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Remarks by Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks 'Collaborative Disruption at DoD: Innovating to Win in the 21st Century' at the American Dynamism Summit, Washington, D.C. (As Delivered)

Good morning, and thank you very much for that kind introduction.

The story of Silicon Valley, and the sector it symbolizes, shares much with the story of America.

It's a story of millions going west to find their fortune. Of immigrants pursuing their own American Dream. Of not all people getting to participate equally, especially at first.

It's a story of free enterprise, and entrepreneurial spirit. A story of dreamers and builders who dared to pioneer new frontiers, reimagine the future, and change the status quo.

But it's not just a story of rugged individualists, founders and funders. It's also a story of the institutions that supported them, and the talented communities around them.

It's a story of collaboration; of teams and teachers, formal and informal. Many are not household names. They may not have been wealthy. But they were indispensable to every disruptive innovation.

And it's a story of what government — of the people, by the people, and for the people — can make possible. 

Think of NASA and the Pentagon buying so many silicon microchips in the 1960s — to guide moon rockets and Minuteman missiles — that the price-per-chip fell from $1,000 to $25 in just a few years. Low enough for commercial applications.

Think of DoD creating GPS decades before smartphone apps and startup business models relied on the geolocation services it provides. Or the National Science Foundation funding the supercomputing center where Marc Andreessen worked on his first web browser.

Think of DARPA funding early AI research at Stanford, the labs where Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn fathered the Internet, and the grand challenges that road-tested technologies used in today's self-driving cars. 

Of course, none of that reduces the audacity, the brilliance, the creativity and determination of all the innovators, past and present, throughout America's commercial technology sector. 

The point is, our histories are bound up together, more deeply than we sometimes admit. 

And our fates are, too.

Over the decades, the ties between the Pentagon and the tech community have waxed and waned. 

Even after tech-minded defense leaders like Harold Brown, Bill Perry, and Ash Carter sought to rekindle flames, rebuild bridges, and rewire the Pentagon to be a better partner, some in DoD still under-valued non-traditional and commercial innovators in Silicon Valley and beyond.

Perhaps they longed for when federal money dominated: the early-1950s through the late-1970s, when government, and especially DoD, contributed between one-half and two-thirds of all American research and development dollars. 

That same era birthed DoD's much-loved multi-year budgeting process. (Laughter.) 

In funding so much innovation, it was easy — and Washington got comfortable — believing our processes and pace could dictate everything that followed.

But since the 1980s, the script has been flipped, with companies contributing 50-to-70% of America's R&D pie. Yet DoD's rules of the game have not caught up. Not only are we seldom innovation pace-setters; too often we can struggle just to keep pace with a dynamic U.S. private sector that continues to out-innovate the world.

Of course, it's a much larger pie, and we still invest a lot: in real dollars, DoD's 2024 R&D budget request of $145 billion is triple what it was during the Cold War. It's more than what Alphabet, Apple, Meta, and Microsoft combined spent on R&D last year. And our requested 2024 procurement budget — what's converted into fielded capabilities and services — is even more: $170 billion.

Defense is not a small market; likely one reason behind the recent surge in U.S. defense tech-focused start-ups, scale-ups, and private and venture capital — some 2,000 deals, investing over $100 billion since 2021, per Pitchbook and the Wall Street Journal.

But this market opportunity shouldn't be the only reason. I'd assess the biggest reason, especially over the last decade, is the behavior of the People's Republic of China. 

Like IP theft. Predatory investment strategies. Crackdowns on due-diligence companies and business intelligence providers that VCs need to make smart bets. Overtly forcing tech to comply with political ideologies. Use of forced labor, repression, and exploitation of religious minorities. 

Not to mention the PRC's coercive and risky military behavior.

Now, to come to a summit on "American dynamism" is to make a choice. 

You know what the alternative looks like. You know who you want to win. 

So, I'm glad you chose Team USA. Because DoD needs you with us. 

Our nation has a major comparative advantage when it comes to innovation, and for our military to stay the world's best, we have to tap into that. Your patriotism matters.

From day one, Secretary Austin and I have focused on the urgency to innovate. 

We do so with our warfighters foremost in mind, as they stand the watch around the world. Just this weekend, three American soldiers were killed by Iranian-backed militias in Jordan. They made the ultimate sacrifice, and we join their families and loved ones in mourning the loss. 

Because we owe them and every U.S. servicemember our very best, for three years now we have taken a comprehensive, iterative, warfighter-centric approach to innovation — recognizing we face an accumulation of challenges and barriers, and there is no silver bullet that will lower them all. 

Along the way, we've never wavered from our ultimate objective: delivering safe and reliable, combat-credible capabilities at speed and scale to America's warfighters — so they can deter aggression, and win if called to fight.

Why the urgency? Because the PRC has spent decades building a modern military designed primarily to do one thing: overmatch us.

But the one advantage they can never outmatch, steal, or copy — because it's embedded in our people — is American ingenuity: our ability to think freely, innovate, change the game, and in the military sphere, to imagine, create, and master the future character of warfare. 

Our starting position is stronger, as a free and open society of blue-sky inventors, doers, and problem-solvers. We don't seek to control innovation, or make it toe the party line. 

Instead we aim to seed, spark, and stoke the flames of innovation. And with so much happening outside of DoD, that requires better adopting innovations wherever they add the most military value.

An important way we do that is by bridging the much-discussed valleys of death — valleys, because there are several: Lab-to-prototype. Prototype-to-product. Product-to-scale. There are still others, and the valleys can be especially treacherous to cross if you're new to working with DoD.

Now, these valleys are necessary for any healthy innovation ecosystem. 

Not every idea or prototype should scale, because not all of them work for the warfighter. 

And we need more creative prospects coming in than are likely to make it out, so that we push the innovation edge and avoid groupthink. 

It's similar in Silicon Valley — there's a reason why fail-fast-and-iterate is a mantra. Not every founder who pitches a VC gets funded. Not every company with a Series A round makes it to Series B, and C, and so on. Only some get bought or go public. 

We've all met plenty of "good idea fairies," but I don't know anyone that's always right.

So our goal isn't for everything to cross the valleys of death. Instead, it is to get the right things across them — to the right people at the right time. 

That requires a fast-moving cycle from identifying key capability needs to effective solutions — a warfighter-defined investment funnel, if you will — comprising novel operational concepts, prototyping and experimentation, expeditious acquisition pathways, open doors for newcomers to enter, and a more level playing field.

Every piece should be constantly iterating, moving rapidly, responsibly, and securely — because if something doesn't work, or isn't secure, it's not useful for the warfighter. It loses its value. And when something does prove valuable, we need to be able to produce and deploy it, at scale and speed.

Let me tell you some of what we've done in the last three years to get at this problem. And I'll do it in three minutes:

We've been repeatedly iterating on novel operational concepts for joint warfighting. We have new processes to incentivize and accelerate promising joint capabilities and experiments to advance those operational concepts — shrinking their time crossing the valleys of death by as much as two years. 

To bridge the lab-to-prototype and prototype-to-scale valleys of death, we're using more flexible acquisition pathways for rapid prototyping, rapid fielding, and software development. Over $35 billion have gone through these pathways since 2021, across nearly 200 programs. They've shaved up to six years off transition and delivery timelines for warfighter priorities.  

To work better with commercial and non-traditional firms, we're embracing innovative contracting tools that can be easier for them to navigate. 

We also sped how we transition the most promising capabilities to scale, by overcoming bureaucratic and cultural barriers that slow us down.

We knew all that was necessary because of our work to map and then methodically debug the whole DoD innovation ecosystem — a nose-to-grindstone effort that, like software development, never ends. As one of the world's largest organizations, we must always look for ways to get out of our own way. 

Beyond that, we issued data decrees that all DoD data must comply with, because data interoperability, access, and trustworthiness are critical for AI, for doing command and control across all domains, and for being a modern Defense Department. No excuses. 

We also affirmed ethical AI principles; updated our decade-old, but still world-leading policy on responsible use of autonomous weapon systems; and issued new strategies and implementation plans on data, analytics, AI adoption, and responsible AI.

Simultaneously, we focused on talent and personnel — from the ADA initiative that deploys data scientists to every combatant command, to continuously upskilling our acquisition workforce. 

We also brought focused leadership to critical organizations, and stood up new ones:

  • We elevated the Defense Innovation Unit to report directly to the Secretary, so it can help focus and accelerate how we leverage the best of commercially-derived tech. DIU is now led by a former direct report to Apple's CEO.
  • We integrated disparate digital, AI, and data analytics teams under an empowered Chief Digital and Artificial Intelligence Officer, who previously ran machine learning at Lyft. He also reports directly to Secretary Austin.
  • And we created the Office of Strategic Capital, to partner with private-sector — excuse me, private-capital markets — and catalyze investment in technologies critical to national security.

Across the board, we're making smart, serious investments. In terms of real-dollar value, our 2024 budget request would make the second-largest investment in defense R&D-plus-procurement since 1952. We'd send industry clear demand signals, with things like multi-year procurement for key munitions, funding to expand industrial base facilities, workforces, sub-tier suppliers, and more secure supply chains. 

Meanwhile, throughout, we're ensuring our defense dollars deliver, by providing effective oversight for the taxpayer.

Our three minutes are up. (Laughter.) And I get it if your eyes glazed over. (Laughter.) Not all of it is headline-grabbing. 

But remember, there are no silver bullets. All of it is absolutely necessary to drag DoD into the modern era. 

Our efforts are fundamentally resetting behavior for defense innovators, program managers, resource leaders, and decision-makers. And even though it's collaborative, that kind of disruption can still be uncomfortable.

Take Replicator, one of our most recent initiatives. 

Replicator's goal has always been simple and straightforward: to field thousands of attritable autonomous systems, in multiple domains, within 18-to-24 months, and to prove ways to burn down risk, and rapidly and safely overcome barriers to scaling. 

It's about showing ourselves — and our adversaries — that DoD can move fast to shape the battlespace and equip our warfighters with what they need. 

And as we said from the outset, we'll be replicating that process in other areas, beyond all-domain attritable autonomous systems.

Reactions to Replicator have been a bit of a Rorschach test. Maybe that's because, as the Washington Post said, it "surprised the entire defense establishment." 

A wide range of responses isn't uncommon when you're pursuing collaborative disruption. And you can't let the more negative views knock you off track. So we haven't. 

We've put our heads down, worked with Congress, with the commercial sector, and across DoD to deliver. And today, we are on-track to meet Replicator's goals.

In five months, we've:

  • aligned leaders across DoD around a common vision;
  • identified and validated key operational needs, requirements, from combatant commands;
  • nominated and selected initial capabilities to meet those needs, across multiple domains;
  • developed acquisition strategies for each capability, to determine which systems to field;
  • analyzed what resources it will take to deliver on those capabilities, and where the gaps are;
  • and in the next several days we'll submit a spend plan and reprogramming requests to Congress. 

What we did in five months normally takes DoD two-to-three years. 

If you're not sure what is more mind-blowing — how fast we did it, or how long it normally takes — (Laughter.) — I don't blame you. (Laughter.) Honestly, the length of our normal process should blow your mind.

It's because our system for buying new capabilities was designed in that 1960s-era of DoD innovation dominance, and reinforced after the Cold War, when our lead in conventional military capabilities seemed unbeatable. So most things still start with that inevitable, inexorable, multi-year budget process — and take five-to-10 years, or more, to field at scale.

To go from start-to-fielding inside that two-year cycle is not normal. It's disruptive. But we plan to make it more normal, because more speed is essential. (Applause.)

This is not the Cold War, nor the post-Cold War era. With the PRC we are in a persistent, generational competition for advantage, and we have to double down with urgency and confidence. 

Congress is and always will be a key partner in this, even as open, collaborative leadership within the Pentagon is also essential. 

And we've been fortunate to have strong bipartisan support on many fronts for driving innovation, including the Replicator initiative — from Congressman Gallagher, who you'll hear from later today; also, Congressman Calvert, who's championing innovation like never before in the appropriations process; Senator Tester, who's laser-focused on ensuring we can out-compete China by modernizing DoD; as well as Senator Reed, who has been stalwart.

Like them, we also want Congress to come together to pass appropriations for 2024, ASAP. It's long overdue, and the delay is devastating. We're four months into the fiscal year. Any more delays will only obstruct all the great work we're trying to do together.

Thinking differently doesn't come easy to large organizations. And the Pentagon is no exception. 

We still have more pain points to address across DoD's innovation ecosystem. 

Institutional and cultural change take time, constant tending, and consistent leadership. 

We've got to keep listening, learning, and iterating to continually become better customers and collaborators with the tech sector.

So make no mistake: more deliberate discomfort will be required. More collaborative disruption will be necessary.

The future of our nation depends on it. And it depends on you — because American dynamism and American democracy are inextricably intertwined. 

Enforcing contracts and protecting IP depends on upholding the rule of law. 

Hiring a talented workforce depends on having good schools, universities, and immigration. 

The flourishing of all Americans depends on ensuring equal rights and equal opportunity for all.

And starting a business, investing in others, inventing a product and taking it to market depends on safeguarding the institutions that provide the blanket of liberty under which you do so.

If we want to keep changing the world, then we have to strengthen the democratic principles that make this nation so worth defending, and make changing the world even possible.

Our country is not immune from the authoritarian winds that sweep the globe. We have seen America tested routinely. While she has withstood, we cannot take that for granted. 

Institutions can be degraded. Belief in institutions can fade. Both endanger the health of our nation, and your success. 

We want private-sector innovation to succeed; we want American dynamism. We need you to feel the same about American democracy. Because neither can thrive unless the other succeeds. 

We all have to work together to defend our country and our interests. Yes, moving fast and breaking things is necessary to win wars. But remember, there will always be at least two things that every civilian and military member serving in DoD must never break: the law, and our oaths to the United States Constitution. 

How we do this matters. Our ends and our means for achieving them are intertwined, because the end we seek is for American democracy, and dynamism, to continue to long endure. 

Many years ago, one of Silicon Valley's original garage founders, Dave Packard, spoke about his company's "obligation to make some contribution to the defense effort in times of peace as well as in times of war." 

He said it was part of [how] "business institutions have a responsibility to the society in which they exist to do something more than simply make a profit." 

Why? Because, in his words, "we have freedom of action which is the direct result of the American type of government."

Packard said that nine months before the Soviets launched Sputnik, bringing tech competition to the forefront of America's Cold War consciousness. And he said it 12 years before he came to Washington, to serve as Deputy Secretary of Defense. 

Like I said, our histories are bound together more than we sometimes admit. 

That binding enabled Silicon Valley to thrive. To drive successive eras of technological evolution and revolution. To change the world again and again. 

That's worth defending. America is worth defending. American democracy is worth defending. 

And both are worth investing in. Thank you. (Applause.)