Why Congress holds the key to DOD tech

Defense company leaders said Congress may have to relax its oversight -- or at least learn to take leaps of faith -- when funding defense technology research if it wants to see dramatic improvements in capabilities.

architecture concept (Yurchanka Siarhei/Shutterstock.com)

Congress may have to relax its oversight -- or at least learn to take leaps of faith -- when funding defense technology research if it wants to see dramatic improvements in capabilities.

That was the takeaway from the House Armed Services Committee's hearing for its Future of Defense Task Force Feb. 5. The task force, co-chaired by Reps. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) and Jim Banks (R-Ind.), was chartered in October for six months to evaluate the Defense Department's technological needs and capabilities through a series of briefings and hearings. Those findings are expected to culminate in a report with recommendations.

At the Feb. 5 hearing, defense industry leaders seemed to reach consensus on what has prevented DOD from advancing tech-wise: too few incentives and resources.

Raj Shah, the former director for the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU), the Pentagon's innovation arm, said program executive offices inside the services make the calls on investments, but there's no incentive to take a risk.

"No one gets fired for going slow, no one gets promoted for going faster," testified Shah, current chair and co-founder of cybersecurity risk firm Arceo.ai.

"Many of the things that a PEO or a service does to invest in a particular technology will have implications that go far beyond the Department of Defense," Shah said, mentioning low-cost drones and the 5G infrastructure markets as dominated by China-run companies.

To help with this, DOD should take the lead in growing the manufacturer base, which would assist allies, improve national security and have economic impact, he said.

"There are lots of these R&D, trial programs -- AI to solve driving ships and planes -- pick two or three that we think are promising and bet big on them," Shah said.

Congress has to draw those lines, witnesses said.

Christian Brose, who used to be the Senate Armed Services Committee's staff director and advisor to the late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), agreed with Shah, saying more competition is key to tech advancement.

"Technology is not going to save us," testified Brose, who leads strategy at Anduril Industries. "Unless we're experimenting with how to use that technology to do different things, we're just going to be continuing the way that we have."

But to change current practices Congress may have to back off or grant more flexibility during the fiscal year to accommodate experimentation. To make that more palatable, Brose suggested Congress track which companies and programs were "bridging the valley of death" -- the period between an experimental pilot and the establishment of a program of record. Brose said companies that proved more successful here deserved more money.

"Congress always wants to know how the department is spending its money," said Brose. "We have a proliferation of organizations that are trying to bring new entrants, research and capability into the department. Where does it go?"

A recent Govini report found that DOD's investments shrank from a 19% share of global R&D in 1967 to just 4% in 2017. China's grew from 3% in 1997 to 27% in 2017.

"We're in a really unique, great power competition right now with China in particular, where for the first time in a very long time ... we truly lack a definitive technological advantage against our competitor," Tara Murphy Dougherty, the CEO for the research firm Govini, told FCW. She said recent increases to R&D are "necessary but insufficient."

"Spending in emerging technology areas is definitely increasing when you look across the board at things like advanced autonomous systems," but spending is still much higher on traditional systems such as manned platforms, she said.

"Over the past five years, really the department spent almost four times more RDT&E funding on manned systems than it did on unmanned capabilities."

Govini's report also showed that DOD's artificial intelligence and cyber investments were nearly matched at $4.5 billion and $4.6 billion, respectively, from fiscal 2015 to 2019. But cyber's growth rate was higher, which could be the beginning of a trend, Murphy Dougherty said.

"I suspect that what we're seeing is the beginning of a shift in that trend and that there are continuing demands in the area of cyber that are going to warrant big-time investment. But I wouldn't be surprised if you see the rate of AI spending increase from 5.5% over this time period," she said.

The task force, which is halfway through its six-month term, has previously looked into autonomous systems, biotechnology, cyber, AI, hypersonics and the effects of Chinese influence.

Moulton, the task force's co-chair, said during the hearing that harnessing emerging tech is key to "military and economic superiority" and ultimately funding has to align with that.

"With an initial funding of $520 million, which would be $4.5 billion in today's dollars, [the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency] led to current initiatives like DIU, which while particularly noteworthy, simply doesn't enjoy the same level of support with a mere $41 million budget," Moulton said.

"We cannot expect the same success without the same level of commitment."

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.