April 21, 2020

The Defense Department Needs a Real Technology Strategy

By Paul Scharre and Ainikki Riikonen

Defense Department leaders agree the U.S. military must reinvigorate its technological edge. They just can’t agree on which technologies matter. Nor do they appear to be laying out arguments that would help the rest of the Pentagon, lawmakers, and industry understand which technologies will matter most in tomorrow’s wars, and therefore which should receive top priority in terms of effort and funding. In short, DOD needs a technology strategy.

Former Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work made artificial intelligence and autonomy the centerpiece of his “Third Offset Strategy.” Current Defense Undersecretary for Research and Engineering Mike Griffin has called hypersonics his top priority, with directed energy a close second. That would seem to be at odds with his boss, Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who has declared AI his “number one.” Yet the past two years have seen Griffin issue formal guidance about 10 to 13 “priority” technologies, with AI, hypersonics, and nuclear modernization occupying the top spot, depending on the list. But they can’t all be number one, and conflicting guidance from senior DoD leaders isn’t helpful for establishing real priorities in defense spending.

Read the full article in Defense One.

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