New Pentagon Science and Technology Strategy Emphasizes Collaboration with Allies

The Pentagon on May 9 released its 2023 National Defense Science and Technology Strategy, 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.

“We will focus on the joint mission, create and field capabilities at speed and scale, and ensure the foundations for research and development,” the 12-page document states.

“What I really like about this S&T strategy is its clear commitment to collaboration, not just domestically but internationally,” said Nina Kollars—an advisor to undersecretary of defense for research and engineering Heidi Shyu—during a call with reporters.

That emphasis on international collaboration matches the 2022 National Defense Strategy, which highlighted the importance of “mutually-beneficial alliances and partnerships.”

“Our allies are featured very strongly in here,” Kollars said. “[That’s] a centerpiece of the National Defense Strategy. And the department is serious about stepping out in that way.”

The Pentagon will be careful not to give away its secrets, Kollars noted, but “the necessity for technology protection should never be confused with turning away from the way data and science is developed,” which usually means an open discussion and sharing of information.

“In early basic research … there can be a tension with how we share with our partners and allies,” Kollars said. “But there are a number of initiatives going on inside the Department of Defense that are aimed at … new policy solutions” which will ensure “that our technology can be interoperable with our partners and allies … while minimizing accidental technology transfer.”

Priorities and Funding

The strategy’s emphasis on joint technologies and collaboration are in keeping with the priorities Shyu previously articulated when discussing the Pentagon’s 2024 science and technology budget request.

“Everything we’ve been doing is very much focusing on the joint warfighting capability and what we need to do to fight as a joint force,” Shyu said at a National Defense Industrial Association forum in April.

No special or new authorities will be needed to implement the new strategy, Kollars said, though it is required by law to have an implementation plan, which will be forwarded to Congress within 90 days.

“We designed the strategy based on the President’s budget, within the framework of no additional authorities or resourcing,” she said. “Going forward, we will allow the defense planning process to make additional adjustments as necessary.”

The 2024 budget includes $145 billion for research, development, test, and evaluation, a 12 percent increase from fiscal 2023. The S&T budget is $17.8 billion, up 8.3 percent, and basic research is up 43 percent, Shyu has said.

While the S&T strategy does not contain new authorities, it does list 14 top technological priorities—the same ones named in the 2022 version of the strategy. Shyu previously said in January 2022 that she’d hoped to “neck down” the list from the 11 priorities developed under President Donald Trump’s administration, but “I sort of failed, and I think I ballooned it instead.” President Joe Biden’s administration added focus to renewable energy sources, sixth- and seventh-generation (6G and 7G) communications, and networks.

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

However, many of these technologies are inter-related. Microelectronics in particular, Shyu has said, underwrites virtually all military technologies. 

The S&T strategy is “meant to be a messaging document” about where the Pentagon will focus its S&T investments and “where we will continue to put additional effort,” Kollars said. That strategy process is then manifested in organizations like the Defense Innovation Unit.

“What is particularly important to the building at this point, is ensuring that we have the investments in modeling and simulation [and] rigorous analysis,” Kollars said. “All of those elements really … will help us identify what it is exactly we should be getting after in terms of budgetary investments, which then necessarily make it easier to prototype, experiment, and transition.”

Lines of Effort and Emphasis

In order to invest in and transition those new capabilities to the joint force, the strategy states that the Pentagon is going to shift from the traditional thinking that “the Department of Defense can be solely responsible for science and technology that is defense-relevant,” Kollars said. Instead, DOD must embrace a mindset of being part of a national technology base it must draw on if it’s to move at the speed of relevancy.

At the same time, the strategy also emphasizes that the Pentagon’s investment strategy is meant to enable defense capabilities specifically—not necessarily create or expand technologies with commercial application. In some previous administrations, the Defense S&T portfolio was envisioned as an incubator for commercial or dual-use technologies.    

Another new wrinkle added to the strategy is a focus on getting new technologies rapidly into production at scale, a nod to the recent challenges of replacing large quantities of munitions that have been provided to Ukraine.

Kollars listed three lines of effort for executing the strategy.

“First, the Department will focus on the joint mission by investing in information systems and establishing processes for rigorous threat-informed analysis,” she said. The Pentagon will seek “the best available data and data systems” to make better choices about where to invest its S&T dollars—which will mean investing in modeling and simulation.

“Second, the Department will create and field capabilities at speed and scale by fostering a more vibrant defense innovation ecosystem, accelerating the transition of new technology to the field in scalable ways,” she said.

This will come with a broader collaboration with academia, and better connections among the military services’ S&T enterprises, she said, and “ensure that our science investments will become real-world military capabilities.”

The report also says the Pentagon will “bridge the valley of death”—the challenging gap between developing promising new technologies and having the services buy and deploy them—by doing a better job of aligning research, acquisition, and operations personnel.

The Air Force has pursued just such an approach with its “cross-cutting capability” teams, which pair operators with acquirers and technologists in the areas of air mobility, electronic warfare, and munitions.

The Pentagon’s third line of effort to execute the strategy, Kollars said, the Pentagon will focus on recruiting and retaining talent, bolstering infrastructure both physical and digital, and building better ties with “strategic stakeholders” across the board.

The Pentagon “cannot make the 21st century force with 20th century infrastructure,” Kollars said, quoting the report. “It is in the forefront of the minds of everyone in the DOD how we will make those important investments in infrastructure … in addition to the workforce.”