News   Armed With Science

DOD in Search of Disruptive Technologies That Will Enable the Warfighter

March 8, 2022 | BY David Vergun , DOD News

Peer adversaries Russia and China have been investing heavily on developing capabilities in hypersonics, space, nuclear, cyber and autonomy, the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering said.

Heidi Shyu spoke virtually today at a McAleese defense conference.

"[This] has amplified the criticality of strengthening our technological superiority and maintaining our military advantage, to include teamwork with our allies and partners," she said.

A service member lies on her stomach in the grass and points an electronic device ahead.
Surveillance Cameras
Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class MaryJoy Ortiz sets up Gantz-Mountain surveillance cameras during a command post exercise at Naval Base Ventura County, Calif., Dec. 7, 2020.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Stephane Belcher
VIRIN: 201208-N-PG340-1059C

Adversaries will increasingly have greater access to commercial state-of-the-art technologies than ever before, she added.

"We cannot afford a leveling of technology advantage. It is imperative for the department to nurture early research in emerging technologies to prevent technological surprise. We must leverage critical state-of-the-art commercial technology where rapid advancements are trying to accelerate our military capabilities," Shyu said.

"We must leverage the incredible amount of technology innovation across our nation to give our leap-ahead capabilities to solve tough operational challenges," she said.

The department must harness the innovation, both domestically and globally. This includes university affiliated research centers, federally funded research and development centers, defense industry and commercial sectors, and allies and partners.

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

"Working together, we can solve the toughest challenges much more rapidly. Teamwork is our asymmetric advantage," Shyu said, describing some current and upcoming initiatives.

The Defense Department's Science, Mathematics, and Research for Transformation, more commonly called the SMART Program, funded the tuition of 416 new undergraduate and graduate students in science, technology, engineering and math last year.

The 2021 cohort comprises students representing 184 colleges and universities and is the largest and most diverse in the program’s 15-year history, she said.

After graduation, the SMART scholars will work at one of the 100 DOD labs, Shyu said.

Shyu noted potentially disruptive capabilities that the department would like to acquire, including:

  • Biotech can provide early sensing to help avoid pandemics.
  • Quantum science can provide unprecedented computational speed and help to solve the hardest analytical problems. It can also provide significantly more precise position, navigation and timing.
    A soldier operates a military drone.
    Drone Launch
    Army Pfc. Benjamin Sargent, assigned to 82nd Airborne Division, prepares a multi-mission payload Unmanned Aerial System for launch during Project Convergence at Yuma Proving Grounds, Ariz., Oct. 26, 2021.
    Photo By: Army Sgt. Marita Schwab
    VIRIN: 211026-A-JT723-0002
  • Advanced materials that can be stronger, yet lighter, can reduce the logistics burden. Also, materials that can handle extreme temperatures better can protect personnel.
  • 5G and future G wireless technology can aid in communications.
  • Cybersecure artificial intelligence and autonomy are critical to operating unmanned platforms.
  • An integrated network system that enables engagement by any sensor to any shooter with the ability to integrate disparate systems that were never designed to talk to each other.
  • A hybrid, more proliferated space architecture to enable resilient cross-domain operations, communications, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and position navigation and timing.
    An airman works on an aircraft.
    Test Team
    Members of the AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon Instrumented Measurement Vehicle 2 test team make final preparations prior to a captive-carry test flight of the prototype hypersonic weapon at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., Aug. 8, 2020.
    Photo By: Kyle Brasier, Air Force
    VIRIN: 200808-F-DB956-0290C
  • Advanced computing and software must focus on a module, open architecture to isolate hardware from the software and enable rapid upgrades.
  • Onshoring micro-electronics, because 70% now come from Asia, which poses a supply chain risk.
  • Highly immersive, realistic training environments can provide real-time feedback to enhance warfighters performance.
  • Directed energy has finally matured to the point that it can be fielded.
  • Hypersonic missiles have the ability to dramatically shorten the flight time and provide extreme maneuvering. They're also very difficult to counter.
    A graphic shows a jet streaking through the sky.
    Hypersonic Vehicle
    An artist's rendering depicts a hypersonic vehicle.
    Photo By: NASA's Lewis Research Center
    VIRIN: 090828-O-ZZ999-001M
  • Component technologies have advanced significantly to enable the development of integrated sensing and cyber into a single system. The department must develop wideband sensors to operate at the intersection of cyberspace, electronic warfare, radar and communications to enable operation in a highly contested environment.