Article was originally published on insidedefense.com by Audrey Decker on October 28th, 2021

A former Pentagon official is arguing the only way to save what is seen as an eroding industrial base is to build a new market bridge between the Navy and industry.

“Our military industrial base has continued to collapse. Meanwhile, new companies have grown up in this nation making amazing technology, but without a relationship with the military to begin with,” said Will Roper, former Air Force acquisition executive and the founder of the Pentagon’s Strategic Capabilities Office.

Roper, now the chief executive officer of commercial drone company Volansi, and Brent Sadler, senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation who focuses on Navy issues, discussed the need for a market bridge between the Navy and industry to develop future capabilities.

The Navy could be “a leader in the world” if they regulated new capabilities, like autonomy, and set the safety standards for developing these systems, Roper said today at a Heritage Foundation virtual event.

“I predict if the Navy did that, civilian regulators would say, ‘Thank you, I don’t have to figure it out, I’m going to do exactly what the Navy did,’ and the market would happen,” Roper added.

To make that happen, the Navy needs to focus on becoming “less of a procurer and more of a catalyst,” he said.

“Look what happens when we just procure: We shrink the industrial base and create generational programs. That’s a losing strategy,” Roper said.

The Navy needs to build a “digital ship,” representative of today’s technologies, and if it doesn’t, the consequences will be dire, Roper warned.

“We need to build a fourth industrial revolution ship today because if we don’t, someone else will and if there’s a military advantage to be had, they’ll have it,” he added.

If the Navy could realize that systems built for one purpose can do something else, it could also realize that it’s possible to take technology being built for a commercial purpose and seed it into the military space, according to Roper.