WASHINGTON — The United States military has plenty of innovators, but it doesn’t have much time, the new undersecretary of defense for research and engineering told a Senate Armed Services subcommittee today.
Michael D. Griffin told the senators that the speed of innovation will become the differentiating factor.
“In a world where pretty much everyone today has equal access to technology, innovation is important, and it will always be important,” the undersecretary said. “But speed becomes the differentiating factor. How quickly we can translate technology into fielded capability is where we can achieve and maintain our technological edge.
“It is not about speed of discovery, it is about speed of delivery to the field,” he said.
The United States military is still the most technologically advanced in the world, but that advantage is eroding, Griffin said, noting that Congress created his position to re-establish U.S. overmatch. “Our mission is to, if necessary, re-establish and then maintain out technical advantage,” he said.
Russia and China have invested in technologies specifically aimed at hitting gaps in American defenses. The United States is in competition, “and the pace of that competition is increasing,” Griffin said.
His new office will look at closing the gap on current and emerging threats. It will also aim at “driving the disruptive innovation that provides the technical dominance on the scale and timeline called for by the defense strategy,” he said.
Griffin said his job will be to establish the technical direction for the Defense Department. “This is more than just recommending the path forward,” he said. “My organization must assure the future force has what it needs by working with warfighters to develop new concepts of operation through mission analysis and experimentation.”
DoD must use intelligence products, technology forecasting and its own analysis to inform decisions on where to invest, what programs it will prototype, what experiments to do and what emerging capabilities and concepts of operation will help the military succeed, Griffin said, and he has established a strategic analysis cell within his office for this purpose.
“I will concentrate on establishing processes and methods to drive effectiveness and affordability by examining our acquisition, testing and sustainment processes in the system design phase, by setting and adhering to open architectures and interface standards while implementing good system engineering and cyber resiliency,” the undersecretary said. “Ultimately, I intend to establish and embrace a collaborative culture focused on piloting new pathways for speed and capability to the future force.”
The department will continue to push new technologies such as autonomous and unmanned systems, artificial intelligence, biotechnology, microelectronics and cyber warfare for offense and defense, Griffin said. He noted that the technologies are not just important to DoD and the military, but are part of a global industry, and said that is something the department must learn to leverage.
“The department is not short of innovators. We are short of time, and we lack expertise in adapting commercial market advances to military needs,” he said. “We need to strike a balance between bringing in new technologies and getting current technology out to the field. We need to deal with the valley of death between innovation and real applications.”
Innovation is messy, Griffin noted. “If the department is really going to succeed with innovating, we are going to have to get comfortable with making mistakes,” he said. “Increasing the use of prototyping, demonstration, experimentation will help the department more rapidly mature technology to assess the impact that innovative technologies can have on the future force.”
Building prototypes and testing them with operators allows the department to speed innovation by driving down technical and integration risk, Griffin said.