Flower Power and Fire Power: New Directions
in Defense Technology
This speech was given by Harry C. Stonecipher, President and Chief
Operating Officer of The Boeing Company at the National Aerospace Systems & Technology
Conference, Dayton Convention Center, Dayton, Ohio on May 9, 2000
These are exciting times for anyone who cares about innovation and technology. It will
be my pleasure to provide an industry perspective on the new frontiers of knowledge and
know-how in the defense and aerospace community.
I will begin with a set of paired elements that may strike you as a little odd at
Orchids . . . and ordnance.
Gene guns . . . and machine guns.
Flower power . . . and fire power.
Those are some of the associations that came to me as I was watching a recent
television show about the cultivation and propagation of orchids. In the defense industry,
we make sea-skimming missiles and we use all kinds of names like the "Phantom
Works" and the "Skunk Works." If there is any other industry that is any
more exotic and specialized than ours, it is probably the breeding of orchids.
Orchids occupy a place on the evolutionary ladder in the plant world that is comparable
to human beings or dolphins in the animal kingdom. They grow from the smallest of seeds
into the most sought-after of flowers. In their various forms or genera, they are the
ultimate expression of uniqueness.
In recent years, the introduction of new technology has changed the orchid business
almost beyond recognition. Technological innovations have combined genetic engineering
with space-age environmental control systems. As a result, you can now buy an orchid for
thirty or forty dollars that would have cost several thousand dollars a few years ago. And
you dont have to know the grower in order to buy it. You can pick up a world-class
orchid at Home Depot or your local supermarket.
Technology has speeded up cycle times in the reproduction of orchids and it has led to
quantum jumps in quality and predictability. Let me put that another way. In the orchid
business, we see a great demonstration of FASTER, BETTER, CHEAPER.
The question for us is: Can we use technology to similar effect in our field?
Can we use technology to shorten the development cycle and speed production? Can we use
it to simplify and commercialize procurement? Can we use it to modify and improve existing
platforms or systems? Most of all, can we use technology to project power or to fight wars
in new and different ways that conserve both human and economic resources?
Given the accelerating pace of scientific and technological progress in todays
world, the answer to each of those questions must be a resounding Yes. I will cite some
examples of great things that are already happening.
Before doing so, however, I would draw your attention to one way in which the U.S.
military-industrial complex as Eisenhower called it differs from the
With the introduction of new technology and new distribution channels, commercial
growers of orchids and other plants know that they have one choice: change, or die.
The U.S. defense community has another option, which is to put off change, or to
procrastinate. To my mind, that means forfeiting responsibility and tacitly agreeing to
pay a huge future price . . . to be levied in some future year over the next decade or so.
I do not even like to contemplate the deadly consequences that await us . . . if we
cant force ourselves to act with the same energy and passion as people in other
businesses and professions that are in the throes of change. And this is because . . .
believe it or not . . . we are in the throes of change.
The problem here is the perception and, to a degree, the fact of
overwhelming U.S. defense supremacy. There is no other nation on earth that comes close to
matching our military strength. You have to go back to the Roman Empire to find a
comparable situation. Success especially overwhelming, seemingly complete success
is the deadly enemy of innovation and vigilance.
However, the perception of U.S. defense supremacy is one part fact and one part
illusion. The part that is fact is our ability to overwhelm any single adversary in
the world of nations. The part that is illusion (and it is a very dangerous illusion) is
the notion that the security of our country is no longer at risk.
We face a growing multiplicity of threats. This includes the spread of weapons of mass
destruction and the proliferation of a new class of longer-range ballistic missiles.
General Lyles has pointed out a new "axis of cooperation" among hostile or
potentially hostile nations including North Korea, Iran and Pakistan with the
further support of certain Russian entities.
Beyond that, there are the threats posed by terrorist groups or individuals, with
growing access to high-grade but low-cost weapons . . . and with cheap and instant
communication and information systems that permit the forces of evil as well as the forces
for good to operate on a global basis.
Already, our forces are being stretched thin by the multiple roles that the U.S. is
playing as an all-purpose Superman in a dangerous and unstable world. In 1999 alone, the
Air Force was tasked to provide earthquake relief in Turkey and Taiwan, hurricane relief
in Central America, lifeline support to displaced people in Albania, along with drug
enforcement assistance in various parts of the world and all of this was in
addition to carrying out major military operations in Kosovo.
The high tempo of operations around the world is taking a toll. Exit surveys show it is
the leading cause for the exodus of married personnel with families. For the first time,
the Air Force is using paid advertising to stimulate recruitment . . . to make up for
lower-than-desired retention rates for enlisted personnel.
Clearly, it behooves us to find new ways of leveraging technology both to meet a
growing array of future threats and to ease the real and present strain on our warfighters
in the field.
We do have some good success stories to talk about. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles have done
a superb job of providing surveillance in Kosovo and Bosnia. Now we need to go to the next
step and Boeing is working on this right now of designing and building
Unmanned Combat Air Vehicles, or UCAVs, that will do actual warfighting in the suppression
of enemy radars and other missions.
Will the introduction of UCAVs present any kind of threat to traditionalists in the
fighter pilot community? Well, of course it will. Innovation, by definition, is a
destabilizing force. Thats why we will need real leaders in the Air Force to
champion the use of UCAVs in performing certain missions that have hitherto required
putting highly skilled people in very expensive aircraft directly into harms way.
Part of the role of leaders is to motivate people to think and act differently.
No doubt, at some time in the future, we will see remotely piloted vehicles dispatched
from a mother ship that attack and destroy manned aircraft in aerial combat. We need to
make sure that we are on the winning side of new technologies.
I, for one, am in favor of anything that will bring greater urgency and velocity to the
search for new products, or upgrades of existing ones, that are truly innovative. We can
find some clues on how to act by studying the history of innovation. Here are some lessons
First, the impulse to create or innovate can be encouraged, or discouraged. To some
extent, we can institutionalize or systematize innovation by encouraging bright people to
work together in teams with a real diversity of talent.
That is exactly what Edison did with his laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey
the worlds first great R&D facility, dedicated . . . and I quote . . . "to
the rapid and cheap development of invention." As innovative products have always
done, products from this laboratory often displayed a profound grasp of many things that
were already known, combined with a willingness to strike out in new directions.
The phonograph, for instance, drew on past work on telegraphs, telephones and electric
motors. In six years, the invention factory at Menlo Park secured more than 400 patents.
The U.S. Patent Office eagerly awaited packages that were wrapped in a certain type of red
tape because that meant a package from Menlo Park. If you talk about "cutting
red tape" to get something done in hurry, that is where the expression comes from.
Second, nothing stimulates innovation more than the rapid exchange of information,
knowledge and ideas. Faster transmission begets greater discovery.
We see this today in the area of e-commerce. Amazon.com may constitute the greatest
innovation in the distribution of the written word since Gutenbergs printing press.
Just think of how easy Amazon.com has made it to buy a book. Without leaving your own
home, you browse around on their web site, look up reviews and critiques, and then
"click" you make a purchase with no waiting in line and no need to pull
out a credit card!
Just think of how far Amazon has gone in reducing transaction costs and how it has
shortened the connection between the buyer and the seller of a book, eliminating all kinds
of middle men or distributors who added little in the way of value!
Third, and last, there must be clear financial incentives for successful innovations.
In the well-turned phrase of Abraham Lincoln, it is necessary to add "the fuel of
interest to the fire of genius." Clearly, there has been no lack of financial
incentives adding fuel to the fire for high-tech companies in the commercial world. But
frankly, there is still a dearth of attractive and compelling financial incentives in
defense procurement, despite many positive developments initiated by Dr. Gansler and
In a recent front-page article, the Wall Street Journal drew attention to the
fact that many of the companies that are leading Information Revolution have turned their
backs on military R&D and defense contracting due to poor profit margins and excessive
red tape. According to the Journal, three-quarters of countrys top 75 or so
information-technology companies wont do research for the military. Intel is one of
several leading chip-makers that have quit the business of supplying MIL-qualified
components to the military market. That is something that should shock every one of us in
To our credit, we have succeeded in institutionalizing innovation in parts of the
defense industry. It goes without saying that the Lockheed "Skunk Works" is
known around the world as a great center for innovation the creator of such
products as the Blackbird, the U-2, and the F-117.
The Boeing "Phantom Works" is less well known, but I can assure you that it
is having a huge impact on our whole business. The Phantom Works captured the X-37 and the
UCAV programs and it has played a key role for us in the Joint Strike Fighter program. It
has been responsible for shorting production cycle times and lowering costs in existing
programs like the C-17 and the Delta II launch vehicle. More than just a laboratory for
invention, the Phantom Works acts an agent for change and a champion for innovation
throughout The Boeing Company.
Like others in the industry, we are using the Internet, or the company Intranet, in
conjunction with other technologies, to do some remarkable things. Our Joint Strike
Fighter team, for example, operates as a virtual company pulling together people
and resources in Seattle, St. Louis, Tulsa, and the final assembly site in Palmdale,
outside of Los Angeles.
We have put together the major assembly pieces with lasers, which were fully integrated
into the three-dimensional engineering database. We assembled the first X-32, which will
fly later this year, in just over 52 weeks with 58 people. In just six hours, we attached
its one-piece composite wing to the fuselage.
The result: The X-32 is costing 75% less than our original estimates, and there are
about 80% fewer defects in the first X-32 than in the equivalent build of the YF-22.
Thats pretty amazing when you consider the YF-22 is flying but not yet operational,
while the X-32 concept demonstrator will soon be going into flight test.
Everywhere you look, businesses are opening up e-commerce portals. I think that what we
have just done in the defense and aerospace community is a great example of an industry
coming together to make things better for everybody. Just a few weeks ago, a group of the
leading companies Boeing, Lockheed, Raytheon and British Aerospace joined
together in announcing the creation of an Internet trading exchange. Based on the Commerce
One MarketSite Portal Solution, and powered by Microsoft software, this exchange will
create a secure, electronic marketplace where buyers and sellers around the world can
The system will be totally open. Anybody can join in. And the implications are huge.
The global market for commercial and military aerospace products totals more than $400
billion, and due to the critical nature of maintaining fleets of airplanes that are
always ready to go our airline and military customers maintain some of the most
massive inventories in the world.
With this new electronic exchange, our customers and that certainly includes the
Air Force will be able to substantially reduce inventories without sacrificing
readiness. You will be able to move from Just-In-Case to Just-In-Time in the stocking of
An airline that is missing a wheel for an airplane will be able to find and get one
quickly most likely from another airline. We expect our customers will be trading
with each other. They will certainly find a much broader, deeper . . . and more responsive
. . . supplier base. This can only lead to massive savings in transactions costs that will
benefit just about everyone.
The combination of new technology and massive networking capability is also the key to
all of the major developments in space-based defense and communications systems.
Let me say a word here about the National Missile Defense program. In the first test
last year, we proved, in effect, that we could hit a bullet with a bullet in deep space.
We did that by launching a missile that was successful in intercepting and destroying a
dummy warhead from an intercontinental ballistic missile. It did this at an altitude of
260 miles above the Pacific Ocean.
Now, after a failure on the second test, we have to prove it again. To my mind
and I hope to all of yours this program is a critical element in safeguarding our
future security against the growing threat of long-range missile attack by rogue nations.
Working together, industry and the services have made real progress in streamlining and
commercializing defense acquisition. I hope General Lyles will forgive me if I repeat one
of his own jokes. As I heard it told: Not too long ago, if you had looked into the Air
Force dictionary for the word "commercial," you would have found a single
definition "a sixty-second pause that will allow you to get a beer during a
football game." There is a much different view of commercialization in the Air Force
today, even if we are still a long way short of the kind of "civilian / military
integration" that many of us desire.
Acquisition reform has meant major reductions in paperwork and oversight, along with a
growing sense of partnership between industry and the services. We see that every day
across a variety of programs. And certainly, the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program
represents an outstanding example of harmonizing military and commercial requirements.
In closing, I will return to some of questions that were posed at the outset: Can we
use technology to shorten development cycles, speed production, reduce costs, and improve
existing platforms? Can we use technology to ensure our warfighters will have all the
resources they need to respond swiftly and accurately to a growing multiplicity of
Absolutely. We have the technology that will permit us to do all of those of
those things. Technology can be the enabler.
But we meaning everyone who shares my view of the growing risks to national
security must be the doers. The need for greater urgency and velocity in upgrading,
improving and rethinking defense systems is not readily apparent to everyone . . . not
within government, not within the services, and not within industry. Nor is the need here
strongly apparent to most of our fellow citizens. It is up to each of us . . . therefore .
. . to act as a leader in motivating others to think and act differently.
In doing so, you may even want to exercise some gentle persuasion . . . with $30 gift
from Home Depot that shows the connection between flower power and firepower in using
technology to transform the given world.