In this monthly column, Defense Daily highlights individuals from across the government, industry and academia whose efforts contribute daily to national defense, from the program managers to the human resource leaders, to the engineers and logistics officers, to defense entrepreneurs.
Brian Morrison is vice president and general manager of the Cyber Systems line of business for General Dynamics Mission Systems. He joined General Dynamics in 2012 and Mission Systems specifically in 2018. Before moving to General Dynamics, Morrison served in the Department of Defense as deputy assistant secretary of defense as the chief legislative strategist and liaison for matters with the House of Representatives. Before joining DoD, he was deputy staff director and general counsel with the House’s Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
How did you get involved in the defense industry or community?
I was a practicing lawyer on September 11, and I called a recruiter the very next day. I joined the reserves shortly after. That led me not just to Iraq in uniform, but also drove my civilian career to the Central Intelligence Agency, the House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and the Office of the Secretary of Defense.
After about a decade in government, I left my job as a Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense to join General Dynamics. I chose GD because it seemed to me that it had the same devotion to mission and dedication to our warfighters that I found in the government. Many things about industry are different, but at GD I’ve found that mission and customer focus to be in many ways the same.
How do you work to be a mentor yourself to younger counterparts?
I think the single most important part of being a mentor is blindingly obvious: you’ve got to show up. That means being available, being a part of the regular experience of someone, familiar with their challenges, strengths and opportunities. I think too often we think of mentoring as something that can be done with a 30-minute quarterly check-in. It would be easier if it worked that way, but I just don’t believe it does. Mentoring, like almost anything worth doing, takes time and effort.
Substantively, I really try to instill in people the value of servant leadership. I was trained in this company that my number one internal job was to remove the obstacles to the success of the larger team.
What does it mean to be successful in your career field?
It’s pretty simple. Success is when we hear back from a customer that a mission was a success, or a system is up and running, and that our work helped make it happen.
If we help our customers achieve their missions, lots of other things that look like success become possible: investments in people and unbelievably cool technologies, growth in the business, new opportunities and mission spaces. Those things are success, to be sure, but they follow from driving excellence for our customers.
What are some of the under-appreciated positions in the defense field, the unsung heroes or essential cogs in the machine that help the job get done with less recognition?
I’ve learned a lot about this in the last couple of years. In the past, our supply chain team ordered parts, the parts showed up on time, and our manufacturing team built our products according to a schedule. Of course, in the last two years, that entire simple process has broken down, and revealed itself to be not that simple. Parts are hard to come by, lead times are long, and the manufacturing process is disrupted. We’ve been able to protect our customers’ missions by herculean efforts to bring in parts and surge our manufacturing efforts when we were clear to build. The result of this has been that something that might have historically been silent and underappreciated is now very much appreciated.
In a similar vein, through COVID we have seen our customers, particularly in the Intelligence Community, struggle with staffing, just like industry. As a result, we’ve really come to appreciate the pressures faced by our customers’ contracts, finance, security and accreditation staff. Again, what once was silent and underappreciated is now very much appreciated.
How can the industry improve in promoting these individuals and building them up?
On the manufacturing and supply chain front, part of it is about giving them a seat at the table, including at the earliest stages of development. It’s much easier to design for supply chain and for manufacturability than it is to address those things later. Of course, part of it is simply appreciating how hard those jobs are and how much they matter.
With regard to helping the unsung functions at our customers, we’ve got to work to find innovative and less labor-intensive ways to negotiate and enter into contracts Without sacrificing security, we need to find ways for us to bear more of the certification and accreditation burdens.
How has the culture changed around diversity within your career?
I think people understand today that diversity is an imperative, not a bonus. There is a significant amount of empirical evidence that shows that diverse teams perform better at driving innovation. To me, that means that if we improve the diversity of our teams, we improve our performance for our customers, and consequently improve our customers’ mission success. As we compete in a very tight labor market, we’ve also found that diversity helps us in that competition – both in terms of attracting new employees who want to be on a diverse team, but also in opening up the talent pool to groups that have historically not been well-represented in the defense industry. Finally, our ability to do significant jobs from remote or partially remote environments has allowed us to appeal to other groups that might not have considered our work in the past.
What is your advice for new entrants to the defense/military community?
Certainly, you’ve got to be in it for the mission. Any job has hard days, and if you’re not motivated by something bigger than your career or your paycheck, you’re going to struggle with motivation on those hard days, and it’s too easy to jump to a more lucrative industry, without the complications of security clearances and SCIFs.
I also encourage people to spend some time in government. There’s a richness of understanding that comes from working on both the customer side and the industry side. For anyone working on the industry side, I can’t emphasize enough the importance of getting out to customer locations and seeing how our technology impacts their missions. It makes the technology better, helps the missions and it is motivating.
What do you see as the future of your sector in national defense?
The notion of battles waged by nation-states with conventional weapons and overt armies is an antiquated one. Tomorrow’s battles will be silent, without attribution, or often even knowledge that an attack has taken place. The notion of a fixed battlespace is gone – cyber warfare can and does go on in essentially any “place.” Even the notion of what constitutes a combatant is changing – platforms that were once designed around human operators are increasingly envisioned as remotely operated or autonomous. That networking and automation vastly increases the cyber threat surface.
For the cyber security market, that means robust, military-grade cyber security products that can be easily customized for a mission and rapidly integrated into a platform with minimal effort. For the encryption market, I think we’ll see a marked trend toward adaptable encryption platforms and products, at higher and higher speeds. I also anticipate that the trend we’ve seen away from “good enough” commercial encryption back to purpose-built, hardened crypto.
All of that will require investment. I know the national security establishment has come to grips with the notion that our adversaries see cyber warfare as a way to erode our long military supremacy. I think the next decade will reflect that, with an unprecedented number of new military cyber security and encryption products coming to the missions.
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