Defense IT

Carter details DOD's innovation plans

Innovation is the key to maintaining the technological superiority necessary for national defense, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told lawmakers on Wednesday, as he outlined the Defense Department’s plans to work with industry to speed new technology developments and tap other resources to improve the military’s cyber forces. Testifying before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense on DOD’s fiscal year 2016 budget request, Carter described the future of the force and elaborated on certain initiatives recently unveiled.

Most notably, Carter provided additional insight to the nascent Defense Innovation Unit X, the experimental unit he announced recently in Silicon Valley. It will serve as an outreach office staffed by active-duty personnel and reservists as well as civilians, and will engage with industry on technology and innovation.

Carter identified three key components the experimental unit will bring together for the Defense Department. First, it will serve DOD’s need to be on the cutting edge, especially when it comes to cyber operations. Second, it will help to attract the best minds to DOD, which will maintain an “open door so we are an exciting and attractive place for the county’s smartest young people to come and work – even if they can only work for a period of time and contribute,” Carter said. Third, Unit X incorporates the Reserve component, which Carter described as a “huge treasure” for DOD.  

Carter lauded reservists, many of whom work in IT-related fields, generally as very tech savvy. “There’s a great untapped, not yet fully tapped resource … which is our Guard and Reserve” that will help DOD utilize “the best technology embedded in our military – defending [the network] so that others can’t disrupt it or exploit it, using cyber offensively as necessary and required,” Carter said.

In fact, the National Guard is set to play a big role this summer, according to Gen. Frank J. Grass, National Guard Bureau chief, who told lawmakers recently that the Guard will stand up 11 cyber teams, though it is still unclear where these teams will be stationed. “The initial goal is to have Guard cyber capability in each of the 10 Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, districts.” He said. “We're on a path to that.”

The Guard eventually will expand that capability to every state that can support it. “That's my commitment to the governors,’” Grass said, according to an Army release on his congressional testimony. The deployment to FEMA districts not only exemplifies DOD’s cyber interoperability between other governmental agencies outlined in its recently released cyber strategy, but hits on Carter’s point during his congressional testimony that cyber defense, like national security, is his responsibility.       

Carter also touched on a program initiated by his predecessor, called the Defense Innovation Initiative. In his written testimony, he described how DII will address the erosion of U.S. technological superiority and will invest in America’s military dominance for the 21st Century. “The DII will identify, develop, and field breakthrough technologies and systems through a new Long-Range Research & Development Planning Program, and the President’s budget supports this effort through specific investments in promising new technologies and capabilities such as high-speed strike weapons, advanced aeronautics, rail guns, and high energy lasers,” read Carter’s statement. 

Despite some initial skepticism surrounding the fate of the DII after former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who launched the initiative, resigned last year, Carter has given the initiative priority. “We need to be an innovated department so we can stay fresh and attractive,” he told lawmakers Wednesday. 

About the Author

Mark Pomerleau is a former editorial fellow with GCN and Defense Systems.

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