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DoD Research & Engineering

Remarks by Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Michael Kratsios

Georgetown University Center for Security and Emerging Technology
August 13, 2020

Thank you so much to Dr. Jason Matheny and Georgetown CSET for hosting today’s event. Before I begin, I also want to thank the men and women of the Department of Defense’s Research and Engineering Office. This is my first public event since I was named Acting Under Secretary, and I want to say that I am thrilled to have the opportunity to serve with such a distinguished group of patriots who have for years achieved incredible advances for our nation.

In America, innovation is in our DNA. Our military, private sector, and academic institutions have long worked together, pushing the boundaries of science and engineering to develop technologies that have changed the world and made the United States into the strongest and most prosperous nation in human history.

For decades, the Department of Defense has been at the center of it all. From global positioning satellites to stealth aircraft to the internet, many of the advances we take for granted today began with the military. It is in large part because of our immense technological accomplishments that the United States has engaged with the world as the sole, undisputed global superpower for the past nearly 30 years.

That’s not to say that we have not faced many threats, from terrorism to the risk of nuclear proliferation. Yet in face of these threats, we have relied on our technological, military, and economic capabilities that far outmatch our adversaries.

Our values of freedom, the rule of law, and fair competition coupled with the brilliance and creativity of our people have made America into an innovative powerhouse unlike anything the world has ever seen. We will need these values now more than ever because the global landscape is changing.

Great power competition has once again emerged as our nation’s greatest security concern. An emboldened and increasingly aggressive Chinese Communist Party is building and deploying some of the most advanced weapons in the world while using their newfound economic and technological power to undermine our safety, our security, and our freedom. All of this is happening in a digital age that has blurred the lines between competition and conflict. The battles of today and tomorrow will be fought not only on land, air, and sea, but in cyberspace, the marketplace, and even beyond the reaches of planet Earth.

As we have seen with the Chinese Communist Party’s aggressive effort to entrench compromised 5G infrastructure in every nation possible, adversarial powers threaten our security today just as much—if not more—through their commercial and technological powers than they do with their military capabilities.

* * *

Recognizing this increasingly complex security environment, the Department of Defense has realigned our National Defense Strategy to respond to Beijing’s challenge. Fundamental to that strategy—and fundamental to preserving our strategic superiority and our way of life—is to retain America’s technological dominance.

America has the most advanced innovation ecosystem the world has ever known. The federal government, private sector, and academia all operate in concert to produce advances that other nations can’t even dream of. This is probably why our adversaries spend more time, treasure, and talent stealing our ideas than creating their own.

Secretary Esper has set a clear goal for the Department: To modernize the force with game-changing technologies. To preserve American superiority and security in the 21st century, we must use every lever at our disposal to protect and supercharge our innovative capabilities.

When we continually have the most advanced technology, we maximize the lethality of our force, ensure our continued economic and military dominance, and promote peace and prosperity for all Americans and all nations who value freedom.

Here is how we do it:

First, we will harness the Defense Department’s unique authorities to pursue bold innovations through sandboxing, pilot programs, and other outside-of-the-box ways of testing, developing, and scaling game-changing technologies. The DOD already embraces innovation. I intend to leverage the Department’s unmatched research and engineering expertise to turbocharge this vital effort.

Second, we will continue to renew our emphasis on research and development, and deepen our strategic partnerships with America’s private sector and academic community to advance critical innovations. Our nation has a long history of transferring innovations from our defense sector to the civilian sector in order to fuel prosperity.

We must do more to bring the incredible advances currently being made in academia and private industry to bear on the Department’s most difficult challenges.

Third and finally, we will engage closely with likeminded nations who stand with the United States to defend freedom and face the shared challenges of our time.We will not stand idly by and watch as adversarial nations seek to steal our achievements, weaponize our technologies against us, and subvert the free and prosperous order that we and our allies have built.

* * *

My first mission is to do even more to empower the DOD’s researchers and technologists as they  employ the Department’s unique authorities and unrivaled testing environments to pursue innovation at a scale and scope unattainable by the private sector.

Perhaps counterintuitively for a government agency, the DoD’s research and development enterprise has remained relatively free from regulatory capture. In our mission to defend our nation’s interests and equip our fighting forces, we must take advantage of this freedom to maneuver, leveraging every authority and option we have at the DOD to enhance research and testing.

An excellent example of the advantages the Department brings to research and testing is our ongoing work on 5G technology.  For private sector companies to test the capabilities and functionality of 5G communications, they must negotiate agreements with state and local officials, attain pole permits, fund the construction of antennas, find other private partners willing to test operations on a new system, and coordinate bureaucrat approvals through a myriad of government agencies—all of which have overlapping and redundant authorities and regulations.

At the DOD, we already have the personnel, operational capacity, facilities, scale, and regulatory green light to get the job done. In June, the Department announced that 5G experimentation is ongoing at five of our installations and that we will begin testing on seven more by the end of this fall.

Working in close concert with industry, we are using these tests to enhance augmented reality and virtual training, to make our air operation centers mobile, safer and more secure, and much more. These advances will not only dramatically improve our warfighting capabilities, they will also bring new uses for this technology and others to the private sector.

* * *

As we leverage the DoD’s unique authorities, we are also making the most of our vast federal and private resources to improve research and development. Since 2017, the Department of Defense R&D budget has increased by over 20 percent and DARPA has its largest budget in history.

The DoD is the biggest Federal funder of university R&D in computer science, materials science, aerospace engineering, electrical engineering, and mechanical engineering. This funding not only advances scientific knowledge, but also trains the next generation of scientists and engineers that support the defense enterprise and American industry.

Our immense resources are largely focused on key modernization priorities that align with our new National Defense Strategy and are critical to ensuring our fighting edge on any future battlefield. Among these are microelectronics, 5G, hypersonics, and AI.

We do not silo these subject areas. All of them have the capability of interacting together to give us a full spectrum of options to respond to our adversaries in whatever way we need to — from economic or digital deterrence to high-impact kinetic combat.

Yet we cannot optimize our innovation without the incredible talent and resources of the private sector and academia. Recognizing the strength of American private industry, the Department of Defense has successfully partnered for decades with large contractors who produce immensely powerful weaponry. However, in this digital age, more and more innovation is happening in small startups and academic labs.

As was made clear in the National Defense Strategy, we “will continue to explore streamlined, non-traditional pathways to bring critical skills into service, expanding access to outside expertise, and cultivating new public-private partnerships to work with small companies, start-ups, and universities.”

The Department has recognized how tortuous accessing the DOD has become for the startup and tech community, places where real innovation is happening in this country. To address this problem, in 2015, the DoD created the Defense Innovation Unit experimental, or DIUx, with authorities to bypass this cumbersome process. The DoD also supports billions of dollars in SBIR and STTR programs to engage with smaller, innovative companies and researchers.

As a testament to the caliber of work at DIUx, the DOD recently dropped “experimental” from its title and made the DIU a permanent part of the department. From applying machine learning to predict component failure, to using remotely operated, unmanned underwater vehicles for explosive disposal, DIU is already integrating commercial solutions from non-traditional DOD-vendors to make a difference.

We are committed to redoubling our efforts to break down regulatory barriers and bureaucratic hurdles, ensuring that all companies, no matter their size, have the opportunity to do business with the Department. To succeed against our adversaries, the DOD must truly embrace all parts of our innovative ecosystem.

* * *

While we take these actions at home to supercharge our industrial ecosystem in the service of national security, it remains as necessary as ever to strengthen our alliances and international partnerships.

For generations we have relied on the support, capabilities, and aid of our allies to defend freedom, maintain favorable balances of power, and deter war and aggression. However, doing so increasingly depends on our technological superiority and continued innovation—and we can accomplish much more working with our partners than we can on our own.

Using our combined resources and expertise, the United States and our allies can and will develop technologies that support our mutual defense and counteract authoritarian technologies developed by our adversaries. We’re already doing it. In something called the Technical Cooperation Program, the U.S., Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom have gathered more than 2,000 scientists, engineers, and technicians to conduct military field research.

A year ago, this program tested urban combat technologies, including new tools to help us detect unmanned aircraft systems, protect friendly forces from explosives or vehicles, and identify hostile activity. Similarly, the United Kingdom and the United States are working together on the U.S.- U.K. S&T Defense Review, where we jointly apply new science and technology to improve our military advantages.

More and more, the impacts of these advanced technologies like 5G, quantum computing, artificial intelligence, and other industries of the future quickly extend across borders. This is not only true of the technology itself, but also what international norms govern how we employ these new technologies in combat.

By coordinating even more closely with our international partners, we will develop new technologies that will expand the Department of Defense’s lethal capabilities, improve our operational interoperability with allied forces, increase our nations’ industrial bases, and always keep freedom-loving nations ahead of our authoritarian adversaries.

* * *

Every generation of Americans has faced a challenge that defines them. As we find ourselves, once more, in a world being shaped by Great Power Competition, we can take heart in the knowledge that we will not ignore, or dismiss, or shirk from the obligation before us.

By increasing the coordination between the private sector and the federal government, by renewing our commitment to fundamental research and development, and by uniting with our likeminded international partners, we will preserve our technological edge and the innovative genius that has long been the source of American strength and leadership.

With our technology, intelligence, institutions, and resources—and most importantly, our resilience and our spirit—we will prevail and remain secure, prosperous, and free. Thank you.

USD(R&E)
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