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How the DOD Is Keeping Pace with Emerging Technologies Through R&D

Many prognosticators and pundits have speculated that we have moved past the Information Age to a new phase of life and society dictated even more by technological advancements. Some call it the IoT, or Internet of Things Era and others consider it the Artificial Intelligence Era. Whichever moniker ends up sticking, there is no doubt that rapidly evolving, often interconnected and autonomous tools are changing the way we live.

These advancements inevitably affect the military, forcing warfighters to consider a host of threats and potential vulnerabilities due to the capabilities of new technologies both on the market and still in development. The U.S. Department of Defense is quick to react, with officials across agencies both doubling down on efforts around burgeoning focus areas as well as trying to identify what might be just around the corner.

If you would like to learn about the DOD’s research and development endeavors and hear directly about these important matters from Undersecretary for Defense Research and Engineering Heidi Shyu and other department officials, attend the Potomac Officers Club’s 9th Annual Defense R&D Summit. The event will take place on March 23 at Falls Church Marriott Fairview Park in Virginia. You can register here.

In February 2022, Shyu—who is a three-time Wash100 Award winner—presented a list of critical emerging technologies that she said the Pentagon is rallying behind. The list includes biotechnology, quantum science, trusted AI and autonomy, microelectronics and space technology. Shyu additionally mentioned hypersonics, human-machine interfaces, integrated sensing and cyber and renewable energy generation and storage, among others. (She will deliver the keynote address at the aforementioned POC summit.)

Highlighting the centrality of collaboration in a successful defense R&D strategy, Shyu said the DOD cannot do the job alone and must call on the defense industrial base, academic institutions, foreign allies, small businesses, startups and more to achieve its innovation goals.

“Successful competition requires imagining our military capability as an ever-evolving collective, not a static inventory of weapons in development or sustainment,” Shyu reasoned.

During a visit to Massachusetts Institute of Technology earlier this month, Shyu stressed her and the DOD’s dedication to enabling startup companies through investments “so good ideas don’t languish,” as well as detailed the impetus behind the recently stood up DOD Office of Strategic Capital. The latter department is designed to lend funding to companies that have developed a potentially useful prototype and need help getting it off the ground. Shyu attested that this will ideally prevent groundbreaking new technologies from wasting away in the “Valley of Death,” the term given to the purgatory between technology creation and going to market.

The work done between different DOD components in concert is also key to reaching new milestones and attaining technological dominance. In March 2022, the DOD Strategic Capabilities Office was able to successfully render a fleet of Navy ships as autonomous tools, able to operate unmanned. They began the transformation in 2018 and delivered the Ghost Fleet Overload project to a Navy Program Executive Office handling unmanned and small combatants last year.

“At transition, this enables [the Navy, Unmanned Maritime Systems] and the larger team of operators, warfare centers and industry to not miss a beat, continue advancing this technology, and provide a real capability sooner,” said Jay Dryer, director of the SCO. Dryer will be the closing keynote speaker at the Defense R&D Summit.

“This is what SCO does best: integrate mature technologies to accelerate service priorities and create new capabilities for the warfighter,” Dryer added.

Register today for the 2023 Defense R&D Summit. Along with speeches from Shyu and Dryer, there will be panel discussions featuring top DOD personnel such as the Naval Research Laboratory’s Bruce Danly, the Defense Innovation Unit’s Mike Madsen, the Air Force’s Maj. Gen. Heather Pringle and more. There will also be complementary meals and opportunities for great discussions with peers in attendance from across the GovCon and federal landscapes.

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