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US DOD launch new innovation models and initiatives to sustain and advance America’s military dominance for the 21st century

Decades of innovation — driven almost entirely by DoD and the Defense Industrial Base — have kept the United States at the forefront of modern military capability.  Further the free-market structure of the economy, vibrant venture capital ecosystems, world-class universities, and government support of R&D were other dominant factors combined to form the most innovative ecosystem in the world.


However recently, China is rapidly modernizing its military and closing its gaps with western countries. It is also challenging west in exploitation of new technologies including  AI, quantum, 5G, IoT, Nanotechnology and electric vehicles. CHINESE leader Xi Jinping has laid out his plans for world domination with a 30-year plan to transform the country and surpass the US to become the biggest global superpower.  Former US energy secretary Steven Chu has even observed that China is ahead of America in areas ranging “from wind power to nuclear reactors to high-speed rail”. China is also catching up fast in artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, 5-G broadband technology and the “Internet of Things.” Some of its achievements include a gigantic 500m-aperture spherical telescope, the launch of the world’s first hacker-proof quantum satellite and the development of world’s fastest supercomputer – the new Sunway Tianhe-1A. China is also challenging US in many critical military domains like Space, Cyber, Air and Sea.


One of the critical components of Chinese innovation strategy is military civil integration which China’s leaders believe  will help China continue its rapid defense modernization without creating too great a drag on its economy. Chinese leader Xi has repeatedly stressed the importance of “military-civilian integration” as a core component of the country’s military development strategy.  “Through in-depth development of military-civilian integration, military technologies are gradually applied in civilian fields, making high-tech equipment available to commercial markets. At the same time, we have also emphasized the importance of encouraging more civilian product suppliers to actively participate in the defense-building process,” said Dai Hao, Director-General of China’s Institute of Command and Control.


Worried by  it’s narrowing military lead over the adversaries like Russia and china, In November 2014, then–Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced a new Defense Innovation Initiative, which included the Third Offset Strategy. Hagel said, “This new initiative is an ambitious department-wide effort to identify and invest in innovative ways to sustain and advance America’s military dominance for the 21st century.”  The goal of  DII  was identifying new and innovative technologies that will be agile, flexible and ready to confront and defeat aggression from any adversary anytime, anywhere—with a smaller and leaner force structure. It aims to “pursue innovative ways to sustain and advance our military superiority for the 21st Century” by finding “new and creative ways to sustain, and in some areas expand, our advantages even as we deal with more limited resources.”.


Now, it is the commercial sector that is defining the leading edge of technology and innovation. New waves of emerging commercial technologies have caused quick advancement within the defense sector. As noted by Tom Foldesi, DIU’s commercial engagement director, one-third of worldwide R&D was tied to the Department of Defense in the 1960s. That percentage has since tanked to 3.7 percent.


The challenge was to find a better way than Chinese  top-down, government-managed effort , more in conformity with Silicon Valley model of innovation and to the American values. Some of the strategies evolved by DOD to spur innovation involved attracting companies that don’t usually work with the military,  inspire creative thinking inside and outside the Defense Department ,strengthening  its collaboration with tech firms, entrepreneurs, and start-ups and crowdsourcing. During Association of the United States Army (AUSA) Annual Meeting, Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy said: “the intent is to move from the Industrial Age processes to the Information Age, leveraging data as a strategic asset and utilizing private sector technology.”


To the Pentagon, dual-use technology offers an attractive means of drawing new players into the military fold, while also leveraging the more rapid development that happens on the commercial side. But the model is evolving, said Mike Madsen, director of strategic engagement with the government’s Silicon Valley outreach hub Defense Innovation Unit. With DoD, “it takes two years to get to a ‘yes,’ when a lot of companies need a ‘no’ in 30 days because they don’t have the capital,” he said. “So we flipped it. Now we start with the DoD problem set and take it out to industry. And we’ve lowered a lot of the barriers to entry — we negotiate [intellectual property] for each contract, we negotiate auditability, we move quickly. We look to award prototype contracts in 60 to 90 days.” One of the salutary effects of a moderate regulatory environment for new entrants will be to allow for the organic emergence of a greater degree of comfort and cultural understanding between Silicon Valley and the Pentagon.


Other DOD arms devised their own strategies to spur innovation. The Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Atlantic said it wants to take better advantage of technology developed outside of the defense contracting industry. Plenty of companies are building products for the private sector that could have uses in the military, the agency says. SPAWAR, as the agency is known, plans to spend as much as $100 million on their technology. And while it doesn’t have specific projects in mind just yet, it’s looking to address a broad swath of needs: cyberwarfare and cloud computing, data analysis and the Internet of things, among others. The agency will hire a firm to recruit companies working in those areas. That firm will be tasked with “expanding the field of companies that we leverage technologies from,” said Bill Deligne, SPAWAR’s deputy executive director in Charleston.


ONR has launched an initiative , the Concept Challenge,  under which the organization is asking literally anyone who believes they have an idea for a technology that could help the Navy and Marine Corps deter conflict and win wars to submit one-page summaries for possible adoption into ONR’s research portfolio. Rear Adm. David Hahn,  head ONR said the criteria for the challenge is broad, by design: candidates could include anything from a brand new technology the Navy has not yet examined to new ways of combining existing systems that fit into future war fighting concepts.


In Dec 2018, The U.S. Army announced the Army Expeditionary Technology Search – xTechSearch program. The Army is seeking innovative, paradigm-breaking technologies from the nontraditional defense community to support modernization priorities.


Recently the department is taking new steps to ingest new technologies and accelerate modernization efforts, including creation of the Close Combat Lethality Task Force (CCLTF), Joint Artificial Analysis Center (JAIC), and Army Futures Command; and others pushing new strategies for advancing cloud, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, and digital modernization.


However, the  military’s ultimate goal is to achieve dominant military capability and readiness under a wide range of possible future scenarios. There are many factors contributing to military capability and readiness and therefore innovation demands improvement in many of factors such as budgets, processes, cultures, and training to innovation and tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs).


DoD organizations need to rely upon a talent base that is creative, entrepreneurial, and possesses the capacity to solve problems and continuously learn and adapt to new roles. A new ecosystem of mission partners with their own innovation infrastructures must be able to federate problems and solutions across the enterprise and lead successful digital transformations at scale, writes MG George Franz (USA, Ret.) is a former director of operations for the U.S. Cyber Command .

Defense Innovation Initiative

Many of the technologies the DoD will depend on in future will come from outside the DoD. The declining military budgets, the industry is investing less in new technology and increasingly depend on the global market for innovation. “We must be open to global, commercial technology as well, and learn from advances in the private sector,” Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter told the House defense appropriations subcommittee.


The DII was launched to harness the brightest minds inside and outside the DoD to identify current and emerging technologies, or projections of technology-enabled operational concepts. The goal is to accelerate the critical thinking, technical excellence and the business practices to support them that will allow us to improve our “speed to market” in the following areas: People, Wargaming, New Operational Concepts, Business Practices, and a Long-Range Research and Development Program Plan (LRRDPP).

Department has launched two programs, DIUx [Defense Innovation Unit Experimental] and In-Q-Tel, intended to strengthen its collaboration with tech firms, entrepreneurs, and start-ups. DOD also launched crowdsourcing initiative  to try to inspire creative thinking inside and outside the department on some key operational challenges that face the U.S. military, and to try to contribute to the department’s ongoing third-offset efforts,” she explained.


Defense Innovation Unit Experimental, or DIUx.

The military has formed new group under the U.S. Department of Defense, called Defense Innovation Unit Experimental, or DIUx. With an office in Silicon Valley and in several other tech hubs across the U.S., the mission of DIUx is to bridge the different cultures of tech startups and the U.S. military to meet national security needs.


Many of these small innovative commercial firms lack knowledge about defense systems, organizations, and problems that could benefit from their products and technology, and that is why we have made investments in activities like DIUx in Silicon Valley as a way to help match DOD customers with some of those potential sources of advanced capabilities that are rising from the commercial enterprises, says DOD. Since its inception 18 months ago, DIUx has worked with more than 30 tech companies from across the U.S. and the globe. The technology ranges from robot sailboats to small satellites.


“As a broad statement, government systems are very poorly secured. As a broad statement, government systems are not using the latest forms of operating systems, encryptions and mechanisms,” said Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google’s parent company, Alphabet. “Technology is always changing and if you have only legacy equipment, that actually gives the bad guys more time to figure out what the vulnerabilities are. If we’re constantly evolving, it’s a cat and mouse game between attackers and defenders and we want to be on the winning side of that,” said Shah.


An immigrant from Iran, Banazadeh  builds a special kind of satellite that allows its user to take imagery, even through clouds and at night. What makes it unique is its size. It is just a bit bigger than a shoebox. Unlike the military that builds massive satellites, Capella Space can build satellites that are smaller, cheaper and faster than traditional military satellites. “We like to work with the government because we think we can help the government save money, bring a capability that doesn’t exist, and through that hopefully save some lives,” said Payam Banazadeh, co-founder and chief executive officer of Capella Space.


“The innovative ecosystems will be very good at certain types of technologies and products and we should play to their strength. They’re not the answer to everything. We don’t expect the next company out here to build the next fighter jet. But they may build some of the software that sits on it,” said Shah.


Long-Range Research and Development Program Plan (LRRDP).

US DoD has turned to grassroots innovations by developing a Long-Range Research and Development Program Plan (LRRDP). The LRRDPP wants to attract IDEAS from across the defense industrial base, commercial industry, government and individuals to identify the “art of the possible” for future National Security systems. Stephen Welby, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Systems Engineering said, “We’d like to think now about how we could prepare, how we would think about harvesting science and technology to enable new systems. We’re trying to imagine the systems that the department will need in the future, and then asking “what do we need to do to identify and accelerate technologies that will help us get there.”


The five main focus areas of the program are Air, Missile and Precision Guided Munition Defense, Air Superiority, Space, Undersea and Emerging Technologies. Teams of government technology experts will assess ideas leading to new capabilities that can provide the U.S. with significant advantages to the Department’s capabilities in the 2025-2030 timeframe.

This idea has to fall into one of three categories:

1. Relatively mature technologies that may be applied in novel or unique ways to field a fundamentally different type of system capability

2. Emerging technologies that can be rapidly matured to offer new military capability

3. Technologies under development for, or being applied in, non-defense applications which can be repurposed to offer a new military capability


The LRRDPP team consists of five small, AGILE teams of government technologists to identify critical technologies and drive materiel concepts with the potential to contribute to our technology offset strategy. The teams will consider all responses, and a report is scheduled in 2015. The Pentagon received more than 300 responses, Defense Department spokesman Maj. Eric D. Badger told National Defense. Badger said. “In fact, it’s likely that the LRRDP report will be classified


“The accelerating pace of change and the impacts of globalization have created significant changes in the global technology landscape that compel a strategic evaluation of the Department’s R&D investment strategy. This new long-range R&D study seeks to identify opportunities for enduring defense innovation to sustain the future of our nation’s military capabilities in an era of rapidly evolving technology, and tightening budgets,” according to US DOD.



Army seeks new tech ideas through xTechSearch program

The Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology (ASA(ALT)) is announcing the second cohort of the Army Expeditionary Technology Search – xTechSearch – to be featured at the Association of the United States Army (AUSA) Global Force Meeting in Huntsville, AL, on 26 to 28 March 2019. xTechSearch will highlight opportunities for nontraditional defense partners to collaborate with the Army to tackle the most poignant Army modernization challenges.


The ASA(ALT) recognizes that the Army must enhance engagements with the entrepreneurial funded community, small businesses, and other non-traditional defense partners, by: (1) understanding the spectrum of technologies being developed commercially that may benefit the Army; (2) integrating the sector of nontraditional innovators into the Army’s research and development ecosystem; and (3) providing mentorship and expertise to accelerate, mature, and transition technologies of interest to the Army.


The xTechSearch program will provide resourcing to select businesses to demonstrate proof of concept for their technologies pertaining to Army challenges. The program will also integrate these nontraditional innovators into the Army’s Science and Technology (S&T) ecosystem by providing cooperative research opportunities with Army labs, including access to the Army’s organic intellectual and technical capital. xTechSearch is an opportunity for businesses to pitch novel technology solutions – a new application for an existing technology or a new technology concept entirely – to the Army. The Army will provide non-dilutive seed prizes for the companies to demonstrate proof of concept in an Army-relevant challenge area.


Technology Focus Areas

xTechSearch seeks novel, disruptive concepts and technologies to support the following Army technology focus areas:

Long Range Precision Fires. Provide massed, mobile, operational-level kinetic and non-kinetic strike options to restore overmatch, improve deterrence, and disrupt Anti-Access/Area-Denial (A2/AD) on a complex, contested, and expanded battlefield.

Next Generation Combat Vehicle (NGCV). Develop replacements for current tanks and infantry fighting vehicles that realize weight, sustainment, and cost-per-unit savings. This will increase the capability of our existing formations and improve our ability to survive and win in the complex and densely urbanized terrain of an intensely lethal and distributed battlefield where all domains are continually contested.

Future Vertical Lift (FVL) to develop replacement aviation platforms that include unmanned and autonomous attack, reconnaissance, utility, and MEDEVAC with increased speed and extended range and station time to operate in complex, dense urban terrain on an intensely lethal, distributed, and expanded battlefield within contested air space.

Network with hardware, software, and infrastructure to provide resilient mission command on the move to wage the maneuver ISR, joint fires, and sustainment fights to retain and exploit the initiative against a peer adversary in an inherently contested cyber and electromagnetic environment.

Air and Missile Defense to reduce the cost curve of missile defense, restore overmatch, survive volley-fire attacks, and operate within sophisticated A2/AD and contested domains.

Soldier Lethality to improve Soldier and small unit performance, reduce surprise, increase protection, and enhance lethality in close combat on an intensely lethal and distributed battlefield and within complex, urban terrain.

Medical technologies optimized for use in austere environments that prevent, diagnose, treat, mitigate, or cure servicemember health threats such as injury, polytrauma, cognitive and psychological stress, and infectious diseases.

Military Engineering Technologies, including 3D mapping and characteristics, cold regions science and engineering, and civil or military engineering applications.

 IMPAX (Innovation and Modernization Patuxent River)

The U.S. Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR), Naval Air Warfare Center – Aircraft Division (NAWCAD) and the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) are working to address that challenge through a new effort – dubbed IMPAX (Innovation and Modernization Patuxent River) – that aims to accelerate the transfer of new technology to meet U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps needs. IMPAX staff members are empowered to work outside the standard acquisition process to find, develop, and prototype new technology more quickly.


MPAX was launched in 2017 as an initiative of Rear Admiral Mark Darrah, program executive officer for Unmanned Aviation and Strike Weapons at NAVAIR, by working closely with the Technology Transfer Office at NAWCAD. The first initiative with the Navy is to identify technology that will help integrate unmanned aerial vehicles into air control systems by providing miniaturized identification friend or foe (IFF) systems. IFF systems are already used in piloted aircraft, but the much smaller unmanned aircraft lack the space or power for conventional systems.


“Traditionally the Department of Defense (DoD) has been limited in the means and speed at which it could bring new technologies to the warfighter,” said Rob “Radar” Winston, a GTRI principal research engineer who directs the IMPAX program near Pax River Naval Air Station in Maryland. “Our adversaries aren’t constrained by cumbersome procurement rules and regulations. Through this effort, we want to ensure that our nation’s warfighters get the best technology in the shortest time.”


IMPAX is empowered to seek out technology from sources the government doesn’t usually work with. These can include small- and medium-sized businesses, companies that don’t traditionally work with the military or bid on billion-dollar DoD procurements. Winston and his team work on the Navy’s behalf, matching warfighter needs with technology that may already exist – or that can be developed to meet the needs.


In one aspect, IMPAX team members will serve as technology scouts, scouring many sources of information to locate technologies of interest. They’ll be readily approachable, and won’t require extensive paperwork from companies and others wanting to pitch their technology for potential military applications. The overall activities will be directed by a joint GTRI/NAWCAD/NAVAIR team.


“If an individual or company has a great idea but they have never worked with the government before, that barrier to entry is very tall now,” he said. “They don’t know who to talk with, how to get involved in a program, or even how to get through the front gate of a military facility. We are going to be able to talk with these people to assess what they can contribute to the warfighter and do it all outside the gate and without the customary barriers.”


DoD agencies have their own research laboratories to help develop new technology, of course, but Winston’s group will tap other sources of innovation. For technology that’s promising but not quite ready for DoD use, IMPAX will fund brief research and development (R&D) initiatives – as short as three or four months – to determine whether a technology is worth pursuing. Pathways from there could include the traditional agency R&D laboratories.


The IFF capability for unmanned systems is just one example of an ongoing IMPAX project. Another initiative is looking at the use of augmented reality to support maintenance and training programs. By combining 3-D computer-aided design files with mixed reality glasses, the technology could help maintainers identify a problem, locate components hidden within an aircraft, and train new personnel more quickly.


“Technology already exists for these projects, but it would take a long time to actually get them to the fleet using traditional acquisition timelines,” said Winston. “We can help develop the capability, get it to the Navy who can then get it out to the warfighter quickly. We’ll run as fast as we can with a project and give our warfighters the edge by getting the latest technology to them – today.”


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