General Joe Votel's Remarks Upon Receipt of the Prestigious Rylander Award


Description of the Award -

The R. Lynn Rylander Award is the National Defense Industrial Association's highest honor. It is presented annually to an individual who has made distinctive contributions in the areas of Special Operations, Low Intensity Conflict, or Irregular Warfare. Achievements may be singular or cumulative, but in the spirit of R. Lynn Rylander’s service, the policy, guidance, leadership, or mission contributions must have been of the highest impact – highly significant and lasting – to the SO/LIC community. For the Rylander, the contributions should also show support of the goals and objectives of NDIA and the SO/LIC Division as a cooperative open forum between government and industry.


Thank you. It is an honor to receive an award of such distinction from the nation’s largest and eldest Defense Industrial Association. Most impressively, for more than 100 years you have provided a platform of over 1,800 corporate and 62,000 individual members from government, industry, and academia to collaborate and provide solutions to advance the national security and defense needs of the nation.

As a special operator of over 40 years, I am especially thankful for the work you have done in your SO/LIC Division. You have helped the industry, government and public understand the critical role our community plays in the national security enterprise. You champion our work in matters involving special operations, low-intensity conflict, and related national security matters, including counternarcotics, combating terrorism, PSY-Ops, force protection, humanitarian operations and peacekeeping.

Your work is of critical importance, and I am humbled to be recognized by such a distinguish group of patriots. I feel particularly privileged to be among awardees like Mike Vickers, Hondo Geurts, Eric Olson, and John Mulholland. In fact, I have the distinct pleasure of working closely with Hondo in his role as a Distinguished Fellow at BENS. His work continues to make an critical impact on the future of our industrial network,

As you all know, Lynn Rylander was the DASD for SO/LIC, and his sudden passing in 1990 was a loss for our entire community of special operators. He was integral to the reforms made to ensure adequate funding and policy emphasis for the SO/LIC mission and helped pull the SOF budget process out from under the heavy weight of the bureaucracy within the Services and Joint Staff. He was an early advocate and activist on the revitalization of Special Operations Forces and the organizational and legislative changes required to sustain them. Including the establishment of SOCOM.

We are at a watershed moment, with geostrategic competition with China as well as heightened threats by bad actors in Russia, Iran, and North Korea. All the while, counter-terrorism remains a considerable threat to our nation, allies, and partners. Everyone in this room understands what is at stake. Today’s pressing situation in Ukraine emphasizes the velocity with which we must act to build capacity and eliminate the obstacles to progress in manning and equipping the force of today and tomorrow. We find ourselves in an unstable world and I would argue that we are not currently postured for the conflicts of the future.

I lead the team at Business Executives of National Security, which is a nationwide network of over 400 elite business leaders who are united in the belief that private-sector best practices and cutting-edge ideas to help the Department of Defense and other national security agencies execute their missions to keep America secure. We believe that national security is everybody’s business.

Like you, we believe that the global race for next generation technology is on. To outstep our competitors, we must incorporate new and nontraditional models of sourcing innovation, and renew bonds between the private sector, industry, and government. Trust between the public and private sector that breaks bureaucracy and spurs game changing processes and engineering is critical. What we need is a Future Industrial Network. And by network I don’t mean a technology network. I mean a network of sectors, industries and people; a network of ideas and strategies that can ensure a secure and prosperous future for our nation.

As I shared in a recent OpEd, networks have become a key organizing principle behind many of the recent business successes in the civilian sector. Amazon, Uber, Google Waze, Meta, and Airbnb are all examples of start-ups that took advantage of the information revolution and achieved explosive growth through successful scaling of network strategies along with effective use of the power of machines, platforms, and crowds. The same must now be achieved for the defense sector. We must move from “industrial-base thinking” to “network thinking.”

Harnessing our collective capabilities, talents, and innovations into such a dynamic and aligned network will help overcome the limitations of linear thinking that have impaired the nation’s competitive position in an increasingly challenging world. It will support the improved revitalization of conventional defense-industrial capacity, while also more fully integrating the creative, productive, and dual-use capabilities of the broader economies of the United States and its allies. Attracting and scaling a larger number of more diverse elements into a networked system will enable the United States and its allies to accelerate growth, dramatically increase pivot speed, and substantially enhance resiliency. Finally, by building a flexible network more powerful than the sum of its individual parts, the United States and its allies can create a system capable of outperforming more authoritarian, centrally-planned competitors such as China.

For such a defense network to achieve its full potential, however, it must have several fundamental features, incorporating at least five characteristics.

First, it must shed the unconscious assumption of U.S. dominance over strategic competitors and move to a mindset that focuses more on nimble, opportunistic competitiveness with near peers, including the capacity to be a fast follower.

Second, a reconfigured industrial system must incentivize businesses to scale at the speed of relevance and support swift delivery of new technologies for defense development use. This can sometimes mean moving away from larger, more vertically integrated providers as the preferred vehicle for producing and fielding capabilities.

Third, the future industrial network must fully leverage the U.S. competitive advantage in the financial marketplace—at all levels, from venture capital to Wall Street financing—to help fund and energize more research and development. Doing so will help the Department of Defense (DoD) to rebalance its spending from costly research and development back into procurement, thereby increasing government buying power and opening the door to greater private capital investment and involvement in technologies with dual-use potential.

Fourth, the network must find and deploy technologies from all sectors of the industrial base, taking full advantage of those initially intended for commercial purposes. It must obtain visibility of the array of technologies in development across the entire economy. It must also be capable of agilely adapting such emerging technologies to defense use without costly and time-consuming reinvention and reduplication.

Fifth, the future industrial network will only be as powerful as the talent it attracts, develops, and employs. For the United States to remain preeminent, the workforce of today and tomorrow must have a culture promoting innovation, professional development, and satisfaction. To achieve this, even more cooperation between government, business, and educational institutions will have to be fostered.

The United States has successfully built such a national security-related network before; the challenge is designing and scaling a network to address a much broader set of constituencies, complexities, and interests. From 2009 to 2016, I had a front row seat to equip and deploy fighting forces at U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM). I saw the power that a network approach can offer to solve complex and urgent challenges. Based on a shared vision, opportunistic posture, and competitive mindset, a diverse group of existing DoD vendors, startups, allies, academic partners, and government joined together as a network to deliver rapid, outsized outcomes for our troops downrange.

I know that NDIA was and continues to be an advocate for these innovative approaches, and for that I am thankful.

NDIA is a strong leader in advocating for the elimination of these stove-pipes. Organizationally, you are known as the expert in identifying and communicating the needs of the defense industrial base and helping defense suppliers navigate DoD requirements – with special attention to the mids and smalls, as well as small business and entrepreneurs in the private sector. These are important efforts without which DoD would be unable to access the commercial technologies and retain technological superiority that has been one of the hallmarks of our military success.

If we fail to develop a higher-level vision for our defense industrial sector, we run the risk of forgoing decades of success, peace, and security that we have built since the Second World War. We must respond to the changing global order with a network that incorporates modernized practices and procedures designed for the twenty-first century. After-all isn’t this what Lynn Rylander would have wanted?

During my career, I benefitted from a network of people with grit, entrepreneurial thinking, combined with technical know-how. A confluence of trusted vendors, startups, allies, academic partners, and public servants who recognized the challenge I had, seized the opportunity, and delivered rapid and impressive outcomes. Be it at 75th Ranger Regiment, JSOC, SOCOM, or CENTCOM, we benefitted from the great dividends that partnerships provide.

We must now scale those networks to address a broader set of complexities and interests. The United States is more than capable of assembling institutions and individuals to promote shared visions and achieve alignment to succeed against the extraordinary challenges we face around the globe. History has shown us time and time again the guiding power of a shared vision – from the federal government harnessing the talent and expertise provided by the American business community.

I again wish to thank NDIA for honoring me tonight. But importantly, I want to thank you for the work you have done to promote partnerships and innovation in the defense industrial base and specifically in the SO/LIC space. The diligent efforts of NDIA in promoting policies and partnerships to support our defense and national security are both exceptional and essential.