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Remarks Announcing a New Manufacturing Innovation Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts

Thanks so much, President Rief, my old friend for that introduction.  And to Governor Baker, Governor Wolf, Senator Markey, Congressman Kennedy, DoD family – I see here many friends and partners of long standing – public servants, scientists, entrepreneurs, and more – thank you for being here today.

It’s a pleasure to be back in Cambridge to continue advancing what’s been one of my core goals as Secretary of Defense and that’s  building, and in some ways rebuilding, the bridges between our national security endeavor at the Pentagon, and the 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, benefitting both our security and our society, and MIT is proof of that.  From the Rad Lab’s pioneering work on radar during the Second World War; to developing computer navigation systems that not only guided ballistic missiles, but also landed men on the moon; to the groundbreaking work that continues today at Lincoln Labs; this has always been a place where great minds and great ideas come together to help defend our country and build a better world.

That is, in fact, the mission of the Defense Department.  That’s why we have the finest fighting force the world has ever known.  And that’s what our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines do every day, all over the world.  They’re working right now with our coalition partners in more ways – in more ways every day – to accelerate the defeat of ISIL, which we will do.  They’re training with our NATO allies in Europe to deter Russian aggression.  They’re sailing the waters of the Asia-Pacific, ensuring that the most consequential single region for America’s future remains stable, secure, and prosperous for all nations.  They’re standing guard on the Korean Peninsula, and countering Iran’s malign influence against our friends and allies.  And all the while, they’re helping protect our homeland.

Our men and women in uniform do this in an increasingly competitive and changing world – particularly when it comes to technology.  When I began my career, in physics, most technology of consequence originated in America, and much of that was sponsored by the government, particularly the Department of Defense.  Today, we’re still major sponsors, but much more technology is commercial.  And the technology base is global.  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 militaries to try to close the technology gap.  

So to stay ahead of those challenges, and stay the best, we’re investing aggressively in innovation.

We’re pushing the envelope with research into new technologies – robotics, biotech, cyber defense, electronic warfare, and hypersonic engines that can fly at five times the speed of sound, and many, many others.  

We’re building what I call on-ramps and off-ramps for technical talent to flow in both directions – so more of America’s brightest minds can contribute to our mission of national defense, even if only for a time or a project, and so our military and civilian technologists, and the innovative defense industry that supports us already, can interact in new ways with the entire innovative ecosystem.

And we’re developing new partnerships with our nation’s innovative private-sector and technology communities – in places like Boston, and Silicon Valley, and Austin, Seattle, and America’s many other great hubs of unrivaled innovation. 

As I often say, we in the Pentagon need to think outside our five-sided box, and formulate new ways to keep that enduring American technological edge, and it is, after all, a new technological and competitive landscape.  That’s why we’ve established an innovation hub in Silicon Valley and plan similar steps in other tech hubs – more on that later.  That’s why we created the Defense Digital Service – Is Chris here? Our director of our Defense Digital Service? There’s Chris; by the way, if you want to get in and do something that really matters and you’re a technologist, see Chris. – the Defense Innovation Board, which I just established, which Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google and now Alphabet, is now chairing; new internships and externships for technologists uniform and civilian, new ways of accessing the American population, including women, for what is after all an all-volunteer force.  And why we’re investing nearly $72 billion in R&D in the budget I just submitted to the Congress – more than double, by the way, what Apple, Intel, and Google spent on R&D last year combined. 

And right here, right now, we’re taking another step forward.

Today I’m announcing that the Department of Defense is partnering with Advanced Functional Fabrics of America, which Rief has already described – a competitively-selected consortium of 89 companies, universities, non-profits, research organizations, and startup incubators across the country – to establish a new manufacturing innovation institute focused on revolutionary fibers and textiles.  This is a pioneering field, combining fibers and yarns with things like flexible integrated circuits, LEDs, solar cells, electronic sensors, and other capabilities to create fabrics and cloths that can see, hear, sense, communicate, store energy, regulate temperature, monitor health, change color, and much more.

The Defense Department is making a $75 million-dollar investment, which has already been matched more than three times over, with more than $240 million in contributions from our public- and private-sector partners.  And like the seven other manufacturing innovation institutes established by the President over the last four years – five of which DoD has helped lead, I should mention, in the areas of 3D printing, lightweight metals, integrated photonics, digital manufacturing and design, and flexible hybrid electronics – this will ensure that the innovations needed to develop, manufacture, and commercialize these cutting-edge materials will happen right here in America.  The President takes a personal interest in these institutes, I should tell you, asks about them, and I’ve spoken with him about all of them a number of times.  So I know how important it is to him that America keeps leading in manufacturing innovation and continues to bring great manufacturing jobs back home.  Because a strong U.S. economy, I know, is the bedrock of American security.

With the range of innovators involved in technical textiles here in New England and the greater Northeast – including companies like Bose, and New Balance, and DuPont, and others – this institute will be headquartered here at MIT.  It will be strengthened by a robust network of research partners and manufacturers all across the country – from Oregon to Ohio to South Carolina to Georgia to Pennsylvania.

Revolutionary fibers and textiles have enormous potential for our defense mission.  For example, lightweight sensors, woven into the nylon of parachutes, will be able to catch small tears that might otherwise expand in midair, risking paratroopers’ lives.  Uniforms with electronics embedded in their fibers will be able to detect potential chemical and radiological agents, help power the various networked devices that our troops carry into the field, and know when a wounded servicemember might need an anti-bacterial bandage.  And with tents whose very fabrics can generate and store their own power, and even regulate the temperature inside, we’ll be able to reduce fuel consumption on the battlefield – which is critically important when you consider, and I remember this very well, that in the middle of the war in Afghanistan, some years ago, four or five years or so ago, the Army would lose an average of two soldiers for every 50 fuel supply convoys.

The reality is that as I stand here, we don’t know all the advances this new technology is going to make possible – that’s the remarkable thing about innovation – and it’s another reason why America, and America’s military, must get there first.

The commercial applications of technical textiles will be just as transformative, if not more so, given the drive toward wearables and the Internet of Things.  For example, running shoes as lightweight as socks will be able to sense impact load for every step, so athletes can better understand their physiological condition.  New fibers will strengthen walls and floors in buildings and other structures, reducing construction costs while also providing improved protection from the elements.  First responders will benefit from firefighting gear that’s not much heavier than which exists today, if at all, but yet is vastly more protective against even the hottest of flames.  And instead of tracking physical performance with straps on our wrists, we’ll have the same capability embedded in our clothing thanks to washable, featherweight sensors – providing an even clearer picture of our health and fitness.

Now, this is an exciting time – it reminds me of the collaboration between companies, universities, and government that built the Internet and GPS, and before that 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.  But the intersection of the two is truly an opportunity-rich environment.

These issues matter.  They have to do with our protection and our security, and creating a world where our fellow citizens can go to school, and live their lives, and dream their dreams, and one day give their children a better future.

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

Thank you.