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July 9, 2020 | International, Aerospace, Naval, Land, C4ISR, Security

DoD must modernize infrastructure to support cutting-edge technology research

By: JihFen Lei

If you're reading this over the internet, you're using technology developed by the Department of Defense science and technology enterprise. For decades, the DoD has cultivated a wide-ranging ecosystem of technical professionals, research infrastructure and partnerships that has made vast contributions to U.S. national security and economic strength. From microchips to the GPS satellites that enabled a revolution in precision warfare, the department's S&T enterprise has been central to creating the security and prosperity our nation enjoys today.

Although technology dominance has long been central to the American way of war, U.S. military superiority is increasingly under threat. American adversaries are making rapid technological advancements and incorporating them into newly modernized forces. In response, the department has been working to aggressively position its S&T enterprise to meet the security needs of the 21st century.

Long-term success will require concentration in three fundamental areas: First, we must invest for the future while focusing on the present. This requires investing in foundational research that will create the next generation of military superiority. Second, we must cultivate a workforce of scientists and engineers ready to solve the DoD's hardest problems. Finally, we must create and maintain world-class defense laboratories and research facilities, enabling us to work with academic and industrial partners to quickly transition technology into capabilities. Each of these elements are critical to nurturing an innovation ecosystem optimized for the department's needs.

The road to the next great scientific or technological advance starts with basic science and research. Basic research is central to the DoD's long-term competitive strategy to create and maintain military superiority for the nation. The DoD has a long history of conducting and sponsoring basic research, focusing on understanding how and why things work at a fundamental scientific level.

Although basic research is often performed without obvious or immediate benefit and requires long timelines to realize its impact, the importance of continued investment cannot be overlooked. Without the department's basic research investments — made years ago — in the new areas of autonomy, quantum science, artificial intelligence and machine learning, or biotechnology, the DoD would not possess the innovative and advanced capabilities it does today.

Basic research enables the U.S. to create strategic surprise for its adversaries and insulates the nation from technological shocks driven by the advancements of others. Stable and healthy investment in basic research is not only good to have, it is a vital component of the nation's strategy to maintain a competitive advantage.

The DoD must use all of the tools at its disposal to develop a skilled, diverse workforce of technical professionals who are knowledgeable about the DoD's missions and capable of advising DoD leaders on technology decisions. This includes the scientists and engineers who will conduct research in DoD laboratories and engineering centers, our industry partners, and the academic research community with whom the department closely collaborates.

There is nothing more critical to the American military's ability to innovate than its people. For these reasons, the department relies on authorities provided by Congress to conduct flexible, direct hiring of technical professionals to work in DoD research institutions.

The department looks for the best technical professionals to join its ranks as researchers, engineers and trusted advisers to the DOD's senior leaders. When the department attempts to incorporate new knowledge from academia or new technologies from industry, the DoD's S&T workforce must be capable of making smart buying decisions based on sound technical judgment and an understanding of the DoD's unique mission needs.

At a time when other nations are prioritizing the recruitment of technology professionals to bolster their military strength, the department must view its S&T workforce as a strategic resource that is fundamental to long-term technological superiority.

Many capabilities found at DoD labs are unique national treasures and cannot be found elsewhere. On average, these laboratories, which span 63 locations across 22 states and the District of Columbia, are over 45 years old. As part of its strategy to recruit and retain a world-class S&T workforce, the department must modernize its technical infrastructure, laboratories and engineering centers. The DoD should invest wisely to modernize these outdated facilities and their equipment to support the modern, cutting-edge research that our national defense demands.

As the nation once again prepares to engage in long-term strategic competition, the DoD's S&T enterprise is the key to success. Sufficiently resourcing long-term research and technology development activities will ensure America avoids technology surprise while creating a disproportionate advantage for the war fighter. The department must make the investments necessary to educate, attract and retain the world's best talent. As the DoD's National Defense Strategy makes clear, advanced technologies will be central to America's ability to fight and win future wars.

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    By: Mike Gruss The Pentagon is reorganizing its internal offices to better partner with universities and upstart technology firms to ensure the military has access to talent and research in the near future and to fortify its innovation pipeline. Defense leaders are increasingly worried about what they describe as the national security innovation base. They hope a series of steps will make it easier to work with, and take advantage of, the leading-edge science across the country. This includes technology that spans from the concept stage to the production stage, and outlets that includes researchers to the defense industrial base. The changes, which affect the Defense Innovation Unit and MD5, were first mentioned in the Pentagon's budget request for fiscal 2020 and have been discussed with increasing details in recent weeks. Defense innovation leaders explained the new setup to C4ISRNET in an interview May 9. DIU's mission is to help the military accelerate its use of emerging commercial technologies and lower the barrier of entry for businesses that don't already do business with the Pentagon. Under the new approach: - The MD5 National Security Technology Accelerator has been renamed the National Security Innovation Network. The network, which helps connect academia, DOD laboratories and users, will fall under the Defense Innovation Unit as a way to take advantage of economies of scale. Morgan Plummer, the network's managing director, said the new name, which changed May 6, more accurately portrays the agency's mission. The program has its own line in the budget for the first time in fiscal 2020. - The National Security Innovation Capital fund, a new program created in the fiscal 2019 defense policy bill, will set aside investment in upstart U.S. companies so they don't fall risk to foreign investors. U.S. leaders fear that as some startups become so desperate for funding they may not consider the national security ramifications of accepting money from overseas. “It's an attempt to keep hardware investment on shore,” said Mike Madsen, director of Washington operations at DIU. The NSIC also aims to signal to the investment community that the Defense Department is interested in developing dual-use technologies and to provide a foreign investment alternative for hardware companies. In testimony to Congress in March, Mike Griffin, the Pentagon's acquisition chief for research and engineering, said that the new groups will fall to DIU “in an effort to put similarly-focused organizations under a single leadership structure.” Perhaps more importantly, Defense leaders said the new structure will help the Pentagon “hand off” technology with a low readiness level or level of maturity until it is ready for broader adoption. “There are these huge pools of untapped talent,” Plummer said. To take advantage of that talent means going beyond research grants in academia and instead to create a network of hubs and spokes of early stage ventures in approximately 35 communities throughout the country. While DIU has offices in Austin, Boston and Silicon Valley, creating a broader network means the NSIN would have staffers in cities such as Chicago, Miami, Columbus, Boulder, Raleigh, St. Louis and Minneapolis. “It makes the Department accessible in a real way,” Plummer said. Previously, business leaders may see the Pentagon as a “big gray monolith” and “may not even know where the door to this place is.” DIU will continue to focus on artificial intelligence, autonomy, cyber, human systems, and space. The Pentagon asked for $164 million for DIU in its fiscal 2020 budget request.

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