Innovate the Future

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Patrick J. O’Neill became the chief technology officer for the U.S. Army Materiel Command April 5, 2015, at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama. Previously, he was the U.S. Army Materiel Systems Analysis Activity technical director at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland. He holds a master of science in national resource strategy from the Industrial College of the Armed Forces, a master of science in computer science from Johns Hopkins University and a bachelor of science in mathematics and computer science (double major) from Loyola University. He has published numerous AMSAA technical reports and presented numerous papers in national and international operations research and military forums.He was appointed to the Senior Executive Service in March 2011.

Interview with Army Materiel Command Chief Technology Officer Patrick O’Neill

Army Technology: What is your vision for the Army of the future, and what role will technology play?

O’Neill: We should try to be the best. To enable that, I encourage us to challenge the status quo, empower and encourage innovation and professional growth, navigate our thinking, and infuse industry and academia in our plans.

As we think about the deep future, we should work closely with industry and academia to identify potential technologies early and to identify ways to support them for use in existing systems. How should we think differently? By partnering with industry and academia on systems still under development.

The challenges the Army faces, especially with the continued competition for resources, will be daunting. Our chief of staff, Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, characterized it well by describing that the “velocity of instability is increasing and protecting technology is very critical.”

Army Technology: You’ve said that we should focus on being more efficient and effective. What is the best way to accomplish this?

O’Neill: It is important, especially with the threat of sequestration, to acquire technologies in a cost effective and efficient manner through joint collaboration and leveraging of investment dollars. It is critically important that the Army collaborate with other services, industry and academia to identify potential technologies early and to identify ways to integrate those technologies into the Soldiers’ kit.

The Defense Innovation Initiative is a new approach to allow new thinking focused on threats and challenges to our military and technological superiority. At the center of Force 2025 and Beyond will be the ability to provide technologies for supporting future operations and to streamline operational processes to produce a more adaptable, agile and effective Army. I believe the new Defense Innovation Unit Experimental in Silicon Valley will help create the presence we need in order to best identify and speed the technologies of tomorrow.

Army Technology: How does AMC partner with the Army’s S&T community across industry academia and the government? How important are these partnerships?

O’Neill: Technological advancements will have a greater dependence on international industry and academic partnerships. We have a responsibility to our international partners. We are not alone in this investment. The Army finds itself in a familiar situation, facing a defense budget deficit and a strategic landscape that continues to advance. The Army, regardless of conflicts, must collaborate with industry and academia. We are focused on thinking collectively about the Army and AMC’s future.

Army Technology: The Army Operating Concept says, “The Army will foster a culture of innovation to accomplish Force 2025. Technological innovations represent one aspect of innovation. How will we build such a culture?

O’Neill: Since his swearing-in earlier this year, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter has reminded all of us that we need to be open to change and, as he puts it, “to think outside of the five-sided box.”

Part of the Defense Innovation Initiative is a long-range R&D Development Plan.  How can we share technology advances among the services? This is important as the Army strives to stay competitive and to stay ahead of threats. All of this starts with our people. They are our most important asset. It’s up to us to establish the technical vision.  We’ve got what it takes to meet the demands of the future. In addition, companies with innovative technologies are encouraged to collaborate with the Army and find events to showcase their technologies.

Army Technology: How optimistic are you about Army modernization efforts in light of the current budgetary environment?

O’Neill: The Army is shrinking in size from the Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom peak of 565,000 to currently 490,000, on the way to 450,000 Soldiers. The Army must balance between modernization and all its other obligations to maintain a capable force able to prevent, shape and win in any engagement. I’m optimistic because S&T funding is being protected by our 535-person board of directors, while acquisition has been reduced since Fiscal Year 2012. We continue to invest appropriately in S&T.

Army Technology: How would you inspire Army researchers, scientists and engineers to innovate future technology solutions?

O’Neill: The Army has the brightest scientists and engineers in the world, and we will find a way to accommodate the future operational needs of the force. Throughout history, Army scientists and engineers have provided a benefit to society. The AMC team includes more than 13,000 scientists and engineers inside RDECOM.

3-D printing holds significant capabilities for industry and Soldiers.  3-D printing has been adopted by industry as an enabler for the next generation of products and systems. 3-D printing is a great example of those efforts, and it offers incredible potential.

To maintain dominance in light of a future of unknown and often rapid changes, the Army must posture itself to proactively innovate, to efficiently identify technologies, to develop solutions and to deliver sustainable capabilities to the force.

By 2025, the Army must operate differently, enable differently and organize differently to maintain overmatch and to set the conditions for fundamental long-term change. It is all about the Soldier.

Army Technology: What is the vision for your office?

O’Neill: Our vision is that innovation matters, for our Soldiers and the world. The fact that AMC has a CTO reflects the importance of the Army’s S&T mission. Working with RDECOM, my office plays a very significant role in shaping the way S&T impacts the Army Force of 2025 and Beyond.

We are the catalyst for the future, redefining and strengthening AMC’s voice to deliver new capabilities to embrace and execute its role as the Army’s leader in S&T. The CTO will be a strong voice as we continue to pioneer new technologies that are critical to meeting our defense needs. We can overcome the rising “velocity of instability” by continuing to push hard, do the right things, be effective and efficient … all in support of the Soldier.

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This interview appears in the July/August 2015 issue of Army Technology Magazine, which focuses on innovation. The magazine is available as an electronic download, or print publication. The magazine is an authorized, unofficial publication published under Army Regulation 360-1, for all members of the Department of Defense and the general public.