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HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. -- James (Snake) Clark, the Air Force director of Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Innovations, addresses attendees at a March 21 luncheon here. Clark said lean budget times present opportunities for innovative thinking and encouraged work on rapid solutions to warfighting needs. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Rick Berry)
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Clark: speed, innovation make the difference

Posted 3/22/2012   Updated 3/22/2012 Email story   Print story


by Chuck Paone
66th Air Base Group Public Affairs

3/22/2012 - HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. -- A constrained budget environment creates opportunities for dynamic innovations, a top Air Force official said during a government-industry gathering here March 21.

Speaking at a luncheon sponsored by the Patriots' Roost Chapter of the Association of Old Crows, James (Snake) Clark, the Air Force director of Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Innovations, said smarter thinking makes all the difference.

The history of warfare reveals that victory doesn't correlate with the number of assets - ships, aircraft, weaponry, etc. - a country possesses. It's more a matter of how smart its forces fight and how well it can command and control those forces.

"It's not about the iron," he said. "It's about the information."

The critical information needed to maximize combat effectiveness often results from relatively quick, creative solutions to urgent needs.

"The 70 percent solution, delivered quick and dirty, is better than the 100 percent solution that takes years and costs millions," he said.

Everyone involved in the process of equipping U.S. and coalition troops needs to be willing to take risks to get these solutions in warfighter hands, Clark said. It also means being willing to engineer on the fly and accept a few compromises.

"Perfect is the enemy of combat common sense," he said, noting that multiple rounds of testing, reviews and approvals can keep a needed capability from reaching those who need it, when they need it.

"I work for the warfighters down range," he said. They need the information and connectivity provided by rapidly fielded systems, such as the Battlefield Airborne Communications Node, managed by Electronic Systems Center. And it's equally important to be able to put new capabilities onto an existing system.

He cited the example of adding hellfire missiles to the Predator. With a real-time need, the Air Force had to go from concept to reality in a hurry, and it did, quickly testing it out first on the ground and then at various altitudes at China Lake, Calif. The newly equipped drones were then pushed rapidly to the Iraqi combat theater.

If a hastily provided capability requires improvement, the best people to explain what's needed are the combat users, Clark said.

"Because the caliber of our NCOs and young officers is so good, you give them something in the field, and they're not bashful about telling you what's wrong with it," he said. "Now you've got rapid quality control, so as you're going for the perfect system, you've got warfighters' input in the process."

And that warfighter input doesn't mean feedback from major command staffs but from "the kids getting shot at."

Clark wrapped up his advice for program managers and industry by asking for a few essential checks: balance requirements against what's practical and affordable; maximize "bang for the buck;" and make sure whatever you deliver will work in real combat environments.

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