House Armed Services Committee Hearing: Outpacing China - Expediting the Fielding of Innovation Summary

A Continual Learner
6 min readFeb 20, 2024

New technologies are emerging faster than tactics are changing. The battlefield advantage now lies with the side that can innovate and deploy swiftly. Unfortunately, the U.S. is not postured for agile procurement due to risk and “people-proofing” to avoid making mistakes. But we no longer have the time nor luxury to not take risks, and we must tolerate failure.

Dr. Heidi Shyu, the Office of Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering (OUSD R&E) has been leading the Department of Defense in technology development and transition, developmental prototyping, experimentation, and administration of testing ranges and activities.

One of the latest efforts has been Rapid Defense Experimentation Reserve (RDER), which has been working to accelerate prototypes with military utility integrating with military users. RDER initiatives include multi-domain multi-kill chain command and control, joint fires, and logistics in contested environment. OUSD R&E has been leveraging the National Guard to serve as test beds, providing user feedback directly into industry during Technology Readiness Experimentation (T-REX) events.

Additionally, R&E established Accelerated Procurement and Fielding of Innovative Technologies (APFIT) aimed at shortening fielding by 2–4 years. As of date, R&E awarded 21 companies to accelerate production for $150M, which will expeditiously transition technologies from small businesses and nontraditional defense contractors into production.

R&E places significant importance on fostering partnerships among industry, defense, and academia. Universities are critical for advanced research, and thus created University Affiliated Research Centers across the U.S. that partners directly with the National Security Innovation Network. Furthermore, the Advanced Manufacturing Institute serves as a catalyst to tie together the industrial base, creating new companies and new markets. For instance, BioMade is an exemplary initiative extracting rubber from dandelions, showcasing innovation spurred by these collaborative efforts.

Challenges have included the high barrier to entry for development. Specifically, the Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIFs) has been too cost prohibitive for small businesses and research institutes. A potential solution is the implementation of a “Rent-a-SCIF” model, similar to what has been successfully practiced in St. Petersburg, FL by companies. The overarching problem of classification poses a critical obstacle, prompting the belief at R&E that innovative solutions should strive to reach an unclassified level before higher classifications whenever possible. In connection with classification issues, the accessibility to classified cloud computing and the classification for NOFORN require reassessment, representing additional barriers to research and development.

In addressing the pricing challenge associated with hypersonics, OUSD R&E allocated $1.5 billion to the Mach-TB initiative for hypersonic test infrastructure, aiming to triple the testing rate. Mach-TB successfully showcased commercial launches on hypersonic trajectories through collaborations with industries. While significant progress has been made, it is essential that each innovative capability introduced aligns with doctrine, training, and sustainment (DoTMLPF-P).

OUSD R&E has achieved success by creating the Office of Strategic Capital as mandated by the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). This initiative has effectively garnered private capital investments for 14 Critical Technology Areas identified in the National Defense Science and Technology Strategy. Collaborating with organizations like the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU), R&E engages in solicitation and Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) programs, providing direct funding and support across various stages of development.

OUSD R&E urgently seeks the allocation of funds in the FY24 budget. While possessing the authority to appropriate funding, there is currently a lack of issued funding to support this granted authority.

Dr. William La Plante, the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment (A&S) has been leading the Department’s efforts in acquisition, contract administration, logistics and materiel readiness, installations and environment, operational energy, nuclear, chemical, and biological defense, and the defense industrial base.

The latest effort from A&S has been Ukraine Contracting Actions, where the contract flexibility has put the latest technologies to warfighters in a very short period of time. Notably, the Department of Defense was able to develop ground launched small-diameter bomb, which went from concept to mass production in less than a year and deployed to combat use. Dr. La Plante quotes that this was due to rapid contracting authorities and supplemental funding.

Emphasizing the importance of considering production scalability and unit costs, Dr. La Plante underscores the need for a minimal sustainable production rate within budget constraints. He stresses the importance of establishing a minimal sustainable production rate within the budget, noting a historical shift since the Cold War where funding for high production rates has diminished. He highlights the contrast by citing Eisenhower’s era when GDP spending for the Department of Defense was 10–12%, contrasting with the current budget stability at 3.2%.

A&S’s achievements include the implementation of the adaptive acquisition framework, incorporating Section 804 rapid fielding, and the establishment of the Joint Production Accelerator Cell to address issues hindering urgent materiel and logistics requirements.

In the realm of software, the Department of Defense is shifting towards a modular open systems architecture, as outlined in the 2020 software acquisition pathway, to separate hardware from software, enabling iterative development without mutual interference.

As the Department of Defense prepares for Great Power Competition, insights from recent conflicts, such as the importance of electromagnetic warfare and SATCOM, inform strategy refinement and capability enhancement. The conflict in Taiwan highlights challenges in missile production timelines, specifically naval harpoons, citing production line size, obsolescent parts, and funding for the industrial base.

A&S calls for broader support in adopting the contract flexibility demonstrated in Ukraine, advocating for practices like undefinitized contracting actions that enable swift movement within 1–2 weeks, yielding high returns on investment for warfighters. Additionally, A&S underscores the urgency of focusing on rapid Authority to Operate (ATO) for new IT systems.

Doug Beck, Director of Defense Innovation Unit and senior advisor to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, oversees efforts to accelerate the Department’s adoption of commercial technology throughout the military. Since its inception in 2015, DIU is now in Phase 3.0, where the organization must take the capability built and apply for strategic effect, focusing on the most critical gaps with focus, speed, scale. DIU now embeds directly with Combatant Commanders and allied nations.

Achieving strategic intent necessitates Disruption at Scale. DIU’s initiative called Replicator program identifies systems that can be ramped up for rapid manufacturing. As an example, there are currently Level III 40 UAS prototypes (kinetic and non-kinetic, high powered microwaved directed energy) that needs to be in production, but the Department of Defense is currently working with 2021 budget before it accounted for Ukraine and ultimately is waiting on funding. Additionally once procured and prototyped, organizations must focus on employment (CONOPS), storage, and sustainment.

Beck emphasized the centrality of risk, drawing parallels to the development of the atomic bomb in the 1940s. Beck argued that without collective risk-taking by industry, academia, and defense, significant delays in development could have occurred. Acknowledging that the risk equation differs for the Department compared to entrepreneurs, Beck underscored the critical need for flexibility derived from trust. Taking risks today, including process, financial, and reputational risks, is deemed essential to preempt real risks in future conflicts. While the Department of Defense currently lacks a structure to reward failures, Beck advocates for a change to embrace and learn from failures.

DIU believes the risk of not having the proper talent due to difficult hiring processes has limited the speed of innovation. To address this, there is a call for an accelerated industry access process to the defense sector, coupled with enhanced incentives to attract talent more effectively.

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A Continual Learner

With passion for technology, military, and economics, In Bok Lee has created A Continual Learner with the purpose of sharing knowledge.