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Remarks Announcing a New Manufacturing Innovation Institute in Silicon Valley

Hey everybody. Great to be here. Thank you all. Thanks everybody for coming – please – thank you, all of you. Congresswoman Eshoo, thank you, old friend and colleague; Congresswoman Lofgren; Congressman Honda; Mayor Liccardo; ladies and gentlemen: thank you. Thank you once again, all of you, for joining us today, and for your leadership here in the Bay Area, and for being part of this moment, which is a moment in technology history.

It’s great for me to be back in Silicon Valley. When I came here in April – after spending much of last year out here – I found that I was the first Secretary of Defense to visit in almost 20 years. So I’m pleased to return again just four months after that and show the progress we’ve made in rebuilding the bridges between the Pentagon and Silicon Valley.

This is one of my core goals as Secretary of Defense – renewing the ties, the bonds of trust between our national security endeavor at the Pentagon, and our wonderful, innovative, open technology community of companies and universities that make up one of America’s great strengths.

We’ve had a long history of partnership that’s benefitted the entire society. This building, proof of it. The world’s largest wind tunnel, it’s tested not only B-1 bombers and F/A-18 fighters, but also Boeing’s commercial fleet, and the McDonnell-Douglas DC-9, DC-10 – helping our military aviators dominate the skies, while also helping American companies dominate the global air travel and transport industry.

Over most of the last 75 years, the bonds between the technology community and defense were particularly close. I’ve observed that, from seeing it from both sides: a technologist myself, and also serving many years in the Defense Department.

We have today the finest fighting force the world has ever known. We need it – we need it to protect our country and to build a better world for our children.

We are the best, first of all – first of all – because of the magnificent young men and women who make up that force. I was with them yesterday at Pendleton; the day before at Nellis Air Force Base – it’s them. It’s them, first and foremost, that make it the greatest.

But secondly, and importantly, our strength comes from the long-standing link between the high-tech community and the government – whether it was the integrated circuit, or the Internet itself, or in an era before that the jet engine itself, satellite communications, and so on.

Because we have different missions and somewhat different perspectives, sometimes we disagree, see things differently. That’s okay. I think that’s okay. Addressing disagreements through partnership is better than not speaking at all. And whether we’re developing a new product, or a new policy, the lesson to me is always the same: it’s vigorous debate and exchange that creates breakthrough ideas. So I’m here to engage and I want to deepen that exchange between us.

And the fact is, that over successes and strains, our ties have endured. And I believe that the challenges and opportunities we face in this still young century demand that we strengthen our partnership in ways that benefit us both.

We live in a dangerous world, and the fact that our military is the finest fighting force the world has ever known is not a birthright. It’s not a guarantee. We have to earn it again and again. 

When I began my career, most technology of consequence originated in America, and a lot of that was sponsored by the government, particularly by the Defense Department. Today, much more of our technology is commercial, and the technology base is global. And other countries have been trying to catch up to the breakthroughs that for the last several decades made our military more advanced than any other.

Indeed, technologies once long possessed by only the most formidable militaries have now gotten into the hands of previously less-capable forces, and even non-state actors. Meanwhile, nations like Russia and China are modernizing their forces to try to close the technology gap. And our reliance on things like satellites and the Internet can lead to real vulnerabilities in space and cyberspace that our adversaries are eager to exploit.

So here’s what we’re doing to stay ahead of those challenges and to stay the best. We’re investing aggressively in innovation. We’re pushing the envelope with research into new technologies – on robotics, data science, cybersecurity, biotech, hypersonic engines that can fly over five times the speed of sound, and I could go on. We’re drilling tunnels through that wall that sometimes seems to separate government from scientists and commercial technologists – making it more permeable so more of America’s brightest minds can contribute to our mission of national defense, even if only for a time. And we’re developing new partnerships with America’s private sector and tech communities, particularly here in Silicon Valley.

One of the keys to this place, to Silicon Valley, is colocation, which I see every time I visit and which I experienced firsthand when I was living and working here just last year. Everyone’s in the same area, which not only helps forge relationships, but also helps spread new ideas. And that close geographic proximity, coupled with strong links between academia and industry, has made this entire region a nexus for creativity – an innovation ecosystem.

Our government has historically been part of this, too, with DoD and government investments helping spur ground-up innovation in Silicon Valley – funding research that, for example, grew into things like GPS, or more recently Google’s self-driving cars, Apple’s virtual assistant Siri, and on and on.

Now, obviously none of this diminishes the genius, the hard work, the tremendous effort by the innovators themselves, in San Jose, Cupertino, Mountain View, here, or for that matter Cambridge, Massachusetts, and America’s other great hubs of innovation. The government helped ignite the spark, but these were the places that nurtured the flames that created incredible applications.

Given what we’ve already done, there’s truly no limit to what we can achieve together. And that’s why I’ve been pushing the Pentagon to think outside of our five-sided box, and invest in innovation here in Silicon Valley and in tech communities across the country. And today, now, here, we’re taking another step forward.

I’m announcing that the Department of Defense is partnering with FlexTech Alliance – a consortium of 96 companies, 41 universities, 14 state and local government organizations, and 11 labs and non-profits – to establish a new manufacturing innovation institute focused on flexible hybrid electronics. This is an emerging technology that takes advanced flexible materials for circuits, communications, sensors, and power, and combines them with thinned silicon chips to ultimately produce the next generation of electronic products.

The Defense Department is making a $75 million-dollar investment, which has already been matched and actually exceeded by tens of millions of dollars in contributions from our public- and private-sector partners, represented here. And like the six other Manufacturing Innovation Institutes established by President Obama over the last three years – four of which DoD helped lead, in areas like 3D printing, lightweight metals, integrated photonics, and digital manufacturing and design – this one will ensure that pioneering innovations needed to develop, manufacture, and commercialize these cutting-edge electronics will happen right here in America. I’ve talked to the President personally about these institutes on a number of occasions – he takes a personal interest in them, you might be interested to know – and I know how important it is to him that America keeps leading in manufacturing innovation and continues to bring great manufacturing jobs back home.

With over 30 of the partner organizations having a presence between San Jose and the Golden Gate Bridge – including companies along the alphabet from Apple to Lockheed Martin to Xerox – the institute will be headquartered here in Silicon Valley. And it will also leverage leading and emerging innovation ecosystems across the country – places like Boston, Chicago, Detroit, and northeast Ohio.

Flexible hybrid electronics have enormous potential for our defense mission. For example, our industry partners will be able to shape electronics to things, after decades of having to do it the other way around. By seamlessly printing lightweight, flexible structural integrity sensors right onto the surfaces of ships and aircraft, for example, or folding them into cracks and crevices where rigid circuit boards and bulky wiring could never fit, we’ll be able to have real-time damage reports – making the stuff of science fiction, in that sense, into reality. Our troops will be able to lighten their loads with sensors and electronic gear embedded in their clothing, and wounded warriors will benefit from smart prosthetics that have the full flexibility of human skin.

The reality is, though, that as I stand here in front of you today, we don’t know all the applications this new technology will make possible – that’s the remarkable thing about innovation – and that’s another reason why America, and America’s military, must get there first.

The commercial applications will be just as transformative, if not more so, given the impact of wearables, Internet-of-Things, and so on. Smart bandages that can analyze a patient’s biomarkers in their sweat will help doctors catch infections earlier. Stretchable sensors can be put on cars, bridges, and buildings to help keep people safe. Flexible medical diagnostics for x-rays and breast cancer tests will be more accurate and less painful. And instead of tracking athletic performance with bulky devices on our wrists, flexible electronics coupled with new, revolutionary fibers and textiles will let us embed washable, wearable, featherweight sensors in our clothes – giving us an even clearer picture of our health and fitness.

This new partnership is only the latest of what we’re doing to rebuild the bridge between the Pentagon and the technology community.

After this, I’m going across the street – right here – to host the first corporate roundtable at the headquarters of what I think of as my new start-up, the Defense Innovative Unit Experimental, or DIUx, which I announced at Stanford University in April and now is open for business. Located here at Moffett Field, its proximity to the Valley will be key to its success in helping start-ups and other companies here partner with us.

And later today I’ll visit LinkedIn, to discuss and learn how DoD can better compete for talented Americans who want to contribute to our mission – because as I said, it’s not just about the best technology. We need the best people, too.

This is an exciting time – it reminds me of the kind of collaboration between companies, universities, and government that built the Internet and GPS, or in an earlier era, as I said, communications satellites and the jet engine.

For those interested in foreign policy and national security, there are lots of interesting challenges and problems to work on. And that’s also true for those interested in technology. The intersection of the two is an opportunity-rich environment.

These issues matter. They have to do with our protection and our security, and creating a world in which our fellow citizens can live their lives and dream their dreams and hug their children and give them a better future.

Helping defend your country and making a better world is one of the noblest things a person can do. And we’re grateful to all of you for doing that with us.

Thank you.