Defense Superiority Relies on Investment
Defense Superiority Relies
on Investment, Research, Acquisition Chief Says
By Cheryl Pellerin, DoD News,
Defense Media Activity.
Washington D.C. — (DoD News) — April 20, 2016 — The Defense Department’s
ability to maintain U.S. technological superiority for the 21st century depends
on research and development investments requested in the fiscal year 2017 budget
proposal, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and
logistics told a Senate panel today.
Frank Kendall testified before the Senate Appropriations
Defense Subcommittee on the department’s innovation and research request for FY
Joining him were Stephen Welby, assistant secretary of
defense for research and engineering, and Arati Prabhakar, director of the
Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
Focus on Innovation
Kendall said the departmentwide focus on innovation,
technical excellence and acquisition process improvement is intended to help
sustain a long-term competitive advantage and make the most effective use of
“We were able to increase our research and development
request in the FY17 budget by about $3 billion over the previous year's
appropriation level,” Kendall said.
“This budget increases the use of prototyping, demonstrations
and experimentation to help the department more rapidly mature technology and
assess the impact these innovative technologies can have on the future force,”
Recent DARPA research has demonstrated the ability to
accelerate production of millions of doses of vaccine using novel plant-based
methods. But clinical trials for vaccines, drugs or other biologics can’t be
initiated without preclinical evidence of their safety in humans. To create a
pathway for fielding safe and effective countermeasures, DARPA has launched the
Microphysiological Systems program. MPS will develop a platform that uses
engineered human tissue to mimic human physiological systems.
DoD investments create options for future investments in
full-scale development and production, Kendall said, noting that the department
must rely on Congress and others to remove the threat of sequestration and make
sure the next administration has the resources it needs to put such innovative
technologies into the hands of warfighters.
DoD Science, Technology
Welby told the subcommittee that the FY 17 budget request
contains $12.5 billion for science and technology, including $2.1 billion for
basic research, and confirms the department's commitment for a stable and robust
DoD science and technology program.
“We are at a pivotal moment in history,” he said, “where the
advanced technical capability and capacity that the nation has relied upon to
provide us with unmatched advantage on any battlefield is now being challenged
by the military technology investments being made by increasingly capable and
increasingly assertive powers.”
Today the department employs more than 39,000 scientists and
engineers in 63 defense laboratories, warfare centers and engineering centers
across 22 states, Welby said, all working to sustain the department’s ability to
support and field critical military technology that often has no commercial
“Our defense laboratory enterprise touches the broadest range
of emerging concepts through our deep engagement with academia, industry and our
international partners to keep the DoD smart, knowledgeable, agile and
responsive in the face of new and emerging threats,” he said.
DoD laboratories have produced important innovations in vital
defense areas such as electronic warfare, propulsion and weapons design, Welby
added, “and maintaining this unique technical expertise is critical for insuring
the department's ability to prepare for future threats.”
Prabhakar told the senators that DARPA works closely with
colleagues across DoD and directly with defense companies, commercial companies,
universities and labs of all sorts.
“Within that ecosystem DARPA has one particular role,” she
said, “and that is to make the pivotal early investments in breakthrough
technologies for national security.”
Today, DARPA does that work in a shifting global security
landscape filled with technologies moving at a furious pace, said Prabhakar, who
then provided the panel an example of the agency’s work.
“When our aircraft go out today on a mission they have a set
of jamming profiles. These are very specific frequencies and wave forms that
they can transmit to jam the adversary and protect themselves,” she explained.
But sometimes when the aircraft go out, Prabhakar said, they
encounter a radar that's transmitting a signal that doesn't match anything in
their library. If that happens in a time of conflict it leaves them dangerously
unprotected, she added.
A Completely New Approach
Upgrading the system and getting the upgrades out to all the
aircraft can take weeks to months to years, Prabhakar said, reflecting “the
simple fact that when those systems were built we were in a world in which the
adversary didn’t change that often.”
Now a DARPA program takes a completely new approach to the
problem, she said.
“Onboard the aircraft, our system looks across the radio
spectrum, [using] artificial intelligence to learn what the adversary radar is
doing and then right there on the spot it generates a specific jamming profile
to counter that specific threat,” Prabhakar said.
That means aircraft will be able to protect themselves
immediately in the battlespace even when the environment around them is changing,
she added, noting that there are many more examples of such new technologies
across the DARPA portfolio.
“We have work,” she added, “that ranges from radical new
military systems -- for example we just christened a ship a few weeks ago that
will navigate across the ocean without a single sailor on board -- and it also
includes research that is harnessing everything from photons to algorithms to
even living cells to create possibilities that no one could even imagine before
(Follow Cheryl Pellerin on Twitter: @PellerinDoDNews)