None of what the Army Rapid Capabilities Office does can be found in a requirements document, so the office’s director of operations, Maj. Gen. Walter E. Piatt, provides an overview and answers to questions about how strategic demand drives its battle rhythm and ground rules.
“The art of war teaches us to rely not on the likelihood of the enemy’s not coming, but on our own readiness to receive him; not on the chance of his not attacking, but rather on the fact that we have made our position unassailable.” Written by the legendary Chinese general and military strategist Sun Tzu, these words are 2,500 years old, yet they speak directly to how we must prepare and modernize today’s Army.
Our enemies are chipping away at our long-held technological dominance and deterrence. They’ve studied our strengths, such as comprehensive battlefield communication networks linked to GPS, and turned them into vulnerabilities. They’ve exploited commercial technological advances, such as jammers and drones, faster than our own requirements and acquisition processes can keep up.
DOD’s third offset strategy is attacking the problem by aggressively adopting the disruptive technologies, operational tactics and organizational constructs necessary to compete in today’s environment and deter potential adversaries now and in the future. In the Army, the recently created Rapid Capabilities Office is fortunate enough to be at the forefront of the effort to enable both the third offset and the Army modernization strategy.
The Rapid Capabilities Office is just one piece of the Army’s overarching effort to make the acquisition system work better to answer strategic demands. It gives the Army a way to constantly evaluate the threat environment, put the highest-priority gaps in front of senior leaders and accelerate capabilities fast enough to make a difference. But we’re not just responding to the enemy’s actions–we’re also taking the initiative to find those disruptive capabilities and create overmatch so our adversaries don’t want to take us on.
None of this is found in a requirements document. So how does the Rapid Capabilities Office deliver on its mandate? Over the past few months, in establishing the details of how the organization will function, our team has developed the charter, battle rhythm and other processes that we will use. In the interest of transparency and teamwork across the Army, we have shared an outline of our operations and answered several key questions below.
The future is unknown, and we have to be prepared to defeat an enemy we do not understand with methods not yet developed and with means not yet invented. The Army must be prepared to fight in a contested, multidomain battlefield that combines land, air, sea, space and cyber. The Rapid Capabilities Office will enable these imperatives, complementing the Army’s overall modernization strategy by doing what it takes to move faster when the world demands it.
Q. WHAT IS THE SCOPE FOR RAPID CAPABILITIES OFFICE PROJECTS, AND WHAT IS YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH THE RAPID EQUIPPING FORCE (REF) AND PROGRAMS OF RECORD (PORS)?
A. We are focused on urgent, immediate or emerging threats as defined by Army leadership, where the materiel solution meets a combatant commander’s need and can be developed and fielded in one to five years. Our primary focus is on capabilities that enable the Army to fight in contested environments. The initial categories we’re looking at are cyber; electronic warfare; survivability; and positioning, navigation and timing (PNT), which enables troops to operate when their GPS signals are jammed or compromised.
We are not replacing the REF, which does a fantastic job of answering immediate needs from Soldiers on the ground; that mission will continue. We will work closely with the REF to give our formations the right capability solutions at the right place and right time to be successful.
We are also not an end run around the PORs that produce systems for the entire Army and the full spectrum of war. We are focused on specific regions and specific threats, which will allow us to combine technologies in innovative ways, do a quick assessment and deliver them to the point of need as soon as possible. Even if it’s only an 80 percent solution, getting it into Soldiers’ hands to use and experiment with puts us closer to the target than before. What we learn from these projects may also help us make smarter decisions for the Army’s long-term programs.
Q. WHAT IS YOUR BATTLE RHYTHM FOR MEETING WITH SENIOR LEADERS, AND HOW WILL THE RAPID CAPABILITIES OFFICE VET PROJECTS BEFORE PRESENTING THEM FOR DECISIONS?
A. The Rapid Capabilities Office reports to a board of directors led by the secretary of the Army and including the chief of staff of the Army and Army acquisition executive. The board meets approximately every 30 days.
Everything that goes to the board is informed by the work that the Army is already doing, such as the G-2’s threat assessment, the G-3/5/7’s priority list and various requirements and gap analysis by the Training and Doctrine Command. The Rapid Capabilities Office is relying on total Army expertise to confirm what is most pressing for us to address, how best to address it, and how our projects will support larger strategic goals.
The team also came up with an innovative, virtual tool we’re calling the Rapid Capabilities Office Decision Book. We will use the book to collect specific feedback from various commands so projects can be vetted within that quick board decision cycle.
Q. HOW WILL THE RAPID CAPABILITIES OFFICE TRANSITION PROTOTYPING EFFORTS TO PORS?
A. Since we’re operating on a small scale, the Army can use this office to take some risks that large programs can’t. That will be a good thing for PORs that work with the Rapid Capabilities Office to accelerate a certain component of the program to answer pressing needs–and maybe in the process find something that should transition permanently. A good example is how we are collaborating with the Project Manager (PM) for Electronic Warfare & Cyber, which is part of the Program Executive Office [PEO] for Intelligence, Electronic Warfare & Sensors, on the integration of current and emerging electronic warfare capabilities that can be used for new strategic effects. Everything we’re doing is nested in that PM’s overall plan.
From the beginning of standing up this office, we’ve been mindful of lessons learned from the recent past on what happens when the Army deploys quick-reaction capabilities in isolation, without the right training, doctrine, tactics and sustainment. We’re building these factors into our analyses up front, and because we’re leaning on PEOs and PMs throughout the project execution process, our transition assessments will be informed by PEO and PM input. When those transition recommendations go to the board, they will include the transition path for a Rapid Capabilities Office project, the phase at which the project will enter the acquisition system and its relationship to existing PORs. This approach will ensure that all life cycle management responsibilities are fully addressed.
Q. HOW WILL THE RAPID CAPABILITIES OFFICE MEASURE SUCCESS?
A. Our job is to make sure, when we send Soldiers into harm’s way, that they don’t have a fair fight–they have a tactical and technological advantage. We will measure success by how well we enable the Army to modernize faster and better, so our Soldiers can succeed even in contested environments. Every process we set up must facilitate that goal, and if the processes aren’t working, we will adjust and improve.
From a technology perspective, we may not always get to the right answer immediately. Sometimes the solution we deliver may only address part of a gap–but at least we won’t be waiting decades for a program to mature to find out we were wrong.
That’s what the Rapid Capabilities Office brings that the Army didn’t have before: It’s bringing acquisition front and center, and putting these key capabilities in front of top leadership so they can decide fast enough how to offset our adversaries.
This article was originally published in the January — March 2017 issue of Army AL&T magazine.