Funding Remains Available for Innovative Defense Technologies

By Yasmin Tadjdeh

While many government programs have been postponed, gutted or canceled because of sequestration and budget cuts, there is still money to be made for those with new technologies, said military and Department of Homeland Security officials.

"At the end of the day, we still have money to be able to go after good ideas," said Alan Shaffer, acting assistant secretary of defense for research and engineering.

Top officials from both the Defense Department and the Obama administration realize that innovation must continue despite austere fiscal times, Shaffer said June 20 at the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association's Emerging Technologies Symposium in Washington, D.C.

"We cannot afford to stop developing new capabilities," Shaffer said. "We're going through a lot of choices, but there's very strong political pressure from former [Defense Department] secretaries, from the leadership in the department, to the White House, to maintain our innovation engine for the future."
Industry needs to focus on open-source systems, said Army Lt. Gen. Mark Bowman, director of cyber and command, control, communications and computers for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The military is hesitant to pay for systems that can only be tinkered with by the company that made it, and instead wants items that can be added on to and customized.

"Smaller budgets are absolutely here to stay. They will get smaller and smaller, so we've got to get smarter and smarter as we modernize," Bowman said. "We're looking for better ideas for the future, but we're not looking for proprietary ways to do business."

A top procurement priority for the Defense Department is electromagnetic warfare systems, Shaffer said.

"We can field an exquisite air platform that can be defeated by a potential adversary who spends a million dollars on an electronic jammer," Shaffer said. "I need the electromagnetic spectrum, all the way from radar systems to IR [infrared] systems to communication systems. We've got to be able to operate there and I'm looking for good ideas to get there affordably."

The Defense Department is also looking to invest in cybersecurity systems that can stop the theft of information from the public and private sector alike. Over the last few years, cyber-attacks have been steadily on the rise. Hacking groups have stolen countless terabytes of data from weapon programs to designs for furniture, affecting numerous industries around the globe.

"We've got to be able to operate in cyber and we've got to be able to protect … the defense industrial base," Shaffer said. "We're hemorrhaging a lot of the innovation of our nation."

As for DHS, funding is up for grabs, but companies will need to invest more of their own dollars into research and development, said Daniel Gerstein, deputy under secretary for science and technology at the department.

"If our components are putting skin in the game, if our components are saying, 'This is important enough that I'm going to put in a couple hundred thousand dollars into this project,' we're a lot more likely to want to fund it," said Gerstein.

Some top priorities for DHS include 3D printing, biological science, robotics and alternative energy sources, Gerstein said.

Topics: Business Trends, Doing Business with the Government, Defense Department, DOD Budget, Homeland Security, DHS Budget, Science and Engineering Technology, Homeland Security

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