Air Force Futures with Lt. Gen. Clint Hinote

Lt. Gen. Clint Hinote, former Deputy Chief of Staff for Air Force Futures, joins ACME General Corp to talk about representing the voice of tomorrow’s Airmen.

Lt. Gen. Clint Hinote most recently served as the Deputy Chief of Staff, Strategy, Integration, and Requirements at Air Force Futures, where he focused on integrated future force design and speaking on behalf of tomorrow’s Airmen in developing Air Force strategy.

Lt. Gen. Hinote was also previously Deputy Executive Director of the Air Force Warfighting Integration Capability and Military Assistant to the Deputy Secretary of Defense. He is now a Principal at Pallas Advisors, working to push “emerging technology solutions into the right hands within the national security ecosystem.”

ACME General: My guest today is Clint Hinote. Clint spent over 30 years in the United States Air Force, where he served as both the Deputy Chief of Staff Strategy, Integration and Requirements at Air Force Futures and as deputy executive director of the Air Force Warfighting Integration Capability. He also served in command roles in Germany and South Korea and is now a principal at Pallas Advisors. Clint, welcome to Accelerate Defense.

Clint Hinote: It’s great to be with you, and I’m excited to be able to talk a little bit about the acceleration that has to happen in the defense world.

ACME General: Well, let’s talk about you first. You’ve been out for about a year, and I am wondering, after three decades plus in uniform, how has the transition been to civilian life? What is the most surprising thing? What is the best and worst thing about making that switch?

CH: Well, I’ll start with the downer and then go up from there. So the worst thing about transitioning out of the military is you leave the team that you were a part of. And I had the chance last week to go to a promotion ceremony for one of the people who worked on our team and it was so fun to see everybody and to reconnect, and you just realize how much you missed that part of the business. Just being able to work with great people who are trying to do things for the country. But I have to say, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the transition and how it’s gone because, the first thing I’d say is I’ve been pleasantly surprised that I can still have an impact. And especially in the area of helping others and helping them to succeed. I really love the idea of coaching, mentoring, just talking through problems with people and encouraging them through them. I get a chance to do that now with, with both people inside the government and outside the government. And I’ll tell you another thing that has been really pleasantly surprising to me has been how much I’ve enjoyed getting to know the companies that are trying to break into the defense industry and trying to bring their great ideas and their great crack to the defense program and whose leadership teams are awesome. It’s not just one, it’s a bunch of them, and they’re fearless. I love the fact that they’re fearless. They come in and they want to disrupt something that has been somewhat stale, I think we can say for some amount of time, and they’ve come in and they’ve decided that they want to dedicate their working life to disrupting defense. I just find that encouraging, it’s energy-giving to me. And so I really have enjoyed working with those kinds of teams and companies. And I think the last thing I would say is that I have the opportunity now to be a little bit more free in the things that I can write and teach and speak about. I don’t necessarily have to worry about the party line or the accepted answer. And so it allows me a little bit of being candid about some of the challenges that we have and some of the things that we need to do as we go forward. But overall, it’s been good. Not all good because I miss people, but it’s been pretty good.

ACME General: That’s good to hear. Do you still say ‘over’ on conference calls when you finish talking or have you had to break some habits?

CH: You know, I have not done that for a while now. In the early days of video teleconferencing, I did it all the time because it was so bad, there were these delays, you know, they’ll be like a 5 or 10 second delay. I worked a lot in Central Command, and we would do video teleconferences all the time. And it was awful. And compared to what we have now, with the apps that are real time and the broadband that we have access to. But no, I don’t say ‘over’ anymore.

ACME General: Good, good. I’ve had to break some folks of that habit. You describe those innovators outside the DoD trying to break in as fearless, which is saying something coming from a former F-16 and 117 pilot. But I’m wondering if that cultural chasm we always hear about between those West Coast innovators – I’m putting that in air quotes – and the DoD customer, is that gap as big as everyone says it is?

CH: Well, I would answer that by saying it is a big gap. There is a major cultural difference between what you might call the standard Silicon Valley approach to problem solving, and then how the DoD bureaucracy handles the approach to problem solving. And I am not always an anti-bureaucracy guy, although some people might think I am with the way that I talk sometimes. But there are times when a bureaucracy actually makes sense. I just don’t think we’re living in one of those times. And especially when it comes to defense and great power competition and the possibility of real conflict with Russia or China. And,I think we need real change. Real disruption. And this is why I enjoy getting to know these leadership teams. Now, I will tell you, when I counsel the standard Silicon Valley culture as they approach DoD, I do say a couple of things to them. There is sometimes in Silicon Valley this ‘fake it till you make it’ approach and it can come across – just hang with me – it can come across as arrogant and especially true when a Silicon Valley-style entrepreneur founder comes in to DoD with the ‘fake it till you make it’ attitude and says ‘my tech can solve all your problems’. And, you know, these are people who have like – some of the problems that we’ve been working on, as an example, I had been working on for decades. And so having a tech guy come in and basically saying ‘we can do everything’ kind of sounds to those of us on the inside like, ‘okay. Yeah. Thanks for your help. Really appreciate it. But, you know, I don’t really need the arrogance.’ So I do counsel the folks that, especially founders because I think they have to have some of this mentality as they go and raise capital. And I understand that. But they don’t need to do the pitch, the capital-raising pitch, to the DoD decision makers. They need to understand the DoD problems and come with solutions with just a slight dose of humility, knowing that these people have been working on these problems for, in some cases, a very long time and have explored a lot of different avenues for solving them. And there are reasons why the problems still exist. And often it is not the availability of technology that is driving the reason why the problems still exist. It’s culture, it’s resources, it’s some sort of a barrier in the bureaucracy itself. Or it literally could be we just really, really think we’re going to find a different way. And we’re watching places like Ukraine and Israel and such and taking lessons from that. That said, I love the energy. I love the enthusiasm. I love the fact that they’re willing to come in and to make their case for why their idea, their technology, their service can help us defend the country.

ACME General: I am totally off script here, but I would love your – I guess it’s kind of a psych assessment of the mindset that leads to these kinds of breakthrough innovations and that drives these tech CEOs because it’s not marked by humility. It’s marked by unbridled confidence and optimism. And they strike me in a way as the fighter pilots of the industry, right?

CH: Right. 

ACME General: And humility has its place. But, it’s not what you lead with.

CH: Yeah. Well, there’s a lot to unpack there. What I do believe is that there’s a significant amount of both optimism and moral courage that it takes to be able to have an idea and to do the things that it takes to see that idea become reality. Now, I will say one of the things I’m most impressed with as I have left the military and understood a little bit more about the entrepreneurial space is, I feel like that our economy right now has a superpower, and that superpower is that we can take capital and we can take good ideas and we can make those ideas into a reality. And this is – you see this over and over in the entrepreneurial space with the raising of capital and then the development of a set of ideas. Now, not all ideas work, and not all ideas are marketable, but the idea can come to fruition. I am convinced that that’s one of the things that our capital structure right now, especially venture capital, is doing in our economy. It’s a superpower. Other countries are absolutely jealous of what we bring. And I mean, if you want to be an entrepreneur, you want to be in the United States and you want to be pitching to US investors. That said, my big concern is that the warfighters, especially the warfighters of tomorrow and some of them are in middle school right now and high school, I worry that they aren’t benefiting from this superpower. And what I mean by that is that the American economy can take capital and ideas and make those ideas into a reality. But I don’t know that those ideas are having a real impact on the way we fight, especially the way we’re going to fight tomorrow. And that’s got to change. That’s got to get better. I do think we’re seeing movement. Like anything in the U.S. government, it’s not far enough. It’s not fast enough. But I do think we’re seeing movement in the direction of trying to take this system of great ideas that is out there in this system of capitalism, especially venture capitalism and bringing its goodness to tomorrow’s warfighter.

ACME General: Clint, you talked about the war fighters of tomorrow and how they need to be considered when imagining the future of innovation and how we capitalize on what you described as our superpower, that ability to take ideas and turn them into action, into products. At Air Force Futures, you even described your role as being the voice of tomorrow’s airmen. What are your thoughts on the tension though, between that over-the-horizon thinking and the fight-tonight mentality, especially when we have people in harm’s way right now, when we have an ally that is facing an existential threat? How do you balance the need to consider the voices of those future airmen in middle school right now with those being shot at today?

CH: Yeah, it’s such a great question. And it really dominated my last several years in the Pentagon, as we were considering how we might be able to be that voice of tomorrow’s airmen. And so the first thing I’d say is it’s valid to worry about the fight tonight mentality. But I also believe that the vast majority of the bureaucracy that we have in defense is focused on that. The combatant commander is an example. And all of the staff and the units that support them. In addition, I think that you see the better part of organizations like the Joint Staff are focused on the here and now more than the future. And so I always felt like it was important that there needed to be a strong voice for the needs of tomorrow’s warfighters. And I was going to serve as that voice and I feel like we’ve privileged the present at the expense of the future over and over and over. And a healthy approach would have some balance there. In fact, I want to say that, in one of the national defense strategies, I think the most recent one, which would have been in 2022, there was a statement that went like that. It said, we’ve privileged the present at the expense of the future for too long. And I agree with that. And so I would like for there to be a dialogue and somewhat equal dialogue between the present and the future in meetings in the Pentagon, in places where we’re talking about resources in Congress, as we think about what the budget looks like. Because the balance is necessary, because what ends up happening is you push all your risk into the future. And we have pushed a heck ton of risk into the future. And I worry about that. I worry for tomorrow’s warfighter if they’re going to have what they need to do, what the present’s going to ask them to do. And at the moment, I don’t think we’re on the factor that we need to be. And so with that, I felt like there needs to be a very, very strong voice inside of our services, inside the Pentagon itself, the DoD for tomorrow’s warfighter. I think the Army realized this several years ago when they stood up a major command called Futures Command in the Air Force. It was more of a staff organization. I think that was fine for the time, but I would suspect that we may see in the not so distant future, something like a unit stood up that is responsible for being that voice of tomorrow’s warfighter.

ACME General: Well, I wanted to ask you about the other branches and about the potential need for some joint approach or expanding current joint approaches, because it sounds like what you’re describing as your role at Air Force futures is the role of the helpful antagonist, the devil’s advocate as one of the the only voices at your level – three stars – pushing for this over-the-horizon thinking against the cacophony of voices and budgetary priorities and everything else focusing on the fight tonight mentality. And you probably didn’t get your way all the time or even most of the time. But in a sense, the helpful antagonist role really defined what you’re doing there. Is that a fair characterization and would you map that onto the other branches as well?

CH: Yeah. Well, I would tell you I was definitely an antagonist. I don’t know the other people at the table thought that I was healthy. I hope they did, but I bet some of them probably did not. And I did, I gave everything I could to try and push the future, to try and get resources applied to the future, to try to modernize, to think about what might happen and to be more prepared for it. And I felt like that was the right thing to do. I mean, it came at a cost. It was – it’s difficult to always be the person in the room who is bringing up the unwelcome argument. Now, I will say one of the things that really helped me along my way, is that in the Air Force we were led by a new secretary, Secretary Frank Kendall, who came in and he was laser-focused on the future, and it felt like that our message had landed, and we were able to work with the secretary and to be able to do a lot of the things that for years had languished in the normal meetings and the normal bureaucracy. So I think every service probably needs to have real conversations about the trade-offs between the present and the future with it. And they need to come to some level of compromise between those two. The way you might think about it would be that you take as much risk in the present as you can, knowing that you don’t want to get to the point of mission failure. But you do pile up the risk. And I think we’re seeing that in many cases right now so that you can get to the monitor resolution needed for the possibility of an even bigger problem. You know, this gets down to priorities, and I think that this is something that’s been really difficult for the Department of Defense. We’ve had two national defense strategies in a row that have said we need to decrease the emphasis on operations in the Middle East and increase the emphasis on the things going on in the Pacific. And for years now and two very different administrations, we’ve just been almost unable to do that. And certainly with everything going on in the Middle East right now, I feel like we’re spending a lot of time, money, effort and unfortunately risk. And some of that risk was realized as we have had people injured and killed. I mean, we’re still very much in the Middle East, and I feel like that’s a tertiary priority. And I didn’t say that, the national defense strategies twice in a row now, two very different administrations have said that. And it’s an impediment to modernization. It just is. And it’s unfortunate. The last thing I’ll say is that the joint force is in need of a voice of tomorrow as a warfighter. And General Milley, before he left, had explored the idea of creating a Futures Agency Combatant Command or something along those lines for the modernization effort across the joint force. And General Brown, who is just taking over as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, is quite focused on modernization. It’s one of the things that marked his time inside of the Air Force as he began his tenure as Chief of Staff of the Air Force with a white paper that said ‘accelerate, change, or lose.’ So that somewhat tells you where he’s at. And I do think there is room for defense reform in some sort of agency or command that is focused on the future at the joint level.

ACME General: You brought up Secretary Kendall and it makes me wonder how important that political leadership is, how responsive the bureaucracy within DoD can be, and how that balance is struck. Because you want stability, but you also want the ability to react to that political pressure, which is the outlet of the democratic will. I mean, they have the ultimate say.

CH: Yeah. And of course, one of the first things that pops to mind when we talk about the relationship between professional military and their civilian leaders is what’s going on in Ukraine right now. Certainly, the president, President Zelensky of Ukraine, has certainly hinted pretty hard that he’s going to remove his commander, his military commander, who is very popular and very well thought of across the world. And it shows how the tension between the civilian leadership and military officers can be pretty tough, and tough to work through, especially in a long drawn-out combat scenario as Ukraine is facing. I will tell you that the best I have seen with the civilian and military relationship is, they both have a common goal and they have different perspectives on that goal. And what do I mean by that? Certainly, the military professionals better have a pretty good idea of the technical needs of the force and understanding what that looks like, how wars are fought, how military power can be used to achieve objectives. Those are things that I think we have a spotty record on. Just honestly, and especially at the higher levels of generalship and admiralship, I feel like we have not necessarily done our civilian leaders service by being able to translate their objectives to what military force can do to achieve those. That being said, I also think that civilian leaders have a whole world that they need to have command of, and that is the political world. And right now that is a partisan world. And right, I feel for many of the administration leaders who go and testify because the partisanship really comes forward in the hearings and things like that. And it did in the previous administration. And so I know that it’s very difficult to navigate the partisan divide that we have right now. We ask our civilian leaders to be a big part of that and to try to keep the military apolitical. That doesn’t mean that we are not aware of the politics. And I think that would be a mistake to say that we aren’t aware, but I think military professionals have to be aware. But at the same time, we cannot be seen as partisan. And I’ll be honest, I think that unfortunately that part of our civic life has deteriorated over the last several years. And I do think there are people who see the military as partisan, by the way, on both sides. I’ve been called a – I used to joke, I’ve been called a Trump general and I’ve been called an Obama general. And I can’t be both, you know, =it’s just physically impossible to be both, but I think that there is definitely a very hyper partisan atmosphere, especially in Washington DC. We’re in it, as far as when we’re in the military, and we certainly don’t want to be perceived as partisan.

ACME General: I would love to get your thoughts on the war in Ukraine, and especially how to the layperson it looks like a World War One battlefield, but up close it is probably one of the most innovative combat landscapes the world has ever seen. How do you think about that contrast? We have trench warfare characterized by cyber and drones. It is just so cognitively dissonant.

CH: That’s a great point. I’ll tell you the way that I resolve the cognitive dissonance. And I don’t think it is wrong to say that in many ways, the flow of the battles does feel like World War One. And I think the reason for that is pretty fundamental and that is that technologies that led from the end of the American Civil War into the battlefields of World War One were defense dominant technologies. It was much more – the cost of establishing offense was much greater than the cost of establishing an effective defense. And then the technologies begin to shift in the interwar period. And you get things like the introduction of the tank and the aircraft and all sorts of supporting technologies. And it becomes true that offense is dominant. And in many ways, I think in the post-Cold War period, we saw the full movement of and the full cycle of offense dominant technologies. Now, I believe that with the proliferation of offensive technologies, it becomes more defensive. It cancels each other out. And then you have a lot of the technologies about awareness and precision that you refer to. And the mix is that defense is much less costly than offense now. And we see that in Ukraine. And we would be, I think, wrong to assume that the way that Ukraine is experiencing conflict would be all that different from the way we would fight it. I’ve heard people say that I think it is important that we learn from the battlefield of Ukraine, and we learn that defense dominance is true. And then essentially what we’re seeing is that both sides can establish a very strong defense with the trenches as well as the high tech. And both sides are struggling to establish any sort of momentum on offense. I actually believe that that is what’s going on in general in warfare right now. That defense is becoming increasingly dominant due to the defensive technology. And the other thing I think about that is that that’s good for us. I mean, we don’t want to go and march on Moscow or Beijing or we’re not trying to rewrite the geography of the globe or to invade another country and take their territory. And so defense works for us and it works really well in places where we might be facing a very strong offensive opponent. That could be an example, if we were helping Taiwan in a possible invasion by mainland China. So I’m actually optimistic that defense dominance is good. But I will tell you that if you’re trying to take back territory as Ukraine is right now, it’s just a really, really difficult slog for them and their manpower is not going to hold out against that level of attrition unless they do something different. And I feel for them, I really do. I think we’re in a situation, especially since we have not been able to agree on an aid package and we’ve run out of aid for Ukraine – I think that Ukraine is facing a lot of difficulty, and we’re seeing that strain in some of the decisions that Zelensky is hinting he’s about to make.

ACME General: Given the realities of the modern battlefield and the prominence of defense dominance, were we wrong to counsel the Ukrainians to launch a broad offensive with combined arms and maneuver warfare? Were we ignoring the lessons right in front of us about defense dominance? 

CH: Well, I’ll say that this is an area where the narrative and what really happened in the rooms where we were counseling the Ukrainians might be a little different. I’ve read the news stories. I wasn’t in those rooms. But I always read those types of accounts with a little bit of a grain of salt. If the narrative is what happened, which is that we counseled them to try to establish a combined arms offensive, I think that would have been a mistake. And the reason is because we have to judge the war for what it is, not what we wish it would be. I didn’t say that, a dead German said that a long time ago. But we, I think, would have realized had we done a true analysis, it was just going to be really, really hard. Now, I will say, I think timing-wise, the timing matters. And the offensive started late. Would it have been better had it started early? It’s possible. And that might have changed the outcome. I don’t know, but by the time the offensive started, the Russians had dug in to the point of being very, very effective on defense. And it was just going to be a slaughterhouse, which is what it was. Now, I’ll say, if I was advising Ukraine today, what I would be trying to do is to set defenses that draw the Russians in for some of their objectives. And we would need to know what’s important to Russia at the time. But what you would want to do for this next year is you’d want to draw them in to some, you know, basically goad them into the offense and then just attrite them like it’s going out of style and weaken the Russians. Now, you’re not going to get them to exhaustion this year, but you’ll be able to husband your forces to stay alive. Every day that Ukraine is free is a day they’re winning. You’ll be able to build up and to be ready for the future. But you’d also use that defense dominance against Russia, against what they want to do and force, force Russia to have to adjust. Or just keep on throwing men at the problem and keep killing them. I hate to say it that way. And I don’t like warfare. I certainly don’t like what’s going on in Ukraine, but we are at the point now where this is going to be a war of exhaustion and trying to attrite each side is going to be a big part of that. And I’m sorry for that. I wish it weren’t true, but that’s where we’re going to go as we look forward.

ACME General: I want to tie this back to innovation, because I think that if we had to reduce the Western rationale for innovation, at least innovation in the profession of arms, to an essential value, it’s the preservation of lives on our side, giving our warfighters the tools to win while simultaneously reducing the risks they take. And I’m looking at the battlefield in Ukraine and a totally different Russian/Eastern mindset that doesn’t have that fundamental value. The attrition calculus is totally different when you’re Vladimir Putin in his bunker in Moscow. And I think it has taken a while for us to appreciate that. Many of us still haven’t. Zeluzhny himself said that one of his greatest miscalculations was underestimating just how many dead Russians Putin and the Russian nation could tolerate. How do we factor that in? How do we accommodate that? Is there actually a limit at which attrition has a political effect, or do we need to think fundamentally differently about the cost-benefit calculation in Moscow? Do we need to go after different targets, I guess is the fundamental question.

CH: Well, a lot to unpack there as well. I think I would start by agreeing that a fundamental value that Western militaries have is the preservation of their own side, their soldiers, their sailors, airmen and such. And we have gotten into a cost spiral with that particular value. What do I mean by that? As the defense becomes increasingly dominant, we have tried to maintain offensive systems that can protect our people. Meaning they can go into the defense and still bring those people home. A great example of that would be the B-2 bomber and the new B-21 bomber. They’re incredibly capable because they have to be, because you’re not bringing that bomber crew back if they’re not. But at the same time, that makes them incredibly expensive. And there is a limit to how far you can take that. And I think we are very quickly approaching that limit, if not past it. I believe that the – I would call it a revolution in autonomy, in robotics and artificial intelligence, is going to benefit Western militaries in a way that is going to be profound. Why do I say that? Because the value of protecting our own people, our own warfighters, we’ll still have that. But honestly, we could care less about uncrewed systems. I mean, I watched an evolution happen in the Air Force though, there used to be a time when every one of our uncrewed systems, like if it crashed, we would do an accident report, we would do all sorts of investigation. And then over time, it was like, ‘okay, just get another one in the air.’ You know, it was like it was a razor blade. Just get a refill. And I think that is exactly the way that the Western values are going to approach autonomous systems, in that if attrition is required and if attrition is in fact happening, well, far better to do it with robots than with our own people. And there are people, by the way, there are people inside the US military that hate this type of logic. They believe that there are some sort of martial honor and valor with risking your own people in combat. I just disagree. I think robot armies are coming and I think they’ll benefit Western militaries more than they will Eastern militaries. Because Eastern militaries are going to attrite their people no matter what. You just made that argument. I think you’re right. So the idea of robot air forces, robot armies, robot navies. That’s coming. Someone’s going to field these things. I hope it’s us. And when it happens, I think we’re going to see that we will be able to bring a different style of combat in, especially in some sort of mass in numbers and being able to bring those numbers to the battlespace in ways we just aren’t now, because of the incredible cost of keeping our people safe.

ACME General: I think you’re probably right. And I don’t know that I have a follow up question, but I just have this image kind of on repeat. I watch footage from the battlefield in Ukraine and you see these images of the switchblade drones taking out a Russian soldier. And our perspective is, you know, one less enemy on the battlefield. And we used a robot to do it. And I just suspect that at least in Moscow, the Russian perspective is ‘we took out a switchblade drone.’ Do you know what I mean?

CH: Well, and that gets into relative value.

ACME General: Exactly.

CH: And I do think that one of the things military professionals need to have a theory on and need to have real, real communication skill is on understanding the tradeoff of relative value of the things that we are using and the things the enemy is using. I’ll tell you where I think we’ve got this entirely wrong. The Houthis are shooting in some cases missiles, in some cases drones. And I’m not sure there’s a huge difference between them anymore. But some of them are somewhat sophisticated. They come from Iran, but the vast majority are not – they’re cheap drones. And we’re shooting very expensive Navy missiles to down those cheap drones. And the cost difference is in the order of multiple orders of magnitude. And we won’t be able to do that forever. Eventually our magazine runs out. And in fact, in many of the war games that I have played over the last several years, we adopted a specific tactic of running the enemy out of their missiles, of doing everything we could to goad the enemy into shooting their expensive missiles at our inexpensive stuff. Sometimes those were decoys, sometimes those were drones. Sometimes those were just the ability to spread out over a very, very wide area and forcing the other side to use many, many more missiles than they want to. But in every case, when we were able to run their magazine low, it gave us a tremendous advantage. And I think that we as military professionals, and certainly those who are still in uniform, need to have the ability to articulate the relative value of the weapons that are being used against each other.

ACME General: Well, and the ultimate question, the ultimate value conflict is over the value of life, which we put in some cases at infinity. And I think we should. And it’s just such a disconnect with the way the Russian military is operated. And I don’t think we’ve entirely accounted for that. Your observation about magazine capacity and value of drones versus missiles gets to, at the end of the day, industrial capacity. And this observation: was it Milley who said, ‘armies don’t go to war, nations go to war’? This idea that you have to have an industrial capacity to support modern warfare, especially wars of attrition.

CH: Yes. And to the credit of the Defense Department, there was just the release of the National Defense Industrial Strategy, and there are quite a few things in that strategy that I think needed to be said. And certainly it does talk about the importance of a strong industrial base, especially as we look to the possibility of conflict with a great power and the type of warfare that we may be involved in which would, I think, undoubtedly involve quite a bit of attrition. And so I do think that people are waking up to the importance of a healthy industrial base and they’re also waking up to the fact that for years and years, we’ve been asking our industrial base to get more and more efficient at the expense of capacity. And that has to change. Now, how can we do that? I think there are some good ideas that are out there. I was a little disappointed in the National Defense Industrial Strategy because they didn’t really get into the specifics of how we were going to strengthen the industrial base, and certainly not in the form of what resources we would devote to that. But here’s what I think. I think that the United States has, and our allies have, incredible advantages when it comes to scaling certain things. And I don’t think those things are expensive platforms like ships and tanks and aircraft. I believe that software is scalable in a way that we’ve never seen. We certainly haven’t realized it in the military. But I believe that software is scalable. And up to the point of almost taking a platform and making it a different weapon every time you use it. And I also believe that the advanced manufacturing techniques coupled with autonomy creates the possibility that drones in the air, land and sea can be manufactured at scale and be taken and used on the battlefield. And because of that combination of software autonomy and advanced manufacturing, I feel like our long-term strategy for mobilization has to revolve around those things. And I think this gets into the idea of autonomy being such a game changer for our Western military. And I think it would be. And so I think that we’ve got to acknowledge that that’s going to be what happens if we get into a true long war, and we’ll have to mobilize our entire economy around that, especially in creating what might feel a lot like robot armies, robot navies and robot air forces.

ACME General: Well, I think this is a great opening for another critique of the National Defense Industrial Strategy and the broader focus on innovation. When we’re looking at the fight tonight in Ukraine and our inability to provide dumb artillery shells fast enough, artillery shells that don’t need a 30 year shelf life, that don’t need precision guidance, that don’t need to be fired in such a way as to preserve the life of gun barrels that are going to be traded out in two weeks anyway – how do we settle that conflict between the need for mass production and this often overemphasis on high-tech precision innovation and manufacturing?

CH: Yeah, I think you’re getting at a tension that is not going to be resolved, it’s going to be managed. And I think what you have got to do is make some difficult choices about what you want to manufacture at scale, using traditional manufacturing techniques and traditional supply chains. We have decided to scale up 155 artillery to help Ukraine. We’re not the only ones. Other countries have done it, too. And if that’s what we have decided to be the best use of our limited manufacturing, then okay, great. I’m not sure that that is where I would want to put the vast majority or even a significant amount of our manufacturing if we were going into conflict. And so I think that there may be a difference there that we could follow up on.

ACME General: All right, last question. Where do you see us in ten years? And how are we going to look back on this inflection point that I believe we’re living through now?

CH: Oh, well. I don’t want to be a downer. I think one of two things is going to happen. One is we’re going to take the opportunity to reinvent what it means to defend our country and defend our allies and be partners, to be able to help others defend themselves. And we’re going to be able to do the things that we already know that we need to do. I’m convinced that the answers are in front of us and that we just need to choose those answers. Those answers are hard to choose. There’s a political cost to choosing those answers and there’s real human cost to choosing those answers. But I think we know what we have to do. The other side is more pessimistic, and that is we will suffer a loss. A big one, one that’s not going to be fun. I still do believe we’ll be a United States. I’m not sure that we will be the world’s strongest military. And then we’ll be picking up the pieces. And finally, a democracy will change and people will realize how important it is that we think about national defense as not a jobs program, but a real important thing that keeps our democracy strong. And, you know, I don’t know which way we’re going to go. I certainly hope that we choose change and that we choose to improve ourselves. But I think there’s a decent possibility that we will suffer some sort of bad defeat, and we’ll all look at each other and there’ll be all sorts of finger pointing going on, and then finally we’ll move and we’ll change. And I hope the former happens and not the latter, but we’ll see.

ACME General: We will see. Clint, thank you so much for joining us.

CH: Thanks. So good to be with you all.

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