WASHINGTON, Sept. 20, 2016 —
For 60 years, the Defense Department leadership has had wise counsel in its efforts to set a global pace in technology innovation and keep the world’s best military force moving into the future.
Established in 1956, the Defense Science Board today has 48 civilian members with strong science and technology backgrounds, Craig Fields, the board’s director, told DoD News in a recent interview.
The board includes retired senior DoD and intelligence community officials, senior executives in the defense industry, retired admirals and generals, and university professors from institutions such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, all working as unpaid volunteers, Fields said.
“Most of our work is in the form of studies that lead to recommendations about what to do for the defense secretary, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the deputy defense secretary, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logistics,” Field explained.
“What we do is try to tackle what we think, and what the secretary thinks, are the most unstructured, irksome, difficult, challenging problems that are important [and] consequential, or unearthing opportunities and trying to elaborate them and present them,” Fields said. He noted that the board has spent a lot of time recently on cyber-related matters, with “a rich set of studies” recently completed or nearly complete.
A 2012 Defense Science Board study on cybersecurity made it clear that better work on cyber defense would help against low- and mid-level threats, Fields said. But defense would be inadequate against expert states posing high-level threats, he added, and deterrence would be needed.
A follow-on study that was recently completed addresses deterring the leadership of a foreign state from launching cyberattacks on the United States, Fields said.
The board also has recently completed studies on cyber corruption of the supply chain and cyber defense management, which Fields explained is about how to best manage human and financial resources to get the best defense. “The members who did that came up with concrete suggestions of how we can do radically better within our resource constraints,” he said. “What's nice is that I think those recommendations are being implemented before the report's even printed.”
60th Anniversary Celebration
This year, the board decided to have a larger celebration than it had for its 40th and 50th anniversaries, Fields said. Today’s 60th anniversary observance includes presentations, panels and demonstrations and Carter will speak at tonight’s anniversary dinner.
Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work and Air Force Gen. Paul J. Selva, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will speak at the board’s event today.
“We wanted to look toward the future and to celebrate the hundreds of thousands of scientists and engineers who over those decades have contributed immensely to national security,” the director said, “so we decided to celebrate science and technology and contributing innovation to national security, rather than just focus on the board.”
Three panels will discuss what artificial intelligence, the new digital domain of espionage and warfare, and biology from discovery to national security mean for the Defense Department, Fields added, and a range of experts will make presentations.
Some of these include:
-- “Materials by Design: 3-Dimensional Nano-Architected Metamaterials” by Professor Julia R. Greer of the California Institute of Technology;
-- “Leveraging Biology for Persistent Undersea Sensing” by Professor John O. Dabiri of Stanford University;
-- “Defense Applications of Synthetic Biology” by Christopher Voigt of MIT; and
-- “The Flexible Networks of the Human Brain” by Danielle S. Bassett of the University of Pennsylvania.
Working with DoD
With its complete focus on science and technology, it’s no surprise that the Defense Science Board and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency have a close relationship, said Fields, who was the DARPA director from 1974 to 1990.
“Both organizations are dedicated to innovation, creativity and change, and not a lot of organizations are change agents,” he said, noting that the organizations have similar cultures.
“And at one time we had three or four former DARPA directors as DSB board members, … so it's a very close relationship, but it's an informal one,” he added. “We often in our reports give recommendations to DARPA, and they often help us in getting the background we need to do our studies.”
Fields said the military services have their own science and technology advisory boards and that the DSB has good relations with those boards as well.
In response to a question about whether DoD readily accepts DSB recommendations or pushes back against them, Fields said, “The answer is all of the above.”
He added, “The fact that we're making a recommendation for some people is a welcome thing, and for others is a less welcome thing, because they have to think about … how does this complement what I'm doing, anyway? And sometimes the jump-up is immediate, and sometimes it's five or 10 years later and there's no credit whatsoever to having been inspired by a DSB report. So there's a wide range of possibilities.”
One extreme is a 2004 Defense Science Board study on stabilization and reconstruction during the early days of the Iraq War, Fields said. The defense secretary at the time wanted to know how DoD could do better in the future, he added, and when the study came out, the secretary signed a directive to implement all the recommendations.
“At other times, it's more delayed,” Fields said. “So some things work sooner, some work later, some honestly work never, because nothing's perfect.”
(Follow Cheryl Pellerin on Twitter @PellerinDoDNews)