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DOD Tech Chief Lays Out Vision for U.S. Technology Leadership

Aug. 13, 2020

America's economic and military dominance lies in innovation, and the Defense Department's new technology chief is looking to strengthen and maintain the nation's position as the global leader in emerging technologies.

Michael Kratsios was designated the acting undersecretary of defense for research and engineering on July 13. He also serves at the White House as U.S. chief technology officer, leading national technology policies on artificial intelligence, quantum computing and 5G communications. 

In his first remarks as acting undersecretary, Kratsios laid out his vision and priorities at a virtual event hosted by Georgetown University's Center for Security and Emerging Technology.

A man stands in front of a monitor in a TV studio.
Kratsios Conference
Pentagon Research and Engineering Chief Michael Kratsios remotely reaches out to Georgetown’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology, Aug. 11, 2020..
Photo By: Lisa Ferdinando, DOD
VIRIN: 200811-D-BN624-0002

"Great power competition has once again emerged as our nation's greatest security concern," he said. "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." 

The United States is responding to the Chinese challenge, and maintaining technological dominance is key, Kratsios said.

Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper has given clear marching orders: modernize the military with advanced technologies and protect those 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," the acting undersecretary said. "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."

The Defense Department is crucial to this national effort. Kratsios announced three main priorities for the Office of Research and Engineering to advance America's global technology leadership: 

Leveraging the DOD's unique testing authorities to accelerate innovation.
Strengthening the department's research and development partnerships with startups and smaller innovators. 
Enhancing strategic R&D collaboration with America's international allies.  

On his first priority, Kratsios argued that the department's unique authorities and unrivaled testing environments allow DOD 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," he said. "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."

Kratsios noted that the department's ongoing work to test 5G on military bases is a great example of the advantages DOD can bring to researching and piloting cutting edge technologies. 

Explaining the second priority, Kratsios said DOD must continue to invest in research and development and reach out to the private sector and academia to find and advance critical innovations.

"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," he said.  

Recognizing the barriers many startups and smaller companies face in partnering with the DOD, Kratsios said. "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."

His third priority doubles down on the importance of the United States engaging with international allies to promote technological advancement. 

"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," he maintained. "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." 

The new acting undersecretary said he is focused on the future and committed to ensuring that the defense innovation ecosystem — and the entire U.S. innovation ecosystem — remain the envy of the world. 

"Every generation of Americans has faced a challenge that defines them," he said. "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. With our technology, intelligence, institutions, and resources — and most importantly, our resilience and our spirit — we will prevail and remain secure, prosperous and free."