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Critical Technology Areas

The OUSD(R&E) works closely with the Military Services, Combatant Commands, industry, academia, and other stakeholders to ensure that the Department's science and technology strategy addresses the key national security challenges- from rising seas to a rising China- that the United States faces today and will face in the future.

Three categories of technology areas recognize the more varied and complex environment for investment, development, and application of technology that characterizes the early 21st century. There are 14 critical technology areas vital to maintaining the United States' national security grouped into three categories. While many technologies may cross between these categories, these groupings represent the broad and different approaches that are required to advance technologies crucial to the Department. By focusing efforts and investments into these 14 critical technology areas, the Department will accelerate transitioning key capabilities to the Military Services and Combatant Commands. As the Department's technology strategy evolves and technologies change, the Department will update its critical technology priorities.

For more information on the USD(R&E) Technology Vision for an Era of Competition, click the button below.

Technology Roadmaps or Plans & Reports

Seed Areas of Emerging Opportunity

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    Biotechnology is an emerging engineering discipline that uses living systems to produce a wide range of technologies and capabilities. From fighting global pandemics and avoiding surprises to reducing logistics and sustainment costs and increasing energy efficiency, biotechnology can help change the way the Department conducts missions, performs in contested logistics environments, and adapts to major global changes.

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    Quantum Science

    Quantum Science is the study of physical properties at small, even atomic, scales. Defense applications include atomic clocks, quantum sensors, quantum computing, and quantum networks. Quantum science promises to enable leap-ahead capabilities. Quantum computing can provide unprecedented computational speeds and help solve the Department's hardest analytical problems. Quantum sensors promise the ability to provide unprecedented accuracy in position, navigation, and timing. From more accurate information to faster decision making, to significantly stronger encryption capabilities, quantum science has the promise to deliver cutting-edge technology.

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    Future Generation Wireless Technology (FutureG)

    FutureG is a suite of emerging wireless network technologies enabled by DoD and commercial industry cooperation to enable military operations and ensure a free and open internet. As Fifth Generation (5G) wireless technology is adopted and provides building blocks for capability, the DoD will also look to FutureG for leap-ahead technologies to lead in creating future standards. The Department will invest in FutureG technology development to lay the groundwork for continued United States leadership in information technology, which is vital for maintaining our economic and national security.

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    Advanced Materials

    Advanced materials explore innovative new materials and novel manufacturing techniques that can dramatically improve many of the Department's capabilities. Materials that have higher strength, lighter weight, higher efficiency, and can handle more extreme temperatures will have the potential to better protect our service members and enhance their ability to accomplish their missions.

Effective Adoption Areas

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    Trusted AI and Autonomy

    Artificial Intelligence (Al) is the software engineering discipline of expanding capabilities of software applications to perform tasks that currently require human intelligence. Machine learning is an engineering subfield of AI that trains software models using example data, simulations, or real-world experiences rather than by direct programming or coding. Autonomy is the engineering discipline that expands robots' abilities to perform tasks while limiting the need for human interaction. AI holds tremendous promise to improve the ability and function of nearly all systems and operations. Trusted AI with trusted autonomous systems are imperative to dominate future conflicts. As AI, machine learning, and autonomous operations continue to mature, the DoD will focus on evidence-based AI-assurance and enabling operational effectiveness.

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    Integrated Network Systems-of-Systems

    Integrated Network Systems-of-Systems technology encompasses the capability to communicate, provide real-time dissemination of information across the Department, and effective command and control in a contested electromagnetic environment. Integrated Network Systems-of-Systems capability must enable engagements by any sensor and shooter, with the ability to integrate disparate systems. An interoperable network that
    leverages emerging capabilities across the electromagnetic spectrum such as 5G, software defined networking and radios, and modern information exchange techniques will allow the Department to better integrate many diverse mission systems and provide fully networked command, control, and communication that is capable, resilient, and secure.

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    Microelectronics are circuits and components that serve as the "brain" to human-made electronic functional systems. Virtually every military and commercial system relies on microelectronics. Diminishing microelectronics manufacturing in the United States and supply chain concerns have highlighted national economic and security risks. Working closely with industry, academia, and across the Government, the Department is addressing the need for secure microelectronics sources and will leverage state-of-the-art commercial development and production for defense microelectronic solutions.

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    Space Technology

    Space technologies include space flight, Space communication and other technologies needed to maintain space operations. With rising threats and increasing dependence on space-based systems, the Department's space strategy must shift away from exquisite satellites to a more robust and proliferated architecture. Novel space technologies are necessary to enable resilient cross-domain operations. The space strategy must incorporate technologies that enhance the Department's adaptive and reconfigurable capabilities in space situational awareness, space control, communication path diversity, on-orbit processing, and autonomy.

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    Renewable Energy Generation and Storage

    Renewable energy generation and storage includes solar wind, bio-based and geothermal technologies, advanced energy storage, electronic engines, and power grid integration. Renewable energy generation and storage promises to decrease warfighter vulnerability and deliver new operational capabilities for the Department. From more efficient batteries to diversifying energy sources and reduced fuel transportation risks, renewable energy generation and storage will add resilience and flexibility in a contested logistics environment.

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    Advanced Computing and Software

    Advanced computing and software technologies include supercomputing, cloud computing, data storage, computing architectures, and data processing. Software is ubiquitous throughout the Department, but the speed at which software develops outpaces the Department's ability to stay up to date. The Department must rapidly modernize its legacy software systems with resilient, affordable, and assured new software that has been designed, developed, and tested using processes that establish confidence in its performance. The Department must migrate to a Development-Security-Operations (DevSecOps) approach in its software development and evolve to a model of continuous development, continuous test, and continuous delivery. The Department must leverage modular open system architecture approaches to isolate hardware from software and enable rapid upgrades to secure processors.

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    Human-Machine Interfaces

    Human-Machine Interface refers to technologies related to human-machine teaming and augmented and virtual reality. Rapid advancements in this technology will have a multitude of benefits for our service members. Highly immersive realistic training environments provide real-time feedback to enhance warfighter performance. Intuitive & interactive human-machine interfaces enable rapid mission planning and mission command by providing a common operational picture to geographically distributed operations.

Defense-Specific Areas

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    Directed Energy

    Directed Energy Weapons utilize lasers, high power microwaves, and high energy particle beams to produce precision disruption, damage, or destruction of military targets at range. Directed energy systems will allow the Department to counter a wide variety of current and emerging threats with rapid responses and engagement at the speed of light. High-power lasers and high-power microwave technologies both offer new ways to counter diverse sets of threats.

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    Hypersonic systems fly within the atmosphere for significant portions of their flight at or above 5 times the speed of sound, or approximately 3700 miles per hour. Hypersonics dramatically shorten the timeline to strike a target and increase unpredictability. While strategic competitors are pursuing and rapidly fielding advanced hypersonic missiles, the DoD will develop leap-ahead and cost-effective technologies for our air, land, and sea operational forces.

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    Integrated Sensing and Cyber

    To provide advantage for the joint force in highly contested environments, the Department must develop wideband sensors to operate at the intersection of cyber space, electronic warfare, radar, and communications. Sensors must be able to counter advanced threats and can no longer be stove-piped and single function.

CTA Roadmap and Reports

For common access card (CAC) holders, CTA roadmaps and other information can be accessed through Techipedia using the DoD CAC link below. Registration may be required if you do not already have a Techipedia account. For all others, CTA roadmaps and other information can be requested from CTA Directors using the Non-CAC link below. All mandatory fields on the email request form must be completed in order to process your request.

Office of the Under Secretary of Defense,
Research and Engineering (OUSD(R&E))
3030 Defense Pentagon, Washington, DC 20301-3030