Carter: DoD Must Innovate to Lead in a Competitive World

March 1, 2016 | BY Cheryl Pellerin , DOD News

The Defense Department doesn’t get to choose the many global challenges it faces, but it can set a course for the future that embraces innovation and keeps DoD competitive in a competitive world, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said today.

The secretary spoke at San Francisco’s Commonwealth Club, the nation’s oldest public affairs forum, as part of a trip to California and Washington state to discuss technology, cybersecurity initiatives and other topics with tech leaders.

I came from Washington, where last week I laid out our defense budget for 2017,” he told the audience. “In that budget we are and we need to take a long view in our mission to defend the United States. We have to, because even as we fight today’s fights we must also be prepared for what might come 10, 20 or 30 years down the road,” Carter said.

Evolving Challenges

Five evolving challenges -- Russia, China, North Korea, Iran and terrorism -- drive DoD’s planning and budgeting, he said.

“We don’t have the luxury of choosing among these challenges but we do have the ability to set a course for the future: a future that’s uncertain, but will surely be competitive and demanding of America’s leadership, values and military edge,” he said.

A common theme across the budget is that DoD must innovate to be competitive in a competitive world, one of the reasons the department will spend $71.8 billion on research and development next year alone, Carter said.

This will fund work on cybersecurity, advancing undersea capabilities and developing new hypersonic missiles that can fly more than five times the speed of sound, he noted, along with advances in artificial intelligence, autonomy and robotics and new strategic approaches to preventing and winning conflicts against 21st century threats.

Strong Partnership

“Our budget also invests hundreds of millions of dollars next year in building and rebuilding bridges with America’s technology and business community, including here in the Bay Area, because we need a strong partnership to succeed in the 21st century,” Carter said.

The department is reaching out in California through its Defense Innovation Unit-Experimental, or DIUx, which opened last year in Mountain View to explore ways for DoD to tap into the region’s innovation ecosystem and build relationships with local companies.

In San Jose, DoD is co-funding the Manufacturing Innovation Institutes with the private sector in key technology frontiers, including one focused on flexible hybrid electronics.

More than 30 of the department’s partner organizations have a presence between Silicon Valley and the Golden Gate Bridge, he said, including companies from Apple to Lockheed Martin to Xerox.

“We’re making these investments here because our military must always be capable enough to deter even the most advanced future threats in a changing and competitive world,” Carter said. “And this means that, just like competitive companies here in the Bay Area, we have to innovate and seize opportunities in everything we do.”

Critical Domains

In critical domains, including cyberspace, continuing to ensure the free movement of information, goods and services make it critical for DoD and the private sector to work together, he added.

Working together, DoD, academia and industry created the Internet, Carter said.

This has enabled boundless transformation and prosperity across all sectors of society, making many things easier, cheaper and safer, the defense secretary added, noting that the same technologies present a degree of risk to users.

“Like so many Bay Area businesses, the Defense Department relies on networks heavily, which is why defending our networks and weapon systems is job one for the Department of Defense in cyberspace, he said.

DoD’s second mission in cyberspace is to help other agencies defend the nation against cyberattacks from abroad, Carter added, especially if they would cause loss of life, property destruction or significant foreign policy and economic consequences.

“The third mission is to provide offensive cyber options that can be used in a conflict,” he said, “as we’re doing now against [the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant].”

Keeping Systems Secure

Part of the defense budget for cyber goes to build and train Cyber Mission Forces -- talented individuals who hunt down intruders, red-team DoD networks and perform the forensics that help keep DoD systems secure, Carter said.

That’s just one way the American military is helping protect U.S. interests in cyberspace and preserve access to a free, open and secure Internet, “so businesses can continue to innovate and individuals can continue to interact without having to live under any threat,” the secretary said.

As defense secretary, Carter said his mission “is ensuring our military can defend our country and make a better world, and DoD is at its best when it has the best partners.”

Getting that right depends on getting the right people, Carter said, and the department is creating new ways to bring talent from the technology community into DoD, even if only for a time.

Building Bridges

The Defense Digital Service, for example, brings talent in from the U.S. technology community to help solve some of the Pentagon’s most complex problems, the secretary said.

“I brought its leader, Chris Lynch, out here with me. Before Chris came to us to help us, he was a serial entrepreneur here in the tech world, also worked at Microsoft,” Carter noted.

Lynch has recruited coders from private-sector employers such as Google, Palantir and Shopify to work for a time at DoD, the secretary added.

“We want people like Chris to help keep us strong, creative and forward-thinking,” Carter said, “and hopefully that infusion of innovative, entrepreneurial spirit will rub off on us, and help sustain and strengthen the bridges we’re building with the tech community for many years to come.”

 (Follow Cheryl Pellerin on Twitter: @PellerinDoDNews)