DoD shifting readiness priorities from short-term to strategic

One of the Defense Department’s top officials says the military is at an inflection point when it comes to readiness: shifting from immediate needs to a more strategic, long-term strategy.

That approach will be helpful as the department tries to keep its competitive advantage against near-peer competitors like China and Russia, said Shawn Skelly, DoD assistant secretary for readiness and force management during a Tuesday Professional Services Council event.

“It’s understandable and it’s easy to prioritize near-term readiness when urgent demands arise in the situation of today,” Skelly said. “The future feels far away, but as Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. C.Q. Brown and Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger have noted, we need to better balance the risks and tradeoffs between immediate requirements and availability, and future availability and readiness and modernization.”

Skelly said that while operational readiness is a key component of strategic readiness, it is not the only lens through which the department can view readiness.

“The department recognizes that they need to broaden its aperture to a more strategic view of readiness. Yet organizational incentives and processes are currently optimized to focus operationally,” Skelly said. “The focus on fight tonight or operational readiness permeates beyond simply how we prepare forces and influences how we measure them. That introduces risk and we may lose sight of the future challenge we’re charged to be prepared for.”

Those include everything from near-peer competitors to cyber challenges to climate change, Skelly said.

One way DoD wants to move to strategic readiness is to focus on the use of data.

“We’re building significant momentum to better understand the follow on effects of decisions and ensuring that tradeoffs and risks are fully understood or anticipated years in advance,” Skelly said. “We are using data to balance the readiness of today with requirements to develop and field forces and capabilities for the challenges of tomorrow. That will enable better decision making with a clearer understanding of the risk acceptance being undertaken.”

Along with the Marine Corps, Skelly’s readiness team is in the process of developing a Readiness Decision Impact Model. The tool will use data to identify the impacts of policy resources and operations decisions. It will take into account current readiness, future readiness and modernization to provide leaders with additional fidelity for decision-making and risk management.

“We envision it will allow us to trace how a particular senior level decision about a deployment could impact the unit, the service combatant commands and our ability to modernize other capabilities,” Skelly said. “We know often one platform is needed to test another kind of capability all the time. Predictive modeling doesn’t just help us understand the second, third or fourth order effects of a decision, they can help us stay steps ahead of our competitors decisions. Advanced analytics will only be impactful if our leaders are equipped with thorough education and training to derive decisions, and assess risks based on expanded data and predictive analysis.”

Skelly said the model and readiness shift is a direct response to DoD’s data strategy.

Kathleen Hicks, DoD’s deputy secretary, signed out that strategy in May.

The decrees state that the Pentagon will maximize data sharing and rights for data use, publish data assets in a federated catalog, and make data useable by artificial intelligence and machines. DoD will also store data in a safe manner that is uncoupled from hardware and software and implement best practices to secure authentication, access management, encryption and protection of data.

Hicks wrote that the changes are “critical to improving performance and creating decision advantage at all echelons from the battlespace to the board room, ensuring U.S. competitive advantage. To accelerate the department’s efforts, leaders must ensure all DoD data is visible, accessible, understandable, linked, trustworthy, interoperable and secure.”

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