Why 'Efficiency’ Is Killing Us: A Call To Make Our Military Effective Again

The U.S. Government has become enamored with efficiency and lost sight of effectiveness. Here's what needs to change.

Pete Newell

April 6, 2023

The U.S. Government has become enamored with efficiency and lost sight of effectiveness. Reduced spending coupled with antiquated systems and capabilities are the American standard, even when better solutions exist. That ongoing misjudgment is costing us dearly, and will soon put our worst adversaries ahead of us in the innovation, technology, and defense ecosystems unless we alter course. 

America needs to shift its focus if it hopes to maintain its place as leader in the next great conflict. In my recent chat with Marshall Kosloff on his Realignment Podcast, we discussed The Pentagon’s innovation quagmire, and articulated rudimentary steps the Department of Defense could take to right the ship toward effective leadership. We talked about changing ineffective Defense culture; adding more accountability to the military’s brass; and increasing The Pentagon’s overall agility – all required steps to maintain relevance in a fast-paced and dynamic world. See below for takeaways from our discussion.

Disrupt the culture that doesn’t innovate well

The current culture in the Department of Defense stymies innovation. It is risk averse, and emphasizes compliance and process over speed. To change this, the DoD needs to become an ambidextrous organization that can execute long-range plans while simultaneously delivering urgently needed capabilities. Achieving that shift starts with building an ecosystem of people and entities that understand the concept of nation acceleration and can rapidly build operating concepts around new technology and big problems. This change also requires an innovation doctrine to guide how we deliver solutions with speed and urgency. 

Build longevity to enable accountability 

Another key lies in establishing opportunities for longevity for military leaders. Currently, military assignments are too short, with leaders and staff rotating out after a couple of years. Compare this to Silicon Valley, where, when an investor stands up a fund, they're with that fund for at least 10 years – they see it through. 

DoD’s leaders will never be held accountable for the results of their innovation work; somebody else will be, and that inconsistency is part of the problem when it comes to getting the DoD to innovate at speed. Most new leaders come in and try to change something. But by the time they figure out what they're supposed to change, battle the bureaucracy to start the change and then see the first results, they're headed for a new job. Meanwhile the position is gapped and the system resets waiting on the next person to fill the role.

The government can change that, signaling innovation as a priority. One example would be by creating a third undersecretary whose job it would be to oversee innovation at scale. Prioritizing this area in such a visible way would lead to an innovation doctrine, define different rules for different people, and enable ways to rapidly harness the innovation ecosystem in a commercial world to deliver capabilities at speed and scale for the next conflict, regardless of where the conflict is.

Become nimble to become effective

Modern times make it hard to keep secrets from enemies. What will set one opponent above the other is its agility and the speed of its ability to recognize something has changed dramatically in the conflict. Most important will be the pace at articulating the challenge in a manner that people can understand, then the speed of our ability to rapidly assemble groups of people to solve it. America’s best example of this kind of nimble action was The Manhattan Project. Our people came together fast and quickly produced a first, best, most adequate solution to put into the conflict. We determined whether or not we understood the problem to begin with, then determined how fast the technology and the concept would change to ensure what we were producing would not become obsolete. The result changed history.

That is the mentality America needs to employ once again to keep our place as leader in future conflicts. Are we ready to become an effective military again?

Hear more in our full discussion or skip to the timestamps below: 

3:17: Asia Pacific is a powder keg, but it’s hard to know where the next conflict will be

11:20: The Army’s Rapid Equipping Force 101

19:44: John Boyd’s OODA Loop and why it matters

27:26: Why it’s crucial to know the problem on the battlefield

31:33: Anyone can be a supervillain. We need to make it easier to be a superhero

39:55: The role of doctrine in the military

48:27: Why have we been stuck with the same problem for so long?

53:42: What will incentivize America to change the way it approaches defense innovation?

56:18: Seeing a threat vs. the ability to recognize a threat and react

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