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DOD Must Take Action to Keep Tech Edge

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As America's strategic competitors advance their technological advantage, the U.S. must take action to avoid losing its edge, said the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering. 


On Capitol Hill Thursday, Heidi Shyu told lawmakers at the House Armed Services Committee what the Defense Department must do to maintain its technological advantage. The first step, she said, is building a strong foundation for research and development within the department. The second, she said, is changing how DOD does business. 

"Every strong structure needs to stand on a solid foundation to ensure this country retains our edge and fuels the future technologies and capabilities," Shyu told lawmakers. "We must make a commitment to science and technology, particularly in basic research." 

A man in a lab coat holds a flask.
Chemical Research
Cadet Zachary Auleciems performs research on chemicals in one of the labs in Gregory Hall at the U.S. Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colo., Oct. 26, 2021.
Photo By: Trevor Cokley, Air Force
VIRIN: 211026-F-XS730-1010

Shyu said the department must, among other things, increase efforts to attract the best talent, must build more robust and necessary infrastructure for R&D, must perform joint experimentation and must do better at collaborating across the technology ecosystem. 

"If we expect the department to attract the world's best and brightest, to produce state-of-the-art technologies, we must modernize our laboratories and test ranges," she said. "The future of the department depends on talented people, and we're committed to developing this talent." 

As part of that commitment, she said, the department has invested in a variety of workforce, educational and research programs ranging from K-12 robotic systems to STEM scholarships and social science research. 

A jet engine is mounted indoors in a stand.
General Electric J85
MetroLaser, Inc., uses the General Electric J85 engine, seen here, at the University of Tennessee Space Institute’s Propulsion Research Facility near Arnold Air Force Base, Tenn., to study its three-component planar Doppler velocimetry, or PDV, measurement system for optical, non-intrusive measurements of exhaust gas velocity Nov. 18, 2021.
Photo By: Jill Pickett, Air Force
VIRIN: 211118-F-KN521-1015M

The Defense Department has historically been a leader in R&D and still is. But now, in the U.S., the private sector's capacity for R&D — without the DOD's involvement — has exploded, Shyu said. 

"As seen in Ukraine, novel commercial technology, paired with conventional weapons, can change the nature of conflict," she said. "The department's processes, ranging from programming, to experimentation, to collaboration, should be updated to reflect the dynamic landscape of today and anticipate the needs of tomorrow." 

Two young people in uniform manipulate a scientific apparatus that uses lasers.
Laser Duty
Cadets Elizabeth Latsis and John Caldwell perform research using lasers in the U.S. Air Force Academy's Laser and Optics Research Center, Nov. 4, 2021.
Photo By: Trevor Cokley, Air Force
VIRIN: 211104-F-XS730-1014

The U.S. private sector, Shyu said, is America's competitive advantage. 

"We must focus on improving how the government and private sector work together," she said. "I am committed to working with you to ensure the department can move as quickly as possible as it engages with the private sector, and the whole innovation ecosystem, to rapidly transition technology to future capabilities." 

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