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Tech Advantage Critical to Prevail in Strategic Competition With China, DOD Official Says

Nov. 5, 2021 | BY Terri Moon Cronk , DOD News

Technological capability on an ongoing basis is critical to the United States maintaining its edge against other nations, such as China, Michael Brown, director of the Defense Innovation Unit, said yesterday.

A helicopter hovers in the air.
Flight Ops
A Marine from Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, flies the Black Hornet, a small unmanned aerial system during the Marine Air-Ground Task Force Integrated Experiment (MIX-16), at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, Calif., July 29, 2016. The Marines use the Black Hornet to scout ahead, while on patrol. This gives them an advantage over the enemy by increasing their knowledge of where and what equipment the enemy has.
Photo By: Marine Corps Cpl. Thor J. Larson
VIRIN: 160729-M-MS007-249

At the 2021 Aspen Security Forum in Washington, D.C., Brown discussed preserving the United States' technological edge and quickly getting new technology into the hands of U.S. warfighters.

"We need technological advantage to prevail in this strategic competition with China," the DIU director said. "For the military, that means that we've got to modernize faster. We [have] got to use more commercial technology."

Brown added that requirements in acquisition and budgeting must again work for the Pentagon. "I've been leading DIU for three years now, and what I see is [that] we're not going fast enough. We're not transforming at the scale that we need to make changes to address the threat with China."

A man looks at a computer screen as he holds a piece of equipment in his left hand.
Robot Prep
Marine Corps Sgt. Marcus Mckeller prepares his robot before competing in a robot fighting competition on Camp Hansen, Japan, Dec. 11, 2019. Mckeller, a native of Wilmington, N.C., is an ammunition chief with Expeditionary Operations Training Group, III Marine Expeditionary Force. Marines used 3D printers to design robots that were used to war-game how technology might be used in future conflicts.
Photo By: Marine Corps Sgt. Mackenzie Carter
VIRIN: 191211-M-KK705-1046

Brown agreed that the human capital in the United States' volunteer force is extraordinary, citing earlier comments by Army Gen. Paul M. Nakasone, commander of U.S. Cyber Command, director of the National Security Agency, and chief of the Central Security Service. "What I've seen firsthand in terms of the capability and dedication to mission is phenomenal. It's impressive. We owe it to those [service] men and women to give them the best tools. We ought to have an incredible sense of urgency and impatience and courage to change those 60-year-old processes to give them the best so they have adequate tools to do their jobs, which is what's important to all of us to keep us safe," he said.

"We're losing that [technological] edge, and we're losing it at a rapid rate," Brown said, adding that the United States needs a recommitment to science and technology. "It involves STEM talent. Where is our program to increase STEM talent? We need that in the military. And we need moonshots to inspire people, just like we had during the space race. We need that kind of resurgence of excitement about what we can do in science and technology, and how that's going to enable economic prosperity for the next 20, 30 or 40 years. China's doing that long-term thinking, and we have to, as well."

Investing in technology is something China has been doing, he said, and that's where well-paying jobs are. "That's why [China is] focused on creating the standards for industries for the next 10 or 20 years with what they call 'China's standards 2035,'" he said, noting that China wants to displace the United States, Canada, and all Western countries and companies with its own capabilities.

Four planes fly in formation while training.
In Formation
F-22 Raptors from the 94th Fighter Squadron at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., and F-35A Lightning IIs from the 58th Fighter Squadron at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., fly in formation after completing an integration training mission, Nov. 5, 2014. It was the first operational integration training mission for the Air Force’s fifth generation aircraft. The F-35s and F-22s flew offensive counter air, defensive counter air, and interdiction missions, employing tactics to maximize their capabilities.
Photo By: Air Force Master Sgt. Shane A. Cuomo
VIRIN: 141105-F-XC395-076M

"We don't want to live in that world," Brown said. 

It's important for the United States to not sit back and become complacent and think it has a corner on technology or innovation, he said.

"If we don't invest, if we don't have the right talent, if we're not focused on the fact that this is a tech race, we're not going to be happy with the outcome," Brown said.