. That's where our attention must be focused, not on whether we followed a strict process or checked a block. The question is, "Did we develop and put capability in the hands of Soldiers to make a difference on the battlefield?"

So it's up to leadership; we have to lead our way through this. It's making a difference; people do feel empowered. Some don't and are leaving our forces, and that's okay because they've done great work all these years. But it's about being able to adapt.

Companies adapt all the time; the government must be able to do the same. I know our people can do it. You just have to ask, empower, and trust them.

How are processes being reformed to bring new technologies to the warfighter faster?

Quite frankly, it started with the hill. Congress has done a great job helping us. They understand our Cold War-era acquisition processes could not be sustained moving forward for two reasons. First, the threat doesn't have to worry about those kinds of processes. They are not constrained by heavy oversight efforts that are lethargic, conservative, and lead to capabilities already almost obsolete by the time they're fielded. Second, technology has been evolving at such a rapid rate that Moore's Law is no longer applicable in many sectors. Things don't come and go within two years; it's less than that. For some electronics, it is two weeks or even two days.

In looking at their oversight of the Department of Defense (DOD), Congress realized the amount of regulation in place was preventing us from bringing on next generation capabilities at the pace needed to get ahead. So they legislated several things to give us an opportunity to do business differently. We are getting away from a lockstep, regulation-based federal acquisition process in favor of doing business the way industry does business with industry.

This has opened up a ton of opportunities. Options like "other transaction authorities" (OTAs) are allowing us to engage both traditional and nontraditional partners in a much more expeditious and conversational environment, while maintaining the legal sufficiency to move forward with contracts. Not only can you experiment, make use of the prototypes, and take them through low-rate initial production, but you can also begin fielding and go to full-rate production. That's huge.

DOD typically does business with about 5,000 companies in the United States; there are over 23 million. Those other 22,995,000 have a lot of technology that may have a military application. Some were never designed to be dual-use, but that doesn't mean we're not able to use them. In the Army, there's lethality and fighting and winning our nation's wars, but what else do we do? Humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, you name it--there are tons of things beyond the lethality piece where we need those same kinds of capabilities.

Think about communications and surveillance. Are things like those new Ring doorbells not intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) tools? Sure, they were designed to protect your home, but how many thousands of ways can we use them? Take my uniform. We have tons of outdoor enthusiasts in the world and a market that answers their demand for lightweight, breathable, all-weather clothing; isn't there a military application for that? The answer is yes.

It's a really interesting environment we find ourselves in. We have to reach out to these companies and small startups and help the incubators and accelerators. Finding these technologies can help solve our problems faster.

What impact has two years of favorable budgets had?

Prior to the last two years, we took the limited resources we had and focused them on gaining readiness. It has paid off in the past, and we can expect it to pay off in the future. By 2022, we're on track to have 66 percent of our brigade combat teams (BCTs) at the highest level of readiness. Even in the meager years, readiness was always the number one priority. We have to be able to fight tonight.

More recently, we've had the opportunity to take advantage of additional money. Congress helped us out with funding beyond the limits set in the Budget Control Act (BCA). Because of that, we've been able to focus money toward beginning the science, technology, research, and development work necessary to bring on next-generation capability. We're beginning to get past being in a position where we have to maintain parity and just continue to upgrade current capabilities without ever really getting overmatched.

The additional spending is allowing us to bring about the cross-functional teams at Army Futures Command (AFC). Look at air and missile defense, for example. We've had the best air defense artillery in the world up to date--the U.S. Air Force. In terms of being able to defend our equities and forces in COIN environments, the Army never had to put money into missiles and space because we had air dominance; we're not going to have that against a peer or near-peer competitor. So we're focusing money into those particular areas to modernize and are making great progress.

The question is how long can we keep that up? We can't count on continued increases in the budget forever, so we've had to make hard decisions. This year, we've moved over $30 billion around in the Program Objective Memorandum to get after modernization. Normally, when you move $5 billion around, it's a lot; when you move $30 billion, it makes a statement.

We are focusing this Army on those modernization priorities. Whether we go back to BCA levels or sustain the $180 billion-plus budget we had last fiscal year, our modernization priorities are going to be fully funded. We've made that commitment.

How does sustainment tie into AFC?

There are three pillars within AFC: futures and concepts, combat capabilities development, and combat systems. Futures and concepts looks at what tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) we will need to fight and win on the future battlefield from that pure competition perspective. What are the TTPs for operations in a megacity or underground?

Futures and concepts also helps develop the unit of action. Right now, we're organized around BCTs. That's worked fairly well with respect to COIN environments and under AirLand Battle doctrine. But with Multi-Domain Operations--the concept we're evolving into doctrine--what kind of unit of action will we need to dominate in those kinds of environments? Are we going to need cyber or space warriors? What impacts will technologies like artificial intelligence, robotics, or quantum computing have?

The second pillar, combat capabilities development, then takes those concepts and begins the experimentation to bring about materiel solutions. This allows us to visualize and produce physical models of equipment to take to Soldiers for feedback. If we're going to fail on something because it doesn't work, we want to fail early and cheaply. But because our funding and attention are focused on those modernization priorities, and because we're getting the Soldier involved early and upfront, if we win, then we get big wins.

Together, futures and concepts and combat capability development also address lifecycle sustainment management and the long-term viability of our systems. Along with our program managers (PMs) and contracting officers, they ensure we factor in sustainability--in terms of both reliability and maintainability--upfront and are designing and building easily intuitive systems for our Soldiers.

The last pillar, combat systems, is the acquisition community. Here at the Office of the ASA(ALT), we are a separate entity from Army Futures Command. But we are nevertheless linked because we are the ones to take those experimentations and turn them into pieces of equipment that can be fielded. The combination of all three pillars working together is really what's important.

Can you elaborate on some of those game-changing technologies?

A big focus is gaining standoff from the threat. One of the things other nations understand is they never want to go into a close fight with the United States; our close fight capabilities are phenomenal. Nobody wants to go up against our BCTs in a one-on-one fight. So what have they done? Rightfully and understandably so, they've bought standoff--the ability to attack us in depth and from a much greater distance than we can reciprocate. We're outgunned and outdistanced in certain areas right now. We have to turn that around.

Hypersonic defense will give us the ability to reach out and touch threats at much greater ranges than we can today. Robotics will allow us to keep Soldiers out of harm's way. Whether it's clearing a complex obstacle or providing ISR capabilities in the air and on the ground, robots and unmanned aerial systems (UASs) can keep Soldiers apart from the upfront threat.

Within the next four years, we'll also be bringing in high-energy lasers designed to intercept rockets, artillery, and mortars (RAM), UASs, and cruise missiles. Right now, if we want to take down a $500 UAS, we shoot a $100,000 missile at it. It's very effective, but is that really the best way to take care of that particular target, especially in a swarm environment?

We do it today because we have no other way of doing it. Iron Dome, for instance, is the Israeli system that takes down RAM. We have Patriot missiles and a variety of other options to go after certain sets of select targets. But high-energy lasers open up a whole new realm because they have an unlimited magazine. As long as the system is fueled, we have the ability to fire as many shots as we need to take down a swarm of UASs, or as many barrages of artillery or mortars as necessary.

These are just a few examples, but there are tons of others. Technology will be critical to our ability to fight and win in a peer or near-peer fight. Most importantly, though, it allows us the opportunity to deter--never going to war in the first place.

Are there any lessons learned the Army can capitalize on?

We all have our successes and failures; we must be able to look in and see what happened. Regardless of service, I've seen a common theme throughout my career: to get to the end game of a capability in the field, you have to start off with a requirement that's executable.

What do I mean by that? If I'm asking for a hoverboard that can hold a Soldier and fly at 10,000 feet in today's fight, that's called unobtainable; it just does not exist. In the past the services, and frankly the Army, have often written their requirements in a vacuum. A requirement developer would say, "I want 99 percent confidence this thing can do what it's supposed to do 99 percent of the time." That's great, but it's going to cost a billion dollars and 10 years to test to the 99th percentile. What if we say 80-80 percent and then hold the contractor responsible for 99-99 percent?

The other thing is asking for certain technical readiness level (TRL) requirements. Somebody can say we're already at TRL 6, but there's the component, the system, and the integration piece. Just because you have an alternator at TRL 6, does it make a difference to the engine when you put it in? What's its TRL now? What about when you put the engine in a vehicle? We may be at a TRL 6 in one place, but that does not mean we're at that TRL level across the board from a system and integration perspective.

Go back over time and look at the failures of all the services. We were too easy to rush to requirements that were unobtainable. The technologies weren't achievable in the time frame we thought they would be. We misdiagnosed where we were from a TRL perspective, and we allowed requirements creep to continue and continued to gold-plate the capability. If you look across the board, that set of circumstances always gets us in trouble.

We have to break that, and that's what we've done with the cross-functional teams. Requirement developers aren't writing requirements in a vacuum anymore. The science and technology folks are in the room saying, "Nope, that technology's just not there yet; don't ask for that because it's not going to happen."

You have a tester on the team saying, "Don't ask for 99-99 unless you want to pay for the testing, in time and money, to get that reliability and confidence."

The PM and contracting officer are there; industry is there. You've gone through the whole process with the right people in the room so that when we write a requirement, we know it's achievable.

And once we get that requirement locked in and the Chief of Staff of the Army has signed off on it, nobody gets to change it. Only the chief can make that decision. All of these factors will stop a lot of the fallacies we've been known for in the past.

To sustainers in the field, what advice do you have as the Army reaches an inflection point for modernization?

Stay engaged. Right now, we need feedback from across the entire force. We have to be sure we are doing the right things in terms of sustainment. The way we're going to find that out and know if we're doing a good job, bad job, or something in between is through feedback from those living it every day. It's easy to sit here and think the world is great from the Pentagon, but it is a much different story, most likely, out in the force. We need you to stay engaged and continue to give us that feedback so we can continue to develop this process and make it even better.


Arpi Dilanian is a strategic analyst in the Army G-4's Logistics Initiatives Group. She holds a bachelor's degree from American University and a master's degree from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

Matthew Howard is a strategic analyst in the Army G-4's Logistics Initiatives Group. He holds bachelor's and master's degrees from Georgetown University.


This article was published in the July-September 2019 issue of Army Sustainment.

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