Uncle Sam wants innovative solutions from suppliers

  • 23-Oct-2012 03:41 EDT
Lt General Gardner at 3M.JPG

Lt. General Emerson Gardner, USMC (retired) talked to a mostly automotive industry audience during 3M's transportation summit. Now an independent consultant, Gardner's military career included tours as a Presidential Helicopter Command Pilot in HMX-1 (Marine 1) during President Ronald Reagan's administration.

The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) will likely spend $3 billion a year going forward compared to the $27 billion spent in 2008 on military vehicles. “Point one is there will be a lot less spending in certain areas. Point two is $3 billion is still a lot of money,” Lieutenant General Emerson Gardner, United States Marine Corp (retired), said during an interview with SAE Magazines.

Gardner completed 37 years of distinguished service as a Marine officer in 2010. From 2007-2010 he was the Principal Deputy Director and acting Director of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation for the Office of the Secretary of Defense. In this role, he led independent evaluations of all major defense programs as well as managing the DOD’s development of a $3 trillion, six-year Future Year Defense Plan.

His message to the commercial industry about opportunities with the U.S. military: “I think there’s still a lot of good business to be had.” Gardner currently assists defense and nondefense companies with strategy development as an independent consultant.

One potential business opportunity for suppliers relates to the eventual refurbishing of ground vehicles now being used in Afghanistan. At some future point, a certain number of HMMVVs will be shipped to military depots stateside.

“All of these vehicles are going to have to be stripped down, so there are abrasives that will be needed. They will have to be repaired and repainted. The vehicles will need to be standardized. All of these vehicles were bought at different times, so they all need to be brought up to a specific [capability] level,” Gardner said.

Helicopters and other military aircraft also present opportunities. As one example, Gardner sees a need for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to provide a more comprehensive picture. “If you think about an UAV being airborne with a camera on it, that’s sort of like looking through a soda straw; it sees everything within the soda straw,” Gardner said.

Knowing what innovation is needed can be a big assist for companies looking to do business with the military.

3M formed its Defense Markets Division in the spring of 2012 to better meet the military’s needs. According to Rory Yanchek, Vice President and General Manager of 3M Defense Markets Division, “3M has been in existence for over 100 years and for the better part of that time we have been selling our commercial off-the-shelf products to the DOD and its organizations.

“Those products include production consumables as well as design-in/spec-in products for specific military programs that cover everything from ground vehicles, to ships at seas, to planes in the sky,” Yanchek told SAE Magazines during 3M’s recent transportation summit at its Livonia, MI, facility.

Now with a 3M group devoted to the defense market, task-solving agendas become more streamlined. “We believe we can solve a lot more of our customers’ problems by bringing [a division] together to be the customer-facing organization for 3M that is focused on the DOD—so the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and all of the DOD’s prime contractors and their Tier suppliers,” said Yanchek.

Gardner believes the DOD is unlikely to see another double-digit billion dollar spending spree anytime soon.

“The overall vehicle fleet in the military is pretty young. When you’re spending $27 billion in one year, that’s a lot of vehicles. There’s not a crushing need to buy a lot more going forward. But you do need to buy some, and they need to be better,” Gardner said.

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