Defense IT

Carter: DOD no longer drives innovation

Among the things the U.S. military has to adapt to in a changing world is the fact that it’s no longer the wellspring of technological innovation, according to Secretary of Defense Ash Carter.

“When I began my career, most technology of consequence originated in America, and much of that was sponsored by the government, especially the Defense Department. Today, much more technology is commercial,” he said during remarks at George Washington University this week. “And as many of you know, the competition is global. Lots of other countries are trying to catch up with our advances, the ones we’ve enjoyed for decades in areas like stealth, and cyber and space.”

Carter noted how the military drove technological innovations forward in the past, with such projects as the Internet, the Global Positioning System, spaceflight and the jet engine. But now, the military must adapt to the changing landscape of the commercial technology sector. Most importantly, it must attract the brightest and most capable people as well as effectively partner with industry. 

“But as we innovate to stay ahead of those threats, we also have to make sure we keep bringing the best people to use that technology into the military and the department, because they’re our most enduring advantage—our people. Even more important than the technology,” he said. “And as long as our military continues to harness the best talent America has to offer, we will always come out ahead. I’m confident of that.”

Carter noted that the military, being military, is not a business and as such it should not try to replicate all aspects of the private sector. “[W]e can and should borrow best practices, technologies, and personnel management techniques in common sense ways that work for us, so that in future generations, we’ll keep attracting people of the same high caliber we have today – people who will meet the same high standards of performance, leadership, ethics, honor, and trust we hold our force to today.”

He highlighted the Defense Digital Service as a link between harnessing the best technology and innovation the nation has to offer with bringing in the best people that drive this technology and innovation. 

Another initiative set forth to bridge the gap between partnering with tech companies and harnessing people power is the new office established in Silicon Valley, called the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental, or DIU X. This office, as well as others, is aimed at “reaching out to the start-up community, as well as to some of America’s greatest leading businesses. We’re pushing the envelope with research into new technologies and innovative ways to apply them – in areas like robotics, cyber defense, biotech, human-machine combinations, hypersonic engines that can fly over five times the speed of sound,” he said.

“Nations like Russia and China can try to shrink the technology gap, and they sure do try, and terrorists can try to sow fear, as they did last week in Paris and Beirut, but none of them will ever match the strength and ingenuity of the American spirit if we marshal it properly,” Carter said. 

About the Author

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

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