AI News, U.S. Defense Department Chief Engineer: We Want Your Help With 2030's Tech

U.S. Defense Department Chief Engineer: We Want Your Help With 2030's Tech

To try to shake things up a bit, DoD is trying something outside of its comfort zone—actively soliciting ideas from anyone who will talk to them about what kinds of technologies are going to be critical for the military in 2030.

The Department of Defense is developing a Long-Range Research and Development Program Plan (LRRDP), to: ...help the Department better understand and prioritize new or unconventional applications of technology that will have significant impact in the 2025-2030 timeframe, and to identify the steps the department should be taking today to nurture the technology development required to make those system concepts a reality.

The immediate dive into a ponderous acronym and long-winded definition made us a little bit suspicious of this whole business, but at the same time, it sounds like DoD really is trying to talk to some new people, including academics, anyone in industry or small business, and even members of the general public.

We’re trying to imagine the systems that the department will need in the future, and then asking 'what do we need to do to identify and accelerate technologies that will help us get there.” Spectrum: Why are you starting a similar program now?

Stephen Welby: We're concerned that a big difference between the 1970s and today if you think about the technologies that came out of that study—like stealth, GPS, and precision weapons—were all things that were completely developed internal to the department.

This means that your idea has to fall into one of three categories (yay, more categories!): By way of example, consider SpaceX’s recently announced plans to provide global Internet with a swarm of microsatellites.

The DoD wants someone to come in and tell them, “hey, here’s how swarming microsatellites could be used by 2030 to do something awesome, and you guys should start working on it now.” Otherwise, the DoD is worried that they’re going to be left in the dust by forward-thinking and fast moving industry, although (to be honest) this may happen anyway.

For what it's worth, there's a reason that the DoD wanted to talk to IEEE Spectrum (and by extension IEEE members), and it’s a pretty straightforward one: they want to hear from people who aren't part of the traditional defense ecosystem.

While the effort here is certainly a commendable one, we’re not sure how successful it's going to be with some of the people the DoD is targeting: academics and entrepreneurs with big ideas.

Big ideas are valuable, especially technological big ideas, and sharing your big ideas with the government without any clear and tangible benefit is a lot to ask.

It’s impact has beenhuge, and it's all because the DoD (on some level) said “we think that robotics and autonomous vehicles are going to be big, let's put some money there and see what happens.” Now, if you back up one step from that, the DoD had to get that idea about robotics and autonomy from somewhere, and the LRRDP is an opportunity to inform that level of thinking.

DoD Seeks Novel Ideas to Shape its Technological Future

The Defense Department is seeking novel ideas to shape its future, and officials are looking to industry, small business, academia, start-ups, the public –- anyone, really –- to boost its ability to prevail against adversaries whose access to technology grows daily.

On Jan. 28, the department published a request for information, seeking to identify current and emerging technologies or projections of technology-enabled concepts that “could provide significant military advantage to the United States and its partners and allies in the 2030 timeframe.”

In the summer of 1973, with the dangers of nuclear escalation growing, what would later become the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, launched the first LRRDP program to give the president and the joint force better tools for responding to a Warsaw Pact attack, the deputy secretary said.

The group recommended going after conventional weapons with near-zero miss capability -- “a very simple idea that had profound implications throughout the entire defense program,” he added.

Forty-two years after the plan’s inception, the second iteration of LRRDP is still accepting idea submissions, Welby said, noting that the LRRDP program page at the department’s Innovation Marketplace website features a conspicuously placed green box that says, “Share your ideas.”

The LRRDP is looking for relatively mature technologies that can be applied in novel ways for a new kind of system capability, emerging technologies that can quickly be turned to new military capabilities, or technologies for nondefense applications that can offer new military capabilities.

When program officials find an idea interesting, one of five teams will be sent to speak with the submitting person or company, Welby said, adding that in mid-summer, the best ideas will be shared with Defense Secretary Ash Carter.

DoD Seeks Future Technology Via Development Plan

The Defense Department seeks technology and innovative ideas as part of its Long Range Research Development Plan within the Defense Innovation Initiative, a broad effort that examines future capabilities, dominance and strategy, a senior DoD official said Nov. 24.

The LRRDP Request for Information will provide a way for DoD technology scouts to collaborate with industry, academia, and the general public to explore topics and ideas to better identify the “art of the possible,” said Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Systems Engineering Stephen P.

“We’re hoping that by casting this wide net, we’ll be able to harness the creativity and innovation going on in the broader ecosystem and help us think about the future department in a new way.”

Specific military domains of interest, he said, include space, undersea technologies, affordable protective systems against precision-guided munitions threats, air dominance and strike capability possibilities, ecologically and biologically inspired ideas and human-computer interaction.

He described a “small, agile team” of bright government officials who’ve been charged to engage industry, academia, not-for-profits, small businesses and the general public to help the department explore future possibilities.

DoD’s long-range plan, Welby said, will focus on “near-peer competitors,” state actors and a broader scope of conventional deterrence, namely key technologies that will enable the protection of U.S. interests and freedom of movement, and deter future aggression into the 2025 timeframe.

Here’s How to Stop Squelching New Ideas, Eric Schmidt’s Advisory Board TellsDoD

Their latest series of recommendations, to be voted on and then (after a successful vote) delivered to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, suggests that the Pentagon too often tends to squelch its new ideas with outdated bureaucratic models and obsolete cultural notions.

The military can change quickly in certain circumstances, Blank said, citing the sort of resourceful thinking that troops display in combat zones to, say, counter ISIS drone swarms.

Trying to push a new idea is too often “ad-hoc and heroic.” He said the solution has to be organizational: DoD needs a new innovation office — or at least an officer — with real money and authority, treated with deference almost befitting a Combatant Commander, to take what the Rapid Equipping Force does during wartime and make it permanent and consistent.

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