JUST IN: China Needs to ‘Think Twice’ About Hostile Action in Pacific, Official Says

By Sean Carberry

NDIA photo

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Defense Department is focused on developing weapons and technologies designed to make China “think twice” about launching any hostile action in the Pacific, said the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering.

Heidi Shyu told reporters at the National Defense Industrial Association’s Emerging Technologies for Defense conference Aug. 28 that she is laser focused on critical technologies to deter and counter China. While mass and scale are critical concerns for the Defense Department, it isn’t just about matching numbers, she said. 

“Just because you've got 1,000 missiles, that doesn't mean I have to have 1,001,” she said. “I look at the whole situation and whole landscape very differently.”

However, when pressed for details about systems and technologies in development, she replied with, “It’s classified.”

“So, I will prefer them not knowing what I'm doing,” she said.

One general area of work is through the Australia-United Kingdom-United States, or AUKUS, agreement, which is intended to help Australia procure nuclear-powered submarines. The agreement also includes a second track to collaborate on advanced technology.

President Joe Biden will be making an announcement in the next month or two about an initiative under the agreement, she said.

“I did propose something to [the secretary of defense] which he loved, so, it will be coming soon,” she said. “We're fleshing out the details on the critical technology. So, it will be more of a portfolio approach rather than here's, you know, all these technologies on the table.” 

It’s part of the ongoing process of looking at how to integrate capabilities more closely with Australia, she added.

“I've already spoken to the Missile Defense Agency and the Army, because we're integrating our systems together in the defense of Guam,” she continued. “So, there's significant interest from MDA and the Army. So, the next step is bringing the Australians in to figure out at what level do we integrate our systems?”

Another new initiative is Replicator, announced by Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks Aug. 28. The concept is to scale up production of thousands of attritable drones in the next 18-to-24 months. Shyu said Replicator aligns with the Defense Department’s Rapid Defense Experimentation Reserve, or RDER, program that stood up last year to test prototypes during military exercises and accelerate getting technologies into the hands of warfighters.

“These are not totally independent,” she said. “You can well imagine these are things where we've been thinking about for years. We literally are testing things out already. So, it's just a matter of how to accelerate that.”

For Replicator to succeed, the department is going to have to scale technology quickly, and that’s an area where the Pentagon has struggled, as noted by Defense Innovation Unit Director Doug Beck during a conference in Austin Aug. 23. Shyu said she has been working with her counterpart Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment William LaPlante to address the challenges of understanding the industrial base’s capacity to scale, she said.

“When I found out the rocket motor was a limiting factor in terms of production rate for a lot of the munitions that we are sending over to Ukraine, [it] became pretty natural for me to say, ‘Gosh, I could just do additive manufacturing for this, I could help you solve this problem, right?’”

The problem, she said, is that the services were focused on meeting production demands and unwilling to look at an alternative method of producing the rocket engines that are holding back production. 

“Don’t inject into my production line, because you could disturb my production” was the pushback she was hearing.

“They'll freak out, right? So, so the obvious thing to do is look, I will just create a parallel program. In essence, I will reduce the technology risk for you, right?” she said. 

“I can go out to trailblaze this, go to a couple of companies say ‘Hey, are you interested in doing additive manufacturing of this rocket motor?’” she continued.

“We can absolutely do this as a trailblazer for the Army, for the Navy, for the Air Force,” she said. So far, two of the services expressed interest in having her office pursue development of alternative rocket motors. 

“And then we are now initiating this as a parallel pathway for them, because what you want to do is mitigate the technology risk for them, right?” she said.

Once the technology is developed, it has to be flight tested to finish risk mitigation, and then it’s a matter of form-factor replacement, she said. 

“It'd be like a Lego block, you take out your rocket motor you currently have and put this in,” she continued. “You have to mitigate a risk for the program manager … because they're judged by did you perform to cost and schedule, right? They're not going to take the risk. So, this is what we're doing to help them.”

In addition to contributing to Replicator, the RDER program is looking at several problem sets in the Pacific theater, she said.

“The RDER experimentation … it's scenario based, and we focus on, for example, things like contested logistics, things that will enable joint command and control,” she said. That includes things like the Joint Fires Network, which is a critical need expressed by Adm. John Aquilino, Indo-Pacom commander, at the conference. The Joint Fires Network requires any sensor to be able to connect to any shooter, Shyu said. 

“That means an Air Force sensor could see the target first, maybe a Navy shooter or Marine shooter could go after it,” she said. “So as a part of that, we identify a list of prototypes that either the services or industry or the [combatant command] that could fulfill the capability needs.”

Once the capability needs for joint warfighting concepts become more refined, they become classified, she said. “So, that that's the complication of not sharing with everybody, all the stuff we're doing.”

One project she could discuss is an Air Force Research Lab prototype that can connect any type of commercial communications satellite to any military communications satellite.

“So, now you have ability switch, if you're being jammed, or if some adversary takes down one of your low-Eart-orbit satellite communication birds, you have ability to switch very rapidly like this,” she said. “And you want that. You want redundancy, you want robustness in the way you communicate.” 

Shyu said her office has new activities planned for fiscal year 2024, but they are not likely to start until later in the year due to the expectation of a continuing resolution that would prevent new starts.

“When there's a CR, it literally stretches things out,” she said. “We can't start in probably the first six months if there's a CR ongoing. So, all the prototype activity, just pushes out, stretches things out. 

“It's very, very detrimental, right? It's frustrating because you can't move at the pace that China is able to move at if they don't have CRs,” she added.


Topics: Defense Department

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