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Defense office focuses on 'operational experimentation'

The official with the hefty task of sparking visionary transformation of the U.S. military sees technology as integral to achieving his goals.

"The interesting part [of what the office does] is that we can get a piece of entirely new technology, put it in the operating forces [and] do some war-gaming, if you will, experimentation with it," retired Vice Adm. Arthur Cebrowski, director of force transformation at the Defense Department, said in a recent interview with National Journal Group reporters.

A goal of defense transformation, a term that has raised questions and eyebrows since it was mandated early in the Bush administration, is to find or help develop technologies that change the way the military operates, he said. "We're looking for new operational concepts, new behavior."

Cebrowski said his Rosslyn, Va.-based office is different from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the CIA-funded venture-capital outfit In-Q-Tel because it focuses on operations. "We aren't interested in physics-based, or ... technical experimentation. We're interested in operational experimentation," he said.

"We're not so much interested in concepts of technical approach as we are in concepts of technology application. We need to be very, very close to the end user, as opposed to the technology supplier."

Cebrowski said his office is focused on development of "powerful vehicles for technology search, and the discovery or creation of experimental articles." With technology search, he said, "You can develop a sense of direction of the possibilities that are out there," which can lead to options for the military.

With experimental items, or "operational prototypes," he said, "There is the ability to perhaps obtain some very early pieces of technology, which we can then put in the operating forces and see what it means." An example might be a battery with four times the power and one-tenth the weight of current equipment, he said.

Fiscal 2003 and fiscal 2004 priorities include "sense-and-respond logistics," which would allow soldiers on the battlefield to more readily adapt to their circumstances, and expanding capabilities in transportation and mobility. That might mean a stronger focus on the development of "airships," which could result in a new kind of commercial aircraft as well, Cebrowski said.

He said he hopes to bolster support in the military for a venture-capital approach to technology development. "We ... hope that as we continue our relationship or try to expand our relationship with people associated with venture capital that we might be able to point to some successes that cause other people in the department who might not have otherwise taken a look at it to do so," he said. "Almost everything we do in this office is not a matter of control, it's a matter of influence."

Cebrowski noted that his office, with a fiscal 2003 budget of $24 million and a mix of about 20 military, civilian and contractor support personnel, cannot fund "big ideas." But if it has a powerful idea, that idea could get financial support from the department's leaders.