Pentagon Science & Technology leaders said government, academic and industrial innovators must embrace an investment strategy aimed at advancing key “thrust” areas such as electronic warfare (EW), cyber, counter-space and counter- weapons of mass destruction.
Alan R. Shaffer, acting assistant secretary of defense for Research and Engineering, outlined these priorities as something specifically designed to mitigate new and emerging threats — while delineating some key parameters of the Pentagon’s broader S&T strategy. He spoke Wednesday at the National Defense Industrial Association’s 14th Annual Science & Engineering Technology Conference/Defense Tech Exposition, National Harbor, Md.
“We have an increased set of threats. We have an unstable nation in the Middle East that has chemical weapons which could get in the wrong hands. We have to deal with North Korea. We have to deal with cyber attacks and cyber espionage. We have to deal with an increasingly complex set of Anti-Access/Area-Denial threats,” Shaffer explained.
At the same time, Shaffer emphasized affordability as a key to developing next-generation technology in today’s more constrained budget environment.
“We have reduced money, yet increased threats. Now we have to think what is in the realm of the possible, but what is in the realm of the possible that is also affordable. That is going to take a shift by people within the government and industry,” he said.
Shaffer described the vital need to harvest innovation and create what he called “technology surprise” within the context of discussing the fast-changing global technological environment, something he identified as a “rise in the commons.”
The “commons” are those areas, such as the electro-magnetic spectrum, oceans, space and cyber where the U.S. military no longer enjoys the same kind of unparalleled technological superiority it had just ten years ago.
“What we have noticed over the past decade during our counterinsurgency operations is an incredible rise in a place called the ‘commons.’ These are the places that no one owns and yet enable all of our operational systems,” Shaffer said. “It used to be that we had the pre-eminent electronic systems in the world. That is not really the case anymore.”
Ensuring safe commerce on the oceans is another vital common area where the U.S. will want to preserve and build upon its technological dominance.
“The U.S. still has the best platforms in the world,” Shaffer said. “When the JSF [Joint Strike Fighter] is fielded, there will be no other aircraft like it in the world. Our surface combatant ships are the best platforms in the world. Our ground systems are the best in the world. We have to think about how we can enable these platforms to operate better.”
In terms of the electronic warfare arena, Shaffer said the U.S. military needs radio frequency mixed- signal component technologies and better, more affordable EO/IR sensors (electro-optical/infra-red).
“The electro-magnetic spectrum is so critical to our operations. We need distributed heterogeneous EW and we need adaptive EW,” he said.
He also talked about the importance of developing inertial navigation systems so as to provide key combat-relevant navigational information without necessarily needing to rely upon GPS technology.
“We need to start to develop space capabilities with or without a space layer. My goal would be to make GPS technology something that is more important to the Department of Transportation than it is to the military,” Shaffer said. “If I can do a better job with an inertial navigation system, then I no longer have to rely upon GPS and it doesn’t become such a lucrative target to ‘jam’ or take out.”
Shaffer cited a new Pentagon pilot program established to provide funds to government and industry defense laboratories for the specific purpose of advancing research in the field of autonomy; the effort involves providing labs with about $20 million a year over a period of four years, Shaffer said.
“Each of our defense laboratories are coming in with specific autonomy research proposals. We’re trying to think about a different way of doing business where we have our laboratories coupled with industry more tightly,” Shaffer explained. “Autonomy is potentially a huge enabler to the way we think about operating. Autonomy goes beyond robotics and goes to thinking about having multiple platforms out in some type of space that act together.”
Shafer outlined key elements of the S&T strategy, in part as way to inform the military’s industrial and academic partners about areas to direct Basic Research and expend Independent Research and Development (IRAD) dollars.
“Help us prototype. Help us deliver capability faster and a little more predictably,” Shaffer told an audience of academic and industry participants.