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Former defense official argues for more commercial tech

Jun. 12, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Bill Lynn, CEO of Finmeccanica North America, says global defense companies need to use more commercial technology.
Bill Lynn, CEO of Finmeccanica North America, says global defense companies need to use more commercial technology. (US Defense Department)

Global defense companies need to import and adapt more commercial technology into military weapons and systems of the future, a former US deputy defense secretary turned industry CEO said Wednesday.

The Pentagon is more often using these types of technologies, such as 3-D printing and IT systems, allowing troops to use smartphones to view real-time reconnaissance information.

“The model was to develop things internally and then put them out [commercially],” said Bill Lynn, CEO of Finmeccanica North America and a former deputy defense secretary under Robert Gates and Leon Panetta.

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“We still need to do that in some cases, but in many more cases we’re going to have to pull commercial technologies in and militarize them and operationalize them,” he said Wednesday at a Center for a New American Security (CNAS) conference.

Lynn and retired Adm. James Stavridis, now dean of Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, presented a just-completed CNAS report on the future of the global defense industry.

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There is more commercial technology in defense than there has been in past decades, Lynn said. In the past five years, the commercial content in defense acquisitions has risen from about 10 percent to about 30 percent, he said.

“To maintain our technological edge, what you’re going to have to see is the defense sector is going to have to become more an importer [of commercial technology] than we have in the past,” Lynn said. “The balance has been more toward export.”

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Those exports have included GPS and the Internet. Some capabilities that will shape the future include cyber, unmanned, biology and nano technologies, Lynn said.

But, the Defense Department needs to lower the barriers of entry to allow more commercial technology into defense acquisitions, Lynn said.

That said, the defense industry is moving too slowly to adjust to trends in technology and security, Lynn and Stavridis said in the CNAS report.

Many defense companies have been investing less in research-and-development programs, instead executing a short-term strategy of moving cash back to shareholders, Lynn said. That puts the industry at risk, he said.

Some companies are starting to raise research-and-development investment levels, Lynn noted.

Marillyn Hewson, Lockheed Martin’s chairman, CEO and president, said Monday that her firm plans to boost its internal research-and-development spending by more than $30 million this year.

But despite the increase, the company’s investment in these types of projects is still tens of millions of dollars less than it was 15 years ago.

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