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Deputy Defense Secretary Dr. Kathleen Hicks Participates in a Fireside Chat Following Remarks American Innovation at Purdue University

MODERATOR: Thank you so much, Dr. Hicks, for those inspiring words. If it's OK with you, we'll dive into some questions and answers that, you know, we'd really like to explore with you from the Purdue community and looking at directions where we can go to help national security and defense. 

Maybe we can start with, you know, one of the most critical aspects of the work that's done here, which is innovation. Innovation is central to everything that we do at Purdue University, from the classroom, to the lab, to the boardroom. And as you survey the United States military and the equipment and the people that make up its core, where do you see a need for more innovation? What areas should universities like Purdue focus on? 

DR. HICKS: Well, again, thank you for hosting me. 

And I think the first thing I have to say is Purdue is focused right now on several of our highest-priority areas. And we've talked about them already today. We've talked about hypersonics. We've talked about microelectronics. We have a lot of interest in ensuring we have strong supply chains, so thinking through all the aspects of that. Those are all areas of priority for us. 

And we have identified a list of 13 -- inclusive of some of what I've just mentioned -- 13 technology areas of greatest importance to the department. But beyond just specific technologies, it's really about creating the kind of ecosystem that you've done so well here, and that I've seen in the last two days both at Oak Ridge and Air Force Research Lab, where we're really, in the United States, tapping into what makes us distinct. And that is bringing together innovators in the commercial sector, alongside you know, world class research capabilities. Investing, as you doing here, in the facilities that make that possible and that attract talent. And then bringing government dollars, research and development dollars, and talent, as you're seeing around this room with your ROTC and your graduate student population from the U.S. military, together. That's what you can keep doing. So I appreciate it. 

MODERATOR: Excellent. Thank you. 

You mentioned the CHIPS+ Act, and I think we're all very excited that it was signed last week by President Biden. And, again, a lot of credit goes to Indiana Senator Todd Young for leaning in on this legislation. 

In recent remarks in support of the CHIPS+ Act, you identified some pressing microelectronics challenges facing our military, right? 

First, making sure that we have assured access and making sure that we can provide state-of-the-art technology to our warfighters. Purdue recently announced collaborations and partnerships to advance semiconductor technology and fabrication, including, as you mentioned, the recently-announced partnership with SkyWater Technology to build a $1.8 billion state-of-the-art semiconductor manufacturing facility right here next to Purdue campus. We're very excited about that. 

But what else can universities like Purdue do to help achieve a distinct microelectronics advantage? 

DR. HICKS: So I'd go back to that idea of the ecosystem -- and I think it's -- again, you're an exemplar, so I'm telling you something you already know -- what we need here is that lab-to-fab capability, and so that means having the whole development cycle, you know, right here, accessible to a community so that that development cycle, from the innovator on the outside -- the basic research, of the innovator on the outside connecting, and then the fabrication capability for microelectronics here on-shored, which we do not have today, that's really vital to us.

In the Defense Department, the big constraints that we have faced that we believe the CHIPS and Science Act is going to very much help us get out of is both that we can't be 100 percent confident in our supply chain today, and so having on-shored production capability or the whole lifecycle capability, frankly, here in the United States can really help us, understanding that we will still always lean on some chips that are made overseas.

And then really to get at those very specific capabilities that we need, and that's another thing I would point to here at Purdue -- radiation-hardened capability is already a research priority here, and that is a capability that, pretty uniquely, the Department of Defense and a few other, you know, agencies need in order to succeed.

So those are the areas to keep going after. Those kinds of capabilities that we are specifically reliant upon and really help us in the national security community and throughout the U.S. economy by putting that whole development cycle here together, to get the most innovation as quickly as possible.

MODERATOR: Yeah, OK, fantastic. Let's take a moment to talk about technology transfer. What can universities do to aid in tech transition, specifically to small businesses?

DR. HICKS: Yeah. So a part of it is talent, right? Part of it is you are training folks here that will go on to be -- that's our whole American model -- will go on to be those small business owners and operators and innovators.

Our innovation system in the United States is heavily reliant on small businesses. That's where a lot of that innovation is occurring. So training your -- whether they're STEM talent today or they're business majors today, the reality is they're going to be the innovators of today and tomorrow. So that training makes a difference.

And so that also means training in certain skills – [coughs] pardon me -- entrepreneurship training, making sure they have the resources available to them through the university system, you know, to lean on the networks, to lean on -- I'm sure you have a very strong Purdue alumni network that works in this space.

So those are some of the areas I'd point to, both having the talent and then supporting that talent really through the entrepreneur cycle.

MODERATOR: Yeah. And absolutely, the talent pipeline is so important to push forward. And along those lines, you know, we really appreciate a lot of the global diversity that we have within the -- within our student body, and specifically our graduate student body, but we recognize and appreciate the need to develop cleared and clearable security-cleared students to be able to work on some of these national defense issues.

We are attempting to increase this population by leading initiatives such as SCALE, which is the national, preeminent training program for semiconductor workforce development in the defense sector specifically, as well as the Purdue Military Research Institute, which provides Masters and PhD students with -- for active military students.

What else can Purdue do to help the department with the workforce shortage moving forward?

DR. HICKS: Yeah, and I was -- had the great fortune to have some discussions already today about SCALE and some of the other programs that are ongoing here. Again, I think it's all going in the right direction and an incredible investment clearly by the institution.

I think for the United States to be competitive and really tap into all it can bring, which I think is a winning formula here in the United States, it needs to tap into all of its society. And so I think Purdue can be a significant engine of that and has a responsibility to be an engine, to bring, you know, all parts of our community -- the diversity of what we have, underserved communities who have not traditionally matriculated into STEM areas at the same level, bring all of that talent to bear. 

We're unstoppable if we can bring all that talent forward, and we just need to lean on institutions like Purdue to help us do that. We're trying to do it in the defense department, we certainly are providing, again, dollars and jobs for folks so we can be part of that answer. We want to partner with Purdue and other institutions to do that.

MODERATOR: OK, fantastic. Thinking along the lines of global competitiveness, you know, many of our near-peer global competitors benefit from vertical integration that's inherent to their defense ecosystem, right? Something that, in many ways, is the antithesis of the democratic capitalist society that we -- you know, that we're so proud to partake in.

Recently, we've seen the department address this by encouraging more public-private partnerships and looking at non-traditional organizational relationships. What role do you see universities playing in this new model?

DR. HICKS: Yeah, I think it's a lot of the themes that we've touched on. First of all, there's a lot of vertical integration already going on -- so lab-to-fab, I mentioned, is an example of that when it comes to microelectronics.

And then more broadly, you know, I think the idea of using something like our manufacturing institutes that we have at DOD, where we are really, again, trying to bring in everything from the small entrepreneurs, working with Purdue in this case, trying to help them understand how to fit into this system and build through this system, the development cycle. Those are other examples.

So again, I think you're largely already down the right path, and I think, in the U.S., what we have the advantage of is we are not a state-controlled economy, that innovation really helps us, but finding ways to bring that vertical integration to close those development cycles and make them shorter, and also make sure we're giving folks the support they need to contribute at the right points in the system. That's really important for us to do.

MODERATOR: Yeah. Excellent. So one last question before -- I know you have to go and have a very busy schedule. We're very thankful for having you join us. So Purdue is -- and collaborating academic institutions really offer unique capabilities, intellectual capital and facilities in the area of hypersonics, as you mentioned, and we have a deep relationship with industrial and Department of Defense partners, AFOSR, the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Crane Division, and others in this area.

What more can we, as a university, do to assist the department specifically in the area of hypersonics, not only in the research and development and workforce development, but potentially in testing and in evaluation? 

DR. HICKS: Well, we talked about the new wind tunnel testing facility you all are building here. And that's tremendous. So I'm really looking forward as that is completed out to see what that can deliver. Just having that quality facility attracts the world-class talent to advance the research. So I think that's one very clear area. 

One area we're also very focused on at the defense department is counter-hypersonics. So to the extent that that's a research priority here at Purdue and you can bring your scientists and engineers to bear on that, we certainly would welcome more collaboration in that area. But by and large we're down a very strong pathway right now in hypersonics. And I think the quality of what you all are bringing is a big piece of why. 

MODERATOR: Thank you so much for joining us today and for these very inspiring words and food for thought on how we can grow as the university. 

Let's thank Dr. Hicks one more time.