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Investments in Technology Crucial to Staying Ahead, Innovation Unit Director Says

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An effective national technology strategy requires investments in critical and emerging technologies, the director of the Defense Innovation Unit said.

A man in a military uniform interacts with a computer system in the cockpit of an aircraft.
Computer Program
Air Force Lt. Col. Josh Linden, a C-130H Hercules navigator with the Connecticut Air National Guard’s 103rd Airlift Wing, programs the flight computer before takeoff. Flight computers such as the ones in C-130H aircraft are built with microelectronics, and the Defense Department must ensure those microelectronics are safe to use before they are installed in weapons systems.
Photo By: Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Hector de Jesus
VIRIN: 200514-M-PC554-039

Michael Brown spoke virtually today at a Center for a New American Security event.

The U.S. needs to maintain its leadership in areas such as quantum computing, microelectronics, artificial intelligence, semiconductors and aerospace, he said. "This requires a national statement that we want to be premier in these technologies and that's going to require investment in basic research."

Federally funded research and development has declined precipitously since the Cold War. In the 1960s, 2% of gross domestic product went to research and development.  Now, it's 0.35%, he said.

A sailor sets up surveillance cameras.
Surveillance Camera
Petty Officer 2nd Class MaryJoy Ortiz, with Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 5, sets up surveillance cameras during the Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 5's second command post exercise onboard Naval Base Ventura County, Calif., Dec. 7, 2020.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 1stst Class Stephane Belcher
VIRIN: 201208-N-PG340-1059

Meanwhile, China now has created a pretty big gap in terms of the number of engineers they're graduating relative to the U.S., he noted.

In the U.S., capital markets are rewarding very short-term performance measures. "With that short-term nature we're not building the kind of national capabilities we need," Brown said.

On the other hand, competition is good and is what has allowed the U.S. to have such a prosperous economy.

A team uses artificial intelligence and machine learning.
Autonomous Work
The Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division’s Sly Fox Mission 23 team demonstrates autonomous remote tactical engagement multi-domain intelligence swarm capabilities, in Dahlgren, VA., Aug. 7, 2018.
Photo By: John Joyce, Navy
VIRIN: 080718-N-DE005-050C

Brown also mentioned the importance of sharing critical technologies with allies and partners and avoiding duplicative research.

Talent management was also addressed.

"What we're doing to bring in technology talent into the department is insufficient to meet the challenge," he said.
There are a number of fellowship programs in the department. One is sponsored by DIU: the Technology and National Security Fellowship program, he said.

A military aircraft moves across a runway.
Taxi Flight
An F-35 taxis from the runway onto the flightline after successfully completing a sortie at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., Dec. 14, 2015. Computers aboard aircraft such as the F-35 are built with microelectronics, and the Defense Department must ensure those microelectronics are safe to use before they are installed in weapons systems.
Photo By: Air Force Airman 1st Class Ridge Shan
VIRIN: 151214-F-KS667-640M

However, the number of such programs is not really meeting the needs. "The successes here are too small relative to what we need for the challenge going forward," he said.

Brown noted that in Silicon Valley where DIU is headquartered, immigrants have played an important part in the growth of cutting edge companies.

The Defense Department needs to attract the best talent possible, he said, both from within the department, from allies, partners and immigrants.

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