Mike Coulter interview Defense News

What does a changing threat environment mean for the military-industry relationship?

By Defense News

September 6, 2019 -- Leonardo DRS's Mike Coulter discusses the shift from counterinsurgency to near-peer operations and what it means for the defense industry.

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Transcript of Interview with Mike Coulter:

One of the biggest challenges we face looking towards the shift to great power competition is how do we operate in denied space. Competition doesn't necessarily mean combat. As we work through phases of competition, we actively see competition happening now in space. We actively see competition happening now in cyber. The questions we're asking ourselves are how does the US Army support our NATO treaty allies in Eastern Europe when they're operating in a denied space with Russian actors, or in Syria and a denied space with Russian and Syrian actors? Or how does the US Navy respond in a denied space where we're guaranteeing freedom of navigation and Asia against an increasingly denied space with missile technology from China and also the island building campaign in China?

One of the great things about defense industry and our customers is the close interaction we have with them. We're intimately intertwined with our partners in the services. We've worked with them through challenges. I mentioned that we've been in the counter terrorism fight for 15 years. This is something we faced 15 years ago. As we shifted from a period of relative global stability to a counter terrorism operations, we had to work very closely with customers to find out how to field counter IED in Afghanistan, how to field up armored MRAPs in Afghanistan. The close dynamic between industry and our customers allows for that shift. I'm cautiously optimistic that as we set our standards for another shift that we're well positioned to do that from a defense industry standpoint.

Another interesting dynamic is as the time compression has become so significant, there is not time to invest to meet the capabilities that the Army and Navy in particular are asking for today. So we need to find unique ways. The Army has set up the Futures Command and in Austin, Texas specifically for finding unconventional partners. I believe the relationship between the industry and the services is strong. There are challenges, no doubt, that we face on both sides, but we work through them together. I mentioned the step that the Army has taken to put the acquisition and requirement communities together. That's incredibly helpful for industry, because we can sit down instead of talking to multiple people, we have one focal point.

On the government side, one of the challenges, putting my old government hat back on again, is that you never want to own a failed program. But as we see this rapid modernization, sometimes failing is okay as long as you fail fast. And so, we've been working with industry partners from non-traditional non-defense sectors who are used to iterating and iterating and getting it right. I guess my recommendation would be take some of the examples that we've seen on active protection or on counter unmanned. Get something to the field that the soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, use them, iterate on them, and then continue to improve upon them, rather than designing the ideal system that may never get there to the point where you want to and may take too much time to get to the Warfighter.