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DOD Technology Chief Emphasizes People, Teamwork

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The Defense Department's chief technology officer is emphasizing people and teamwork as the avenue to keep America's technological edge.

Heidi Shyu's, the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, priority goal is to become more mission focused, she told the Defense Writers Group yesterday. "I want to leverage the incredible amount of technology innovation that's across our nation to be able to solve difficult operational challenges," she said.

Woman speaks virtually to the media.
Heidi Shyu
Heidi Shyu, the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, speaks to Thom Shanker, the director of the Project for Media and National Security and the Defense Writers' Group, virtually from the Pentagon, Jan. 13, 2022.
Photo By: Marine Corps Sgt. Taryn Sammet
VIRIN: 220113-D-ZY556-0011

To do this, Shyu wants to build a foundation to get the right people to work on these cutting edge projects. "We've got to attract talent … (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) talent to build a future technical workforce," she said. It is more than simply hiring people, it also means building the laboratories, test areas, facilities and infrastructure needed to enable their work.

Finally, the "piece that's critically important for us to shape the future is teamwork," she said. 

This is more than simply teamwork within the department — although that is important. Shyu wants to leverage the larger "innovation ecosystem." This includes defense contractors, university affiliated research centers, federally funded research centers, "and, of course, our allies and partners. I am a firm believer that by working together, we can solve the toughest challenges," she said.

Shyu is the latest DOD technology chief that wants to bridge the department's "valley of death." This refers to the time between development of a capability and its inclusion in a program. Too often, promising technologies get dropped in this period. Shyu said the valley of death is still a problem. Outreach is one way she hopes to bridge the valley or fill it in.

"I have been engaging with small companies because they're the guys that are suffering the valley of death," she said. "I've held small company roundtables ... to talk about what are the biggest impediments that they see in terms of working with the DOD."

Shyu has devised a strategy she is presenting to Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III on "how to pave over this valley of death, or at least build a bridge."

She said different payment strategies may be part of this strategy. "I'm going to figure out a … mechanism to leverage the venture capital fund and be a lot closer tied to them at the DOD level," she said.

Communication alone is a way forward. She noted that at the end of her meetings "they actually made a request: Namely, to stay engaged with me, to make sure we have these monthly dialogues."

Shyu has also met with allies and partners on technology and capabilities needed. "I've engaged with quite a few allies and partners to date, and at each one of our meetings, we talk about what are the areas of interests that they have, and versus our interests," she said. "If there's an intersection in terms of interest areas, and then we basically go down to the next layer of the folks working for me, they then form a working group to literally hammer out the details of the exchange of information."

The countries include Australia, the United Kingdom, Singapore, Germany, Israel and many others.

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