Pentagon to Begin Drafting Technology Roadmap

By Sandra I. Erwin

The Defense Department is seeking to recapture the technology magic of decades past that propelled the United States to become the world's only superpower.

The Pentagon's new effort to spur innovation is casting a wide net in hopes that outsiders in the private sector and academia can help inject new thinking into weapon programs and investment plans.
"We recognize that all good ideas don't originate in this building," said Stephen P. Welby, deputy assistant secretary of defense for systems engineering.

Welby is overseeing the technology initiative, named "long-range research and development plan." His team will spend six months perusing proposals and determining whether they merit further study and investment. The recommendations will go to Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Frank Kendall in time to influence the Pentagon's fiscal year 2017 budget request.

Companies, think tanks, universities, and the general public are being invited to send ideas. A "request for information" was published Dec. 2 on the website

"We are inviting folks for a dialogue," Welby told reporters. The Pentagon wants to understand the "art of the possible" a decade or two into the future, he said. "What is emerging across the private sector that might shape the future of military capabilities?" The Defense Department recognizes that innovation now comes from the private sector, so it wants to become a "fast follower," Welby said.

The long-range R&D study is part of a broader "offset" strategy that Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work and Kendall are leading. It is modeled after the strategy the Pentagon adopted during the Cold War, when the Eisenhower administration figured out how to "offset" the Warsaw Pact's much larger conventional forces with nuclear weapons. In the 1970s, Secretary of Defense Harold Brown and Undersecretary William Perry pushed a second offset initiative to use digital microelectronics and information technology to counter conventional forces. The Pentagon will attempt a third offset strategy in order to jump ahead of future enemies that are acquiring increasingly advanced technology.

The Pentagon worries that countries like Russia and China have steadily invested in advanced technology over the past decade. Potential adversaries are fielding advanced aircraft, submarines, long-range, precision-guided missiles, undersea and electronic warfare technologies.

The long-range R&D plan will identify "high-payoff enabling technology investments that could provide an opportunity to shape key future U.S. materiel investments, offer opportunities to shape the trajectory of future competition for technical superiority, and will focus on technology that can be moved into development programs within the next five years," said the solicitation.

Welby's team is divided into five groups that will focus on space, undersea technology, air dominance and strike, air and missile defense, and broadly emerging technology. The last category is likely to include autonomous vehicles, agile manufacturing and nanotechnology.

This does not mean that the Pentagon only is interested in those five areas, Welby said. The five priorities were chosen for efficiency. "We are not building a hundred panels," he said. "We are starting with those five."

The panels also have been instructed to not engage in the inter-service infighting that typically occurs when programs and dollars might be at stake. "We recruited folks who are bright and open minded," said Welby. "We want to make sure we don't get trapped into silos."

For the private sector, this project is not necessarily going to lead to procurement contracts, he noted. "We are thinking about a decade out. We're not talking about the next opportunity, the next win," he said. The questions at hand for the next six months will be: Where are the long bets, what are the markets going, and where is technology headed, Welby said. "There are no dollars associated with this RFI."

Topics: Defense Department, DOD Leadership, DOD Policy, Procurement, Research and Development

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