DEFENSE DEPARTMENT

JUST IN: Budget Impasse Could Derail Pentagon’s New Tech Experimentation Campaign

12/4/2021
By Jon Harper

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SIMI VALLEY, Calif. — The Pentagon wants to move forward with a new campaign of technology experimentation to help fill critical joint warfighting capability gaps. But the ongoing budget impasse on Capitol Hill threatens to derail the effort, Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Heidi Shyu said Dec. 4.

The initiative, dubbed the Rapid Defense Experimentation Reserve, or RDER, will fund 32 projects based on needs identified by combatant commanders.

“We've identified specific technology that will enhance the way we do a joint fight,” Shyu told a small group of reporters at the Reagan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley, California. “Everybody agreed these top 32 have a huge bang for the buck.”

The experimentation will help users and combatant commanders determine whether they are keen on systems before a decision is made about whether to procure them.

“This fund is tied into joint experimentation,” Shyu explained. “If it has utility, the cocom can come back and say, ‘Look, I need 5,000 of this [product]. Then, we have to be able to get into rapid fielding. … That's exactly the path we're heading towards.”

Alternatively, if combatant commands want additional features added to a system, the design can be revised and then the upgraded version can be put through its paces in the next round of experimentation, she noted.

Shyu declined to disclose the specific technologies that have been chosen for the experiments, but said capability areas of interest include information advantage, all-domain command and control, contested logistics and integrated fires.

“The technologies and the topics that we selected span from Unclassified to Secret to Top Secret to Special Access — a very broad spectrum of capabilities. And all of them will be demonstrated in [fiscal year] ’22,” she said.

However, Congress has yet to pass a full-year appropriations bill for this fiscal year, which began Oct. 1. Lawmakers earlier this week passed another continuing resolution that will run through mid-February. CRs are problematic for the Defense Department and industry because they freeze funding levels and make it difficult to start new projects.

Shyu was asked how much the extended CRs have hurt the Rapid Defense Experimentation Reserve effort.

“Quite a bit,” she said, adding that the schedule is “going to be really scrunched.”

The R&E chief wants to lay the foundation for a series of experiment. “If [lawmakers] are not going to allow me to do that, then I have to wait, and that will be incredibly frustrating, especially on critical needs that we have to have,” Shyu said. “I mean, you see how fast the threat is moving. Come on. I need a budget” to move forward.

Looking ahead, Shyu hopes to have sufficient funding to conduct two tech experimentation “sprints” annually, beginning in fiscal year 2023.

She declined to disclose how much money is expected to be in the 2023 program objective memorandum for the REDR, but said: “For the amount money I am asking for, it is incredible capability” that could be yielded for the military.

Topics: Defense Department

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