Mabus: Navy needs flexibility to keep technological edge

Threats are changing, foreign militaries are changing, international relations are changing — that’s why flexibility is essential for the Navy to maintain its technological edge, Secretary Ray Mabus said Wednesday at an event hosted by DefenseOne.

“We’ve got to keep that technology. That’s why one of the reasons in the budget, you’ve got to protect [science and technology] and [research and development money],” he said.

Even with money for technology, research and development, the federal acquisition process needs to be conducive to buying IT in a timely manner.

The Navy recently launched an Innovation Cell to speed up purchases. The cell streamlines the Navy’s acquisition process and prioritizes its needs to stay ahead of the curve.

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The Navy’s attack submarines, for example, are changing rapidly based on evolving threats — and that means the Navy needs more flexibility to quickly buy new technology for the subs.

“Even if we don’t know what the threats are going to be, how flexible are these weapons systems? How flexible are the platforms that carry them?” Mabus said.

He said unmanned vehicles and submarines could be particularly helpful to the Navy, especially as it uncovers underground mines.

“The way we hunt mines now is we put sailors into the middle of the minefield, which is not ideal,” he said.

That risk could be easily mitigated through unmanned submarines that detect the mines. A drone helicopter could follow along with the submarine, to dually monitor efforts related to the mine. Unmanned systems would explore the dangerous zones, while keeping sailors away from the minefield, Mabus said.

Investing in cybersecurity is another priority as the Defense Department strives to keep its technological edge.

“Cyber is one of the futures of warfare,” Mabus said. “Cyber is in everything now, not just weapons.”

When planning a cyber strategy, Mabus said it’s important to keep in mind control and communications systems, along with weapons. “Because we are a network,” he said.

The Navy recently released a five-year cyber strategy, outlining five major priorities with benchmarks to meet each goal. The strategy encourages the military branch to continue using cyber as a communication tool, but also allow officers to use it on the battle field.

“I think it’s always going to be tricky. There will be concerns or threats coming up. There’s always a race,” Mabus said.

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