Scott O'Neil speaks at CLA Luncheon with RDML Mike Moran

O'Neil: WD poised to thrive in recovery
REBECCA NEIPP, News Review Staff Writer

    A full house at last week's China Lake Alliance luncheon heard Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division Executive Director Scott O'Neil discuss the challenges of maintaining national security in times of financial crises. Rather than bemoan the painful local impacts of cuts to Department of Defense budgets, he pointed to the opportunities for innovative cultures, such as the one at China Lake, to find creative solutions in times of economic hardship.

    Despite those challenges, CLA Executive Director Eileen Shibley hailed O'Neil for continuing to carry out the local Navy mission of supporting the warfighter.

    "I had the good fortune of working for Scott for many years. One of the things I heard him say something like 20 years ago is that our job is to make sure that if America is involved in a fight, that fight is not fair. Today we are still making sure our warfighter has the advantage. That is what China Lake and DOD are contributing to our country," said Shibley.

    O'Neil said that despite the fiscal uncertainty of a beleaguered budget process and hits to morale and efficiency caused by furloughs, 2013 hass been a successful year.

    "We run WD like a business. We are a fee-for-service organization, and we are only as good as our last job." NAWCWD essentially inherits a debt of $1.3 billion and competes for work. "We can't generate a profit or a loss. And even though our books are still open for this year, we think we hit our mark."

    Other measures that helped WD achieve solvency were adherence to the mandated 30-percent reduction in travel - which impacted China Lakers and visitors alike. "The pressure on travel is going to persist, but we are committed to making sure the work is done."

    O'Neil illustrated the wax and wane of DOD spending since World War II, which show 2013 about two-thirds of the way down a slope that bottoms out about every other decade. He said that best-case scenarios project funding holding steady, but a more likely outcome will see that line continuing to creep downward.

    "But we technically had a great year." Among those achievements was the delivery of the 100th Advanced Anti-Radiation Guidance Missile. He said that milestone represents a model relationship between DOD and industry - a trend he predicted would become more common in an environment where cost continues to drive competition.

    Despite the murkiness in reading future funding levels, "WD will be OK. We are postured very well to thrive, and we have some things on the horizon that I think will help us."

    "The budget is going to go down. We are going to continue to see pressure on particular elements of our economy," he said.

    "But in those troughs, you have opportunity. When budgets get tight, that's when we really start thinking. And we think a lot more clearly at WD than we do at a lot of other places."

    "We are going to have some rough waters. Maybe even a waterfall or two. But we continue to be innovative and assertive in getting our leadership to understand our capabilities - for not only today's problems, but tomorrow's. We will continue to forge ahead in a way that allows us to respond to the down cycle by capitalizing on opportunities."

    O'Neil also introduced Rear Adm. Mike Moran, who recently took the WD helm.

    Moran underscored O'Neil's assurance that China Lake is well equipped to weather fiscal adversity and boasts skill sets and facilities found in no other installation in the country. He also praised O'Neil for his innovation and leadership.

    "Whatever happens, the uniqueness of China Lake in terms of our capability will allow us to move forward smartly. I really do think there are opportunities out there, and that this organization is already taking advantage of those."

    He also thanked the community for its warm welcome since his arrival and said he was amazed at the local patriotism and commitment to supporting the Navy's mission.

    "What I ask you to do as community leaders is continue to make Ridgecrest a better place to live," said O'Neil. "We recognize that we cannot execute our mission without Ridgecrest and the Indian Wells Valley. We all do our part to contribute to our national security."