U.S. Faces Global Science, Technology Competition, Official Says


The United States is in an era of constant science and technology competition from countries such as Russia and China, a senior Pentagon official said on Capitol Hill yesterday.

Associates from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency attend a brief about assisting a casualty during a visit at Camp Lejeune, N.C.
Associates from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency attend a brief about assisting a casualty during a visit at Camp Lejeune, N.C., to speak with Marines and discuss possible technological advances for the Marine Corps, March 21, 2017. DARPA’s mission is to make pivotal investment in breakthrough technologies for national security. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Careaf L. Henson
Associates from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency attend a brief about assisting a casualty during a visit at Camp Lejeune, N.C.
Assisting a Casualty
Associates from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency attend a brief about assisting a casualty during a visit at Camp Lejeune, N.C., to speak with Marines and discuss possible technological advances for the Marine Corps, March 21, 2017. DARPA’s mission is to make pivotal investment in breakthrough technologies for national security. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Careaf L. Henson

Mary Miller, performing the duties of the assistant secretary of defense for research and engineering, along with Steven H. Walker, director of the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency, testified before the House Armed Services Committee’s panel on emerging threats concerning the fiscal year 2019 budget request for the Defense Department’s science and technology programs.

“We see nations like China and Russia investing heavily in research trying to close the technology gap with the [United States],” she said. “We see high-end military technology that has diffused to many countries that would have been unable to develop it themselves, even reaching some nonstate actors.”

Speed is Vital

In a world with near-equal access to technology, speed is becoming the discriminator, Miller told the panel -- not just the speed of discovery, but also speed of delivery. “How fast we can develop, adopt or leverage technology to meet the warfighter's needs and get it into their hands will determine our ability to outpace our adversaries.”

In such a competitive environment, DoD must pay much more attention to future readiness and ensure its conventional overmatch remains on overtime, she said.

“We must be willing and able to tap into commercial research, recognize its military potential, and develop new capabilities and operational and organizational constructs to employ them faster than our competitors,” Miller noted.

Such effort would not be possible without DoD scientists and engineers, who are doing groundbreaking and innovative work, she said. “They are embracing these hard challenges our military faces every day, seeking to better understand the warfighter's problems and working diligently on affordable and effective solutions.”

DoD Addresses Gaps

The Defense Department is addressing critical technology and capability gaps through a combination of adaptation of existing systems such as efforts conducted through its Strategic Capabilities Office and the development and introduction of innovative new technologies through its labs and centers, such as DARPA, and Defense Innovation Unit Experimental, she said.

“We recognize that our adversaries present us with a challenge of sophisticated evolving threats,” Miller told the House panel. “We are prepared to meet that challenge and restore the technical overmatch of the United States armed forces through focus and innovation.”

DARPA in Line With White House, DoD

Walker, the DARPA director, said his priorities for investment are aligned with President Donald J. Trump's National Security Strategy and with Defense Secretary James N. Mattis' National Defense Strategy

“So, my priorities for investment in the future are defending the homeland, No. 1, from varied threats to include developing cyber deterrence capabilities, bio surveillance and bio protection technologies and the ability to sense and defend against weapons of mass terror,” he told the panel.

DARPA’s No. 2 priority is deterring and prevailing against peer competitors in Europe and Asia, which will require new thinking, Walker said.

“The [United States] can no longer be dominant across all scenarios, but it needs to be highly lethal in select ones,” he noted. “Realizing new capabilities across all the physical domains will be important and hypersonics will be a key technology there. But we also have to look at space and the electromagnetic spectrum domains. They're going to be very important for that fight.”

Fighting Differently

DARPA’s No. 3 priority is effectively prosecuting stabilization efforts across the globe, which requires the United States to become better at fighting differently and in different environments, Walker said.

“Capabilities to address gray zone and 3-D city-scale warfare, along with the development of rigorous and reliable models to predict adversarial moves will be critical,” the agency director added. 

The No. 4 priority is what Walker called foundational research in science and technology, which he said would underlie all of DARPA's “grander pursuits” and makes possible never-before-seen capabilities. “We must continue to do what I think DARPA does better than anyone, and that's to follow where technology can lead us to solve the country's toughest challenges,” he said.

“[DARPA] promises to continue to be a bold risk-tolerant investor in high-impact technologies,” Walker said, “so the nation can be the first to develop and adopt the novel capabilities made possible by such work.”

(Follow Terri Moon Cronk on Twitter: @MoonCronkDoD)