In an era where technological advancements are reshaping the global landscape, nations vie for dominance in critical and emerging technologies. Among the key players, the United States stands at the forefront, leveraging its Defense Science and Technology Strategy to maintain world leadership. This strategy encompasses a comprehensive approach aimed at harnessing the power of cutting-edge innovations for military applications. In this article, we delve into the US Defense Science and Technology Strategy, exploring its objectives, key components, and its significance in securing global leadership in critical and emerging technologies.
The United States has long been the world’s leading military power, but its dominance is now coming under threat from adversaries like China and Russia. The United States has also been focused on counterinsurgency warfare in recent years, which has led to a decline in its traditional military capabilities. This decline has been exacerbated by budget cuts, which have made it difficult to maintain and modernize the US military.
The United States has led the world in innovation, research, and technology development since World War II, but that leadership is now at risk. The American lead has been due to many factors such as investment in education, basic research and development (R&D) and infrastructure, training and nurturing science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) talent at home and the country’s ability to attract the best and brightest students, engineers, and scientists from around the world. It has also been converting new technological advances into military capabilities faster than its potential adversaries.
The US and China are engaged in a global race for technological supremacy. The country that is able to develop the most advanced technologies will have a significant advantage in the global economy and security landscape. These countries are investing heavily in new technologies, such as artificial intelligence, robotics, and quantum computing, that could give them a significant advantage in a future conflict. As a result of these factors, the gap between the US and its adversaries is closing. China in particular is rapidly catching up to the United States in terms of military technology. The Chinese military is now capable of projecting power far beyond its borders, and it is developing new weapons systems that could pose a significant threat to US forces.
The US military is still the most powerful in the world, but it is no longer invincible. If the US does not invest in new technologies and reverse the decline in its traditional military capabilities, it could lose its dominance to China or Russia in the future.
China is closing the technological gap with the United States, and though it may not match U.S. capabilities across the board, it will soon be one of the leading powers in technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, energy storage, fifth-generation cellular networks (5G), quantum information systems, and possibly biotechnology, wrote the task group report.
The US and China are the two largest spenders on R&D in the world. However, China’s R&D spending is growing at a faster rate than the US. China spent 2.4% of its GDP on R&D in 2021, up from 2.2% in 2018. The US spent 2.9% of its GDP on R&D in 2021, down from 3.1% in 2018.
This means that China is now investing slightly less than the US on a percentage of GDP basis. This could lead to China catching up to the US in terms of R&D spending in the next few years.
The US and China are also investing in different areas of R&D. China is investing heavily in areas such as artificial intelligence, robotics, and quantum computing. The US is also investing in these areas, but it is also investing in areas such as healthcare, energy, and defense.
The People’s Republic of China (PRC) is not only dedicating large amounts of resources in its pursuit to become the global leader in S&T. It is also targeting sources of United States and allied strength by employing means that include stealing technology, coercing companies to disclose intellectual property, undercutting free and fair markets, failing to provide reciprocal access in research and development (R&D) projects, and promoting authoritarian practices that run counter to democratic values.
The technology industry has also changed. First, the pace of innovation globally has accelerated, and it is more disruptive and transformative to industries, economies, and societies. Second, many advanced technologies necessary for national security are developed in the private sector by firms that design and build them via complex supply chains that span the globe; these technologies are then deployed in global markets. China has been rapidly adopting to new technology industry scenario.
The Chinese government is pursuing a strategy known as military-civil fusion (MCF) as part of its efforts to develop a world-class military by the mid-century. This strategy involves diverting emerging technologies to military programs and integrating civilian industries into the defense sector. Chinese leaders, including President Xi, view military-civilian integration as a crucial element in their military development strategy.
The objective of military-civil fusion is to allow China to modernize its defense capabilities without putting excessive strain on its economy. By promoting the integration of military technologies into civilian sectors, China aims to make high-tech equipment accessible to commercial markets. This approach also encourages civilian suppliers to actively participate in the defense-building process.
Russia views the development of advanced S&T as a national security priority, and is targeting United States technology through the employment of a variety of licit and illicit technology transfer mechanisms to support national-level efforts, including its military and intelligence programs. These actions include using illicit procurement networks, seeking technology transfer through joint ventures with Western companies, and requiring access to source code from technology companies seeking to sell their products in Russia.
With fewer resources at its disposal compared to the PRC, Russia is focusing its government-led S&T efforts on military and dual-use technologies, such as artificial intelligence, that it believes will bring both military and economic advantages. Despite its focus on developing military versus civil applications, Russia recognizes the importance of industrial R&D. Russia plans to develop needed innovative technologies for its future military requirements by enabling its defense industrial base through civil-military integration.
This shift in the balance of technological power poses challenges to the United States’ long-standing dominance. To maintain its position, the US will need to address the gaps and continue investing in research, development, and innovation. It will also require a comprehensive strategy to stay ahead in critical and emerging technologies, ensuring that the US remains at the forefront of military capabilities in an increasingly competitive global landscape.
A new report from the University of California San Diego, authored by the bipartisan Working Group on Science and Technology in U.S.-China Relations, provides recommendations for a new approach to competition in science and technology between the United States and China. The report focuses on four domains: fundamental research, 5G digital communications, artificial intelligence, and biotechnology.
The working group suggests that the United States should adopt a smart competition strategy based on three objectives. First, it recommends increasing investment in domestic innovation capacities to maintain competitiveness and security. Second, it emphasizes the importance of preserving openness to attract global talent to the United States. Finally, the report suggests implementing targeted measures for risk management to address security threats and minimize costs to the United States.
To maintain collaboration with China while managing risks, the report proposes transferring highly sensitive research from universities to national labs or outside commercial entities. These entities are deemed better equipped to vet researchers and protect intellectual property.
Overall, the report calls for an integrated approach to competition in science and technology with China, focusing on strengthening the United States’ own innovation capacities, promoting openness to global talent, and implementing measures to manage risks effectively.
Current Critical and Emerging Technologies (C&ET) list
The C&ET list is a valuable tool for the DoD and other federal agencies in their efforts to maintain the technological advantage of the United States. The list helps these agencies to identify and prioritize research and development in areas that are critical to national security.
The current Critical and Emerging Technologies (C&ET) list is maintained by the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC). The list includes technologies that are considered to be critical to the national security of the United States. The C&ET list is updated periodically to reflect changes in technology and threats.
- Artificial intelligence and machine learning: Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) are rapidly transforming the way we live and work. These technologies have the potential to revolutionize the military as well. AI and ML can be used to develop new weapons systems, improve decision-making, and automate tasks.
- Biotechnology: Biotechnology is a rapidly emerging field with the potential to revolutionize a wide range of industries, including defense. Biotechnology could be used to develop new vaccines, treatments, and even weapons.
- Directed energy: Directed energy is a type of technology that uses electromagnetic radiation or particle beams to deliver energy to a target. Directed energy weapons could be used to disable or destroy enemy targets without the use of explosives.
- Energy storage: Energy storage is a critical technology for a wide range of applications, including the military. Energy storage could be used to power electric vehicles, provide backup power for critical infrastructure, and store energy from renewable sources.
- Hypersonics: Hypersonics is a field of technology that deals with the development of vehicles that can travel at speeds of Mach 5 or higher. Hypersonic weapons could be used to deliver precision strikes on enemy targets at long ranges.
- Quantum information science: Quantum information science is a rapidly emerging field that studies the use of quantum mechanics for information processing and communication. Quantum computers could be used to break current encryption standards, and quantum sensors could be used to detect previously undetectable threats.
- Robotics: Robotics is a rapidly emerging field that deals with the development of robots. Robots could be used to perform dangerous or tedious tasks, and they could also be used to fight in wars.
- Space technologies: Space technologies are a critical part of the military’s arsenal. Space-based systems are used for communications, navigation, and surveillance. The military is investing heavily in new space technologies, such as hypersonic missiles and space-based lasers.
- Microelectronics: Microelectronics is a critical technology for a wide range of applications, including the military. Microelectronics is used to develop computer chips, sensors, and other electronic devices.
- Networking and communications: Networking and communications are critical for the military’s ability to operate effectively. The military is investing heavily in new networking and communications technologies, such as 5G and quantum communications.
- Nuclear weapons: Nuclear weapons are a critical part of the US’s nuclear deterrent. The DoD is working to ensure that its nuclear weapons are safe, secure, and effective. The DoD is also working to develop new nuclear weapons technologies, such as low-yield nuclear weapons.
These Critical And Emerging Technologies are basically dual-use technologies that are being driven by the commercial sector which US wants to exploit to sustain innovation and maintain technology superiority. Dual-Use Technology – comprises goods and technologies developed to meet commercial needs but which may be used either as military components or for the development or production of military systems. Second, many advanced technologies necessary for national security are multiple-use and developed in the private sector by firms that design and build them via complex supply chains that span the globe.
The United States has formulated a National Strategy for Critical and Emerging Technologies (C&ET) to ensure its national security and economic prosperity. This strategy involves various elements to maintain technology leadership. These include forecasting, prioritization of resources, coordination with allies and partners, early investments in technology development, and periodic reassessment as technologies mature.
The strategy aims to uphold US leadership in critical and emerging technologies by leveraging the National Security Innovation Base (NSIB) and protecting technological advantages. It emphasizes the development of a highly skilled science and technology (S&T) workforce, attracting and retaining inventors and innovators, leveraging private capital and expertise, and increasing the priority of research and development (R&D) in government budgets. Collaboration with allied nations and benefiting from their innovation is also a priority.
The strategy introduces new elements, such as supporting the development of a robust NSIB infrastructure, reducing burdensome regulations that hinder innovation and industry growth, enhancing civil-military fusion, and improving the government’s attractiveness as a customer for the private sector. Additionally, the strategy highlights the importance of leading the development of global technology norms, standards, and governance models that align with democratic values and interests.
Overall, the National Strategy for C&ET reinforces the United States’ commitment to technology leadership by aligning traditional strengths, fostering innovation and collaboration, and advocating for democratic principles in the global technological landscape.
Technology Risk Management
In the realm of technology risk management, the United States recognizes that certain emerging technologies may have unclear implications for national security due to their global diffusion or early stages of research and development. To address this, a risk management approach will be applied to assess the national security implications, guide investments, and monitor the development of such technologies. The US government will identify, evaluate, and prioritize technology risks, followed by a coordinated response that aims to avoid, reduce, accept, or transfer the identified risks.
Another aspect of the strategy is the protection of the United States’ technology advantage, both domestically and in collaboration with allied nations. The US takes a strong stance against intellectual property theft, exploitation of open scientific norms, and economic aggression in the realm of critical and emerging technologies. Relationships with other nations will be rooted in fairness, reciprocity, and adherence to agreements. To protect its technology advantage, the US will strengthen existing rules, enforce agreements, and work closely with like-minded allies and partners to ensure the prevalence of shared principles.
Protecting the United States technology advantage by defending our NSIB
To prevent illicit acquisition of US intellectual property, research, development, and technologies, the strategy emphasizes the need for security design early in the technology development process. The US will collaborate with allies and partners to implement similar measures. Additionally, measures will be taken to safeguard the integrity of the research and development enterprise, ensuring research security in academic institutions, laboratories, and industry while acknowledging the valuable contributions of foreign researchers.
The strategy highlights the importance of appropriate controls under export laws and regulations for critical and emerging technologies. Multilateral export regimes will also be considered. The US will engage with allies and partners to develop processes similar to the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS).
Engaging with the private sector is crucial to gain insights into critical and emerging technologies and identify future strategic vulnerabilities. A comprehensive assessment of worldwide science and technology policies, capabilities, and trends will be conducted to understand their impact on American strategies and programs.
The defense community faces challenges such as deteriorating manufacturing capabilities, insecure supply chains, and dependence on competitor nations for hardware. To address these issues, the strategy emphasizes the need to ensure secure supply chains and encourages allies and partners to do the same.
Overall, the United States aims to protect its technology advantage by defending the NSIB, preventing illicit acquisition, controlling exports, engaging with the private sector, and ensuring secure supply chains. Collaboration with allies and partners is a key component of these efforts to safeguard national security and technological superiority.
National Defense Science & Technology Strategy (NDSTS)
The Pentagon on May 9 released its 2023 National Defense Science and Technology Strategy(NDSTS), which puts a high priority on delivering new capabilities useful to the joint force and developed collaboratively between the military services, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and foreign partners and allies.
The Department of Defense (DoD) is facing a new era of strategic competition, and it needs to make changes to its internal processes, engagement with the technological innovation base, and industrial posture in order to address the emerging dynamics of this era.
The DoD’s new strategy aligns new mechanisms for supporting research and development with more effective pathways for acquisition and sustainment. At the same time, the DoD will divest from outdated legacy systems and leave behind risk-averse processes. Making these changes will require the DoD to work together to execute on three strategic lines of effort:
- Focus on the Joint Mission: Invest in information systems and establish processes for rigorous, threat-informed analysis that will better enable the DoD to make informed choices in its science and technology investments. The focus on the joint mission is essential to the National Defense Science and Technology Strategy. The strategy emphasizes making strategic technology investments that enhance the United States’ comparative advantages and develop asymmetric capabilities for the Joint Force. Critical technology areas have been identified to guide investments and address key national security challenges, including the pacing challenge posed by China.Rigorous analysis plays a vital role in making the right technology investments. The Department will utilize modeling and simulation, incorporating physics-based models into campaign-level system-of-systems models to inform assessments of emerging technologies. Comprehensive technology watch and horizon scanning efforts will further inform future critical technology investments.
Joint experimentation is another key component. The Department will engage in continuous and iterative joint experimentation to convert joint warfighting concepts into capabilities that align with the National Defense Strategy. Collaboration between the Military Services, Combatant Commands, Joint Staff, OSD Components, and industry will be leveraged to identify promising joint solutions and technologies ready for prototyping and field experimentation.
- Create and field capabilities at speed and scale: The National Defense Science and Technology Strategy emphasizes the need to create and field capabilities quickly and on a large scale. The Department of Defense (DoD) recognizes that valuable research should not remain confined to laboratories, and bureaucratic processes should not hinder engagement with innovative private companies or trusted partners.To foster a more vibrant ecosystem, the DoD will make necessary changes to attract new partners and expand the research and collaboration base. The paradigms for technology protection will be recalibrated to include trusted allies and partners, while implementing stronger protective measures for critical technologies that contribute to the military advantage.
- Ensure the foundations for research and development: Recruit, retain, and cultivate talent; revitalize our physical infrastructure; upgrade our digital infrastructure; and nurture stronger collaboration across all stakeholders. To ensure the foundations for research and development, the Department of Defense (DoD) recognizes the need to modernize infrastructure and enhance the workforce. This includes investing in equipment, facilities, and digital infrastructure that can support the testing and development of 21st-century capabilities. The DoD aims to create realistic testing environments that simulate highly contested situations and enable the evaluation of emerging technologies. The DoD also emphasizes the importance of allies, partners, and industry in laboratory and testing infrastructure. They seek to provide broader access to trusted allies and partners, promoting collaboration and resource sharing instead of competing for limited resources. By working together, facility clearances can be expanded, supply chains can be strengthened, and the integrity and security of research, development, and manufacturing infrastructure can be ensured across government, industry, and academia.
The NDSTS outlines the DoD’s priorities for science and technology (S&T) over the next five years. The strategy emphasizes the need for accelerated technology advancement and innovation to ensure U.S. national security in a rapidly changing world.
The 2024 budget for the Department of Defense (DoD) includes $145 billion for research, development, test, and evaluation (RDT&E). This is a 12% increase from fiscal 2023. The S&T budget, which is a subset of RDT&E, is $17.8 billion. This is an 8.3% increase from fiscal 2023. Basic research, which is a subset of S&T, is up 43%.
Unlike previous years’ strategies, the 2023 priorities were not ranked numerically. But the relative amounts requested in the 2024 budget may suggest the Pentagon’s likely order of emphasis—Shyu listed their relative shares of the $6.93 billion in basic science and technology research funding as:
- Microelectronics: 24.7 percent
- Integrated sensing and cyber: 17.4 percent
- Integrated network system-of-systems: 11 percent
- Trusted AI and autonomy: 9.1 percent
- Hypersonics: 8.7 percent
- Biotechnology: 5.9 percent
- Space technology: 5.9 percent
- ‘Future G’: 4.6 percent
- Directed energy: 4.6 percent
- Advanced materials: 3.6 percent
- Quantum sciences: 2.3 percent
- Advanced computing and software less than 2 percent
- Human-Machine Interfaces: less than 2 percent
- Renewable energy generation and storage: less than 2 percent
The S&T strategy lists 14 top technological priorities. These priorities are:
Artificial intelligence and machine learning
Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) are rapidly transforming the way we live and work. These technologies have the potential to revolutionize the military as well. AI and ML can be used to develop new weapons systems, improve decision-making, and automate tasks. The DoD is investing heavily in AI and ML research and development.
Hypersonic weapons are capable of traveling at speeds of Mach 5 or higher. These weapons are difficult to defend against, and they could pose a significant threat to US forces. The DoD is developing new hypersonic weapons systems, and it is also working to improve its ability to defend against hypersonic threats.
Quantum science and technology
Quantum science and technology is a rapidly emerging field with the potential to revolutionize a wide range of industries, including defense. Quantum computers could be used to break current encryption standards, and quantum sensors could be used to detect previously undetectable threats. The DoD is investing heavily in quantum research and development.
Space is a critical domain for US national security. The DoD relies on space-based systems for communications, navigation, and surveillance. The DoD is working to ensure that it maintains its dominance in space, and it is also working to develop new space-based weapons systems.
Nuclear weapons are a critical part of the US’s nuclear deterrent. The DoD is working to ensure that its nuclear weapons are safe, secure, and effective. The DoD is also working to develop new nuclear weapons technologies, such as low-yield nuclear weapons.
Biotechnology is a rapidly emerging field with the potential to revolutionize a wide range of industries, including defense. Biotechnology could be used to develop new vaccines, treatments, and even weapons. The DoD is investing heavily in biotechnology research and development.
The NDSTS also emphasizes the need to strengthen the DoD’s S&T workforce and to build partnerships with the private sector and academia. The strategy is a critical component of the DoD’s efforts to maintain its military advantage in the 21st century.
President Joe Biden’s administration has added focus to renewable energy sources, sixth- and seventh-generation (6G and 7G) communications, and networks. These are all areas where the DoD believes it can make significant contributions to national security.
The NDSTS is a comprehensive plan that will help the DoD to accelerate technology advancement and innovation, and to maintain its military advantage in a rapidly changing world. The strategy is a critical component of the DoD’s efforts to ensure US national security in the 21st century.
By accelerating innovation, enhancing military capabilities, ensuring technological advantage, and fostering collaboration and partnerships, the United States strives to maintain its dominance in an increasingly competitive technological landscape.
The strategy’s significance lies in its contribution to national security, economic prosperity, and global leadership, solidifying the United States’ position as a technological powerhouse in the realm of defense and security.
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