Past DOD Leaders Say the Next National Defense Strategy Should Encourage Data, Tech Sharing

Former four-star generals and a Trump administration acquisitions chief said the next National Defense Strategy, expected this spring, must create a framework to break down barriers in data sharing and to enhance tech transfer with allies and partners to maximize America’s deterrence.

Speaking in an Atlantic Council virtual discussion Jan. 5, former Vice Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff retired Marine Corps Gen. James E. Cartwright; former head of the CIA and U.S. Central Command retired Army Gen. David Petraeus; and former Pentagon acquisitions chief Ellen Lord said talk is not enough to confront the complex set of security challenges posed by two nuclear-armed adversaries, Russia and China.

“Where’s the beef?” said Cartwright, indicating the NDS must outline measurable steps to broaden sharing with partners and allies. “If we can start to share unprocessed sensor data with all of our friends and allies—not just exclusive groups, but all of our friends and allies—then we bring to the table the one thing that our adversaries can’t: diversity,” he explained.

Cartwright argued that America cannot fear “giving up some piece of intellectual property.” Likewise, old practices to protect data must be modernized.

“We do have a cultural issue of ‘deny people the access to the knowledge and control it yourself.’ And that just doesn’t work anymore,” he added.

Lord extended the argument to expanding the defense industrial base to allies and streamlining technology transfer in the forthcoming NDS.

“We are not leveraging the defense industrial base, the manufacturing capability, all the know-how out there,” Lord said, calling for clear objectives for making technology releasable. “Then, being able to export, without getting too tied up in [International Traffic and Arms Regulations], to our closest allies and partners.”

Petraeus made the case that allies first need to be reassured after the 2021 Afghanistan withdrawal, of which he claimed allies “felt they had been informed rather than consulted.”

“We want to classify in order to share rather than to exclude,” Petraeus said, pointing to successful examples in the Iraq surge and Afghanistan coalition.

Petraeus also said a gulf of interoperability is growing in areas ranging from weapons systems to intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance.

Cartwright emphasized military space investment and warned that the adoption of commercial space technologies is not keeping up with China’s use of space.

“If we don’t start capitalizing on space the way our commercial sector has, we’re going to be left behind,” he said, citing recently departed Vice Chair of the Joint Chiefs Air Force Gen. John E. Hyten’s comments about China’s aggressive military space ambitions.

Cartwright identified commercial advances when it comes to reusing and and disaggregating space assets that he believes need to be incorporated into the government. He also argued for making all platforms maneuverable in all phases of flight to avoid threats.

Lord pointed to AUKUS, the nuclear-powered submarine technology agreement between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States as an example of sharing data and technology that needs to be more widely utilized.

“I think what we need to do is take that NTIB framework and build it out a bit,” Lord said, referring to the National Technology and Industrial Base, a group of vetted suppliers from the United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada—”so that we can much more easily export data and technology, so that we can build interoperable systems, so that we can sell a lot of the systems that we now use in the U.S,” she said. Selling systems used by the U.S. military would allow easier communication with allied and partner defense forces.

Broadening the defense industrial base and two-way sharing of research and insight also means an acknowledgment that good ideas come from beyond U.S. shores.

“Cybersecurity, intellectual property—these are complications—but we need a framework, and a lot of brains in the world are places other than the U.S.,” she added.