I write this as we mark the 100th anniversary of World War I's Armistice and NDIA begins preparations to celebrate 100 years of advocating for American warfighters.
As I research NDIA's foundation, I'm struck by the work done after World War I to identify and correct shortfalls that hampered Allied success. I'm particularly interested in the struggle to harness the creativity and innovation of the Industrial Age to gain a warfighting advantage.
Today's military faces similar challenges leveraging Information Age capabilities to defend our freedom and prevent a national security crisis. We are unlikely to have real strategic warning and an opportunity to test capabilities, tactics or doctrine prior to a future conflict with peer adversaries; this lends a strategic imperative to initiatives like the Army's Futures Command, to ensure we identify and operationalize innovation to deter conflict and protect our nation and allies if deterrence fails.
In many ways, World War I served as an expensive lesson in failure to adapt. Artillery and high-capacity machine guns made 19th century conventional "maneuver" using cavalry and foot soldiers untenable. Despite this, neither side employed new capabilities rapidly at scale. Although 14 years elapsed since the Wright brothers' first flight, neither side developed effective doctrine or tactics to take full advantage of "the ultimate high ground." And although Karl Benz invented the first car in 1885 and rudimentary tanks appeared in 1904, lack of interest and vision prevented development and deployment of a useful tank until September 1916.
Additionally, problems with reliability and mass production limited tanks' impact until the final months of the war. We lacked effective policies and processes to fully exploit these cutting-edge capabilities. We needed to do better. We needed speed and agility.
Recognizing the shortfalls impeding America during World War I, in October 1919 the Assistant Secretary of War and Director of Munitions, Brig. Gen. Benedict Crowell, organized Army officers and manufacturing leaders to address military preparedness. This led to the formation of the Army Ordnance Association, NDIA's precursor, to ensure industrial preparedness that could help deter future conflict and ensure effective manufacturing support to the military when deterrence failed. Crowell was determined to learn from failures to prepare for and exploit change; the same imperative exists today.