JUST IN: Russia-Ukraine Conflict Highlights Need for U.S. Tech Alliances

By Yasmin Tadjdeh

Jon Harper photo

Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine is highlighting the need for the United States to strengthen technology development with friendly nations, said the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering March 7.

“The Russian invasion of Ukraine has amplified the criticality of increasing our collaboration with allies and partners,” said Heidi Shyu during the National Defense Industrial Association’s Pacific Operational Science and Technology Conference in Honolulu, Hawaii.

The conflict has also shone a light on certain technologies that the United States needs to continue to invest in, she later said during a media roundtable with reporters via Zoom.

Based on reporting coming out of the region, the employment of armed unmanned platforms has been particularly useful for the Ukrainians who are attacking Russian forces, she said. “If you're sitting in a convoy, you are a sitting duck,” she said.

“That’s something we already have,” Shyu said of an arsenal of unmanned systems. However, “to me, that would make a huge difference to the Ukrainians to have more of those platforms.”

Meanwhile, the United States can accelerate technology development by broadening partnerships with allies and partners, she said.

“One of the things that we are doing is working with different allies and international partners to figure out what are the critical areas they're also interested in,” she said. “If there's a mutual interest, that's where we can collaborate.”

Shyu pointed to the recent establishment of a new trilateral security agreement between Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States, known as AUKUS, as one example of strong collaboration.

“With AUKUS, we can break down tiered and siloed ways of advancing science and research between fellow nations,” she said. “The goal is to accelerate the ability of our collective S&T communities to innovate, experiment and transition capabilities together much faster.”

The United States is also seeking to initiate joint research-and-development activities with other nations, she noted.

“Our asymmetric advantage is to share our mutual insights [and] collectively accelerate the development of joint capabilities,” she said.

One avenue is the Foreign Comparative Testing Program, which finds, assesses and fields technology developed by international partners, she said.

For example, last year the United States partnered with South Korea on a 2.75-inch guided rocket with advanced imaging sensors and autonomous engagement capabilities, she said. The United States has also partnered with nations such as Norway and Singapore, she added.

Additionally, to better collaborate with allied nations, the United States must also streamline foreign military sale and export control requirements, she said.

Shyu recently released a technology priorities memo focused on three major categories: emerging opportunities, areas of effective commercial adoption and defense-specific technologies.

Emerging technologies include biotechnology that can increase sensing and alert officials to infectious diseases as well as biotech for structural materials that can reduce logistical burdens and sustainment costs in contested fights, she said. Quantum science can provide more precise positioning, navigation and timing technologies as well as quantum computers that can solve computational problems in a fraction of the time of today’s systems, she said.

The Defense Department can also leverage commercial sector technologies such as trusted AI and autonomy, which are “critical to enable our unmanned platforms to operate in a highly contested environment,” she said. Other areas include integrated network systems and microelectronics, she added.

“One of the key things I've been pushing for is developing [a] prototype and rapidly demonstrating that we have the ability to autonomously navigate multitudes of technologies,” she added.

She also highlighted directed energy platforms. “Directed energy has finally matured to the point that we're starting to field systems,” she said. “They’re a critical part of our layered effects.”

Two weeks ago, Shyu visited White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, and viewed the progress that has been made with the technology. Engineers and scientists were recently able to shoot down a cruise missile using a directed energy system, she said.

“That’s awesome. Keep pushing,” she said.

Topics: Defense Department

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