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Carter Seeks to Harness Practices of Innovative Technology Firms

  • Published
  • By Jim Garamone

The Defense Department needs to harness the genius of American technology if it is to successfully stand against all enemies, Defense Secretary Ash Carter told the President’s National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee in Santa Clara, California, yesterday.

Much of new technology emanated from the government two generations ago, said Carter, noting that much of technology today is developed by the private sector. The secretary said he’s visiting Silicon Valley to consult with DoD’s critical private-sector partners.

The security environment today is dramatically different from the last 25 years, he said, requiring new ways of investing and operating.

“We face no fewer than five major, immediate, and evolving challenges that our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines are engaging with every day around the world,” Carter said in prepared remarks.

Countering Russia, China, Iran, North Korea and global terrorism are the main missions for American service members, and they are fighting the fight in new realms – space and cyber, the secretary said.

“In the Department of Defense, we don’t have the luxury of choosing between these five challenges, or between acting in the present and investing in the future,” Carter said. “We have to do it all. So to stay ahead those challenges, and stay the best, I’ve been pushing the Pentagon to think outside our five-sided box, and invest aggressively in innovation -- from innovative people, to innovative technologies, to innovative practices.”

Innovative People

Attracting and retaining innovative people is the most important part of this equation, the secretary said. He spoke of his Force of the Future initiative that seeks to ensure “that amid changes in generations, technology, and labor markets, we’re always postured to recruit, develop, and retain the best young men and women that America has to offer for our all-volunteer force.”

He specifically highlighted the new Defense Digital Service, which brings in technologists from private industry into the department for a short tour of duty. He also cited the Career Intermission Program, which lets people take a sabbatical from military service to get a degree, learn a new skill or just to start a family.

“We’re bringing in Entrepreneurs-in-Residence to work with senior leaders on challenging projects for a year or two,” he said.

“One area that’s particularly important here is our Cyber Mission Force,” Carter said. “These are talented people -- some active-duty, but also reservists and National Guardsmen -- who hunt down intruders in our networks, perform the forensics that helps keep our systems secure and combat our adversaries in the cyber domain.”


Getting this talent is imperative, and Carter mentioned the department is developing an excepted service civilian personnel system to augment these military cyber forces. “That way, if cybersecurity experts in the private sector, or even elsewhere in DoD want to come work at our Cyber Command, the hiring process will be more competitive with the private sector and have a lot less bureaucratic red tape,” he said.

The department is pushing the boundaries of technology, the secretary said. DoD plans on investing $72 billion on research and development in fiscal 2017 alone, he said, noting that’s double what Intel, Apple, and Google spent on R&D last year combined. Defense scientists are developing and advancing a wide range of disruptive technologies, he added, like undersea systems, electronic warfare, big data analytics, energy and propulsion, robotics, artificial intelligence, and advanced sensing and computing.

And, the department is partnering with private corporations, universities and research labs to fund technologies like 3D-printing, advanced materials, integrated photonics, and digital manufacturing and design, Carter said. “We announced the newest one last month, focused on revolutionary textiles that combine fibers with electronics to create fabrics that can sense, communicate, store energy, monitor health, change color, and much more,” he said.

Also, DoD is defending the new high ground in warfare -- cyberspace, Carter said. The department must defend its own networks, help defend partners across the government defend the nation against cyberattacks from abroad, “and the third mission is to provide offensive cyber options that can be used in a conflict, as we’re doing now against ISIL in Syria and Iraq,” he said. This totals about $35 billion, he said, over the next five years.

Innovative Practices

Carter said he also wants to promote innovative practices. “It’s no longer just a matter of what we buy,” he said. How the department buys things and how fast it buys them, he said, will require new approaches to stay ahead of threats.

“That’s one reason why I recently created a Defense Innovation Board, to advise me and future defense secretaries on how to continue building bridges to the technology community, and on how we can continue to change to be more competitive,” Carter said. “I’m pleased that Alphabet’s Eric Schmidt is serving as the board’s chair -- he’s doing a great job putting together the rest of the board, and we’ll have our first working session next week. So stay tuned for who else will be joining him.”

The United States has always been a leader in innovation and the Defense Department has “always been able to out-innovate our enemies,” Carter said.

“We have people -- men and women, military and civilian alike -- who are innovative, who think creatively, who are flexible, and who’ve always been able to adapt technology to solve the problem at hand,” the secretary said.

(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)