DoD Must Be More Agile in Technology Development, Official Says

The Defense Department must embrace a more agile approach to technology development to keep pace with rapidly evolving adversaries, the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering told lawmakers yesterday.

Michael D. Griffin appeared before the House Armed Services Committee for a hearing on promoting DoD’s culture of innovation. He spoke alongside the chairman of the Defense Innovation Board, Eric Schmidt, who is the former chairman and chief executive officer of Google and its parent company, Alphabet Inc.

Adversaries Present New Challenges

“Our adversaries are presenting us today with a renewed challenge of a sophisticated, evolving threat,” Griffin said. “We are in turn preparing to meet that challenge and to restore the technical overmatch of the United States armed forces that we have traditionally held.”

Griffin noted dramatic capability advances throughout the world in the air, land, sea, space and cyber domains.

“These advances, coupled with our adversaries’ commitment to a demonstrated pace of prototyping and experimentation and fielding, that, at present, far outstrips our own pace, present a formidable challenge to U.S. forces operating around the globe,” he said.

DoD Continues to ‘Push the Envelope’

Griffin highlighted the work of the DoD research and engineering enterprise, noting the labs, engineering and warfare centers and partnerships with research centers, academia and industry.

The Defense Department, he said, is addressing critical technology and capability gaps through a combination of adaptation of existing systems and the development and introduction of innovative technologies.

“The department continues to push the envelope with research into new technologies such as autonomous and unmanned systems, artificial intelligence, machine learning, biotechnology, space technology, microelectronics and cyber, both offense and defense,” he said.

In addition to technological innovation, the department is pursuing new practices and organizational structures to support a culture of innovation, he said.

Finding a Better Way to Do Business

The DIB is a federal advisory committee comprising experts in academia, technology and business. It examines the way the department does business and provides recommendations to improve processes and incorporate commercial best practices.

Schmidt described some of his meetings with members of the military as he studied innovation for the board.

He said he saw units upgrading to long-outdated computer programs, computer systems that didn’t work with each other and a product development process in which systems are outdated by the time they are delivered.

“My summary conclusion is that we have fantastic people who are trapped in a very bad system,” he said.

The DIB, which holds its next public board meeting April 26, has made a dozen recommendations to the Defense Department, to include rewarding “bureaucracy busting” activities and lowering barriers to innovation.

(Follow Lisa Ferdinando on Twitter: @FerdinandoDoD)