Wargame results and opportunities to asymmetrically counter adversaries are driving the Pentagon’s investment choices in new technologies, said Heidi Shyu, undersecretary of defense for research and engineering. She also said an unclassified document outlining the science and technologies underpinning the new National Defense Strategy will come out in the spring.
At a Nov. 3 acquisition-themed event hosted by George Mason University, Shyu said she is choosing to invest in technologies that prove to make a significant difference in the outcomes of large-scale wargames derived from a gaming system developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Those technologies that don’t have a big impact on the outcome will either be dropped or sent back a few steps for refinement, she said.
Shyu is also looking for asymmetric countermeasures that can offset adversary strengths, about which she didn’t elaborate.
“Our decisions and investments ought to be driven by exquisite modeling/simulation” at the campaign level, which offers excursions on new capabilities for both the Red and Blue forces, she said.
“We can literally play it out,” she said. “Let’s go through this battle and see what happens.”
If a technology plugged into the game “doesn’t really change the outcome, do I really need this? Should I spend my money somewhere else? Where I can get a bigger bang for the buck?”
She said this approach is being taken for a number of new capabilities among her 14 technology priorities. A specific one is looking at many variations of the nuclear command and control system.
“This is how we get rapid experimentation capabilities proven in a contested environment,” she said. Sometimes, “a great widget works fabulously inside your lab, but when you get it out to the real environment, all the pitfalls show up.”
The results of these exercises, along with her office’s notes, are providing insights to help the Joint Staff and regional combatant commanders set their priorities for what they want the R&E enterprise to focus on.
Shyu declined to pick the most important or highest-priority areas under her 14 areas, saying that’s like a parent choosing a favorite child. “They’re all beautiful,” she said.
The 14 areas laid out in a February memo from Shyu include ”seed areas” such as biotechnology, future wireless technology, quantum science, and advanced materials. Under “effective adoption areas,” Shyu listed technologies already available in the commercial market which can be integrated into defense systems. These include artificial intelligence and autonomy, human-machine teaming, advanced computing, microelectronics, space technology, renewable energy, and energy storage.
A third grouping identified as “defense-specific” includes hypersonics, directed-energy weapons, integrated sensing systems, and cyber warfare.
In her February memo listing the 14 focus areas, Shyu said she will rapidly protype systems that employ these capabilities and develop “continuous campaigns of Joint experimentation” to refine and deliver the new capabilities.
Shyu said her office will release an “unclassified volume” describing the technology foundations of the National Defense Strategy, “so the public has visibility into these technology areas that are priorities.” Industry may also be able to see a classified version “to give you a little more context about why” certain technologies are priorities and others aren’t, she said. It will contain “a rationale you won’t see in the unclassified” version.
Shyu said she’s anxious to “transition” new technologies into the hands of operators. But “everyone has a different definition of ‘transition,’” she said. The obvious one is when an “advanced prototype” turns into a program of record, but “it could be a piece of software that got into the hands of a warfighter … It could be something dual-use, and we decide to go commercial. That’s a successful transition: We funded it; it went commercial; we’re buying it off the shelf.”
Shyu also said she is making more efficient use of technology funds. New data systems are giving her insight into the technology programs across the breadth of the Pentagon’s science and technology and R&D enterprise at a level of detail not previously available, “and we’re sharing that with industry.” She said she has monthly meetings with small and large companies, looking for feedback on the “pain points” of working the Pentagon S&T enterprise.
Her shop is also focusing on international engagements, sharing information that can help avoid duplication of effort and yield results that both parties can use. As an example, she cited the SCIFIRE air-breathing hypersonics initiative with Australia, which she said helped the Air Force makes its downselect for the Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile.
“Every single novel idea was not invented here, right?” Shyu said, adding that she wants to “look wide” at partner and ally technologies, in an application of “integrated deterrence,” to “collaborate together to counter our adversary.” She said she’s created a “SAP umbrella”—meaning special access programs information sharing agreement—“to share more sensitive information” in pursuit of co-development.
She noted that President Biden “made the decision to share exquisite [intelligence] data with NATO. That built trust. Because they realized” what the U.S. said it was seeing “all … came true,” and that built trust to work better together.
“I want to share development with partner nations,” she asserted, naming “Australia, the UK, NATO, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Italy, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, Latvia … Israel, you name it” who “all want to be partners with us, [who are] interested in co-development.”
She’s particularly interested in “leap ahead” technologies that can asymmetrically blunt certain threats, which will be important for the “campaigning” aspect of the NDS’s integrated deterrence mantra, Shyu said.
“Just because you have 1,000 tanks, if I have 1,001, I win … that’s very linear thinking. I want to think about what are the asymmetric ways we can counter the threat,” she said.
To that end, she’s setting up a “war room” that will focus all available “intel threat” intelligence, along with the state-of-the-art of technology and the status of technology efforts underway in the DOD, so that “we can get to … the asymmetric things we’re developing, faster.”
“So that the ‘war room,’ and I want to use that to drive the S&T strategy,” she said. It will look at the enterprise “cohesively. And it’s going to cover underwater to space.”
Shyu said she’s had “a very significant impact on the POM,” or five-year spending plan, and that’s because she has regular engagement with the regional commanders and understand their needs for “what we need to be ready in the 10-20-30 year timeframe” as well as in the short term.
The acquisition system needs to move faster, Shyu said, and have more flexibility. China, she said, doesn’t suffer from the protracted process of funding requests, approvals, and oversight, and this allows them to obtain new technology faster.
“Our budget process is a two-year process … and you have to have exquisite knowledge of what you need … five years into the future,” Shyu said, which is “crazy because threats may pop up that you didn’t anticipate.”
“Right now, we have a problem: You did [research, development, test and evaluation]. Now, did you POM [submit a long-term plan] for the procurement money? If you didn’t … then it’s a year you’re sitting there waiting for the procurement money.”
Shyu asked, “Why would you do things like this to yourself? Right? Money is money.”
She said the Pentagon needs “a lot more flexibility to be able to pivot. It’s a rigid structure to which we shackle ourselves, like tying our shoelaces together and trying to run.” It would be a big help to “give us some colorless money, as well,” she said, referring to funding accounts that can only be used for certain kinds of technology efforts, often referred to as the “color of money” problem.
Asked about friction in the breakup of the position of undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology, and logistics into two jobs—hers, and that of the USD for acquisition and sustainment, William A. LaPlante—Shyu said the friction is largely erased because of their working relationship.
When Shyu was acquisition executive for the Army, LaPlante was the acquisition executive for the Air Force, and they have a solid partnership, she said.
If there’s a problem between the two enterprises, “it gets escalated up to us … and we fix it in five minutes. We trust each other,” she said. This “sets the example” for the two organizations to be collaborative, she said.