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Susan Smith
Susan Smith
Susan Smith has worked as an editor and writer in the technology industry for over 16 years. As an editor she has been responsible for the launch of a number of technology trade publications, both in print and online. Currently, Susan is the Editor of GISCafe and AECCafe, as well as those sites’ … More »

GEOINT Keynote Stephen Welby Talks about Preserving Technology Superiority

 
June 17th, 2016 by Susan Smith

Stephen P. Welby, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering (ASD(R&E)) who also serves as the Chief Technology Officer for the Department of Defense (DoD) and the principal advisor to the Secretary on all matters relating to science, technology, research and engineering, spoke at the GEOINT 2016 Symposium in May on “Wrestling with Technology” and how the department is dealing with technological challenges.

Stephen P. Welby

Stephen P. Welby

Three major themes –

  1. Mitigate and anticipated threat
  2. Affordably enable new or extended capabilities in existing military systems
  3. Create technology surprise through science and engineering

Welby talked of preserving technology superiority, as there has been a 40 year technological advantage of the U.S. and Allies.

What has changed – “there’s no guarantee that technologies will be an advantage,” said Welby. “Others have studied our strategies and fighting, and so it makes us have to look at our strategies to restore that advantage. We see global access to technology, available GDP in available countries, that they can invest in modernizing their military capabilities. Also we can take advantage of  growing commercial technology that’s available.”

Welby also pointed out that our speed to delivery inhibits us.

“We are looking at innovation as a way to address change in this landscape. We want to ensure the national security environment at the same time.”

The new government outpost in Silicon Valley, and an announcement of an opening of a Boston location will be sources of innovation opportunity.  “We’re concerned about not missing those commercial sector capabilities, we are also interested in internal  laboratories,” said Welby.  “We are doing everything we can to speed capabilities to get technology  into the hands of soldiers, to leverage prototypes to access discovery. This is feeding our ongoing discussion on strategy.”

Offsets are a way to think about changing the lay of landscape, of moving to areas where you might be disadvantaged to advantaged, and talking about changing competition where adversaries are investing. It’s very important to  maintain competitive advantage.

This isn’t a new approach. In the ‘50s, Eisenhower introduced new weapons, and changed the shape of competitions. At the time it was a gamechanger.

In the ‘70s and ‘80s the U.S. had the ability to project power from weapons. Today, intelligence is the primary tool.   No other nation could deliver that complex set of weapons that U.S. did for 40 years, with their sustained military advantage.

“How can we disrupt ourselves before others can disrupt us?” asked Welby. “It’s an ambition to help shape the Department the way the services are investing, with what we’re doing in the field and fleet.”

There is more interest now in merging science and autonomy, not just autonomous machines but as partners. There is also the threat from cyber. “Our focus is not on a new generation of lethal systems, but instead more focused on communications,” he said.

In the DARPA vessel, there is no place for a pilot to sit up on the ship. This would be a fully autonomous ship that could leave for Bahrain, on a single tank of gas, equipped with sonar systems.

One of the keys that underpins this is geospatial data as a foundational product in which these con systems will engage with the real world. Geospatial is critical to the revolution in autonomous systems, and the knowledge of how to provide quality and updates on products that need to operate in complex 3D environments.

The Department is not thinking of this strategy as a single layer, but rather, is seeking the right combination of technology for assuring this in the future, to allow us to retain the human capital investment of  113,000 special scientists and engineers.

“We’re engaged with traditional and non-traditional industry,  and academia that doesn’t look to the government,” said Welby.

The Department of Defense R&D  enterprise reaches across the country and has a worldwide presence.

This involves implementing new ways to open to technology and to people, and new ways to flex. “This generation doesn’t see a 30-year career in the military,” said Welby. “We have some new tattooed and pierced folks in the Pentagon.”

The force of the future are the people who have good jobs already, and the DoD needs to be more aggressive in the way they find that talent.

The DoD moved about $15 million to:

  • autonomy and robotics
  • Biomedical (wearable device market)
  • Electronic wireless/cyber
  • Network, data fusion
  • Future of computing

Three things they are emphasizing the most:

  • Speed to market
  • Prototyping demos and experimentation
  • Remove barriers

In the current bill there is a new commercial mechanism for solicitation, that allows commercial companies to acquire licenses for evaluations of commercial products.

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