NDIA Science and Technology Conference Review

NDIA science and tech conference review

Posted: November 2, 2019 | By: Bruce Simon

This past April, DSIAC attended the 17th Annual National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA) Science & Engineering Technology Conference in Tampa, FL. Presenters included Department of Defense (DoD) policymakers and science and technology (S&T) community leaders, who discussed issues and initiatives to move S&T capabilities forwnard and to bring together industry, academia, and the Services to face emerging challenges presented by U.S adversaries.

NDIA S&T Chairman James Chew, the Director of Strategic Development for General Atomics, opened the conference by stating that although the DoD S&T program remains strong, there is a lack of coordination between private sector innovations and DoD needs. In particular, there is no obvious outlet for innovations to get into the military market from the private sector. One of the conference’s goals, therefore, was to bring together DoD planners, the Combatant Commands (CCMDs) and their requirements, and the communities of interest (COIs) to streamline and make available opportunities for cooperation and collaboration.

Dr. Melissa Flagg, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research, OASD(R&E), framed the issues further by stating that, as we come out of 15 years of war, many ask what S&T is doing for us. We need to change what we fight with and how we fight as our adversaries close our 40-year technological superiority gap (see the technological superiority trends in Table 1).

Table 1. Technological Superiority Trends Relative to Competitors

Near Term (2020) Mid Term (2025)
Air Domain
Maritime Domain ↓ ↓ ↓ ↓
Undersea Domain
Electromagnetic Spectrum
Space Domain ↓ ↓ ↓ ↓ ↓
Resilient Comm, ISR, PNT ↓ ↓
Resilient Basing ↓ ↓ ↓ ↓

We must bring in young engineers and reject the idea of decline. Our vision is sustaining U.S. technological superiority through S&T, preparing for an uncertain future, and accelerating delivery of technical capabilities to the warfighter. Our mission is to create technological surprise through S&T to ensure technological superiority, mitigate current and anticipated threats, win the current and future fight, and provide affordable options. As the global access to technology and talent by competitors is challenging U.S. cost and cycle time, we must assure that our military retains superior and global access to these critical assets.

The issues outlined by Dr. Flagg are supported by the DoD’s Better Buying Power Initiatives. In particular, Better Buying Power 3.0 is making sure, in the words of Dr. Flagg, that “we get the most for our buck.” We must plan more jointly and include the COIs in the process. And bringing together the laboratories, private sector, and academia is crucial. We have to ensure that what we do is more efficient, with less spending on overhead and more on actual research.

Likewise, the Honorable Stephen Welby, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, discussed the crossroads we are at today as well as the offset strategies that require big change, such as the third offset strategy.

The first of these offset strategies, Mr. Welby noted, occurred in the 1950s, when President Eisenhower sought to overcome the Warsaw Pact’s numerical advantage by leveraging U.S. nuclear superiority to introduce battlefield nuclear weapons—thus shifting the axis of competition from conventional force numbers to an arena where the United States possessed an asymmetrical advantage. This approach provided stability and offered the foundation for deterrence.

The second of these offset strategies arose in the late 1970s and 1980s with the recognition that the Soviet Union had achieved nuclear parity. This strategy, informed by studies such as the 1973 Long Range Research and Development Planning Program, sought to create an enduring advantage by pursuing a new approach to joint operations—leveraging the combined effects of conventional precision weapons; real-time long-range intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) sensor capabilities capable of supporting real-time precision targeting; and the joint battle networks that permitted these capabilities to be synchronized and executed over the full breadth of the battlespace. These integrated systems-of-systems provided a significant force multiplier by improving the efficiency and effectiveness of conventional strike systems, creating opportunities for synergistic effects across warfighting domains, and permitting U.S. forces to more effectively and rapidly project conventional power globally with reduced forward presence.

Mr. Welby went on to note that neither of these two original offset strategies was solely about technological advantage. In each case, it was the right combination of technology-enabled operational and organizational innovation that provided decisive strategic and operational advantage and therefore bolstered conventional deterrence.

So what has changed? Mr. Welby pointed out that today’s competitors, such as Russia and China (and countries to which these nations proliferate advanced capabilities), are pursuing and deploying advanced weapons and capabilities that demonstrate many of the same technological strengths that provide the technological basis for U.S. advantage. This growing symmetry between U.S. technical capabilities and near-peer potential competitors is particularly seen in the capabilities demonstrated during Russian power-projection operations in Syria. Mr. Welby also explained that the emergence of increasing symmetry in the national security environment suggests that it is again time to begin considering the mix of technologies, system concepts, operational concepts, and military organizations that might shift the nature of the competition to U.S. advantage. Such a set of capabilities would provide the basis for a third offset strategy.

As was true of previous offset strategies, a third offset strategy, Mr. Welby stated, would seek, in a budget constrained environment, to maintain and extend U.S. competitive technological and operational advantage by identifying asymmetric advantages that are enabled by unique U.S. strengths and capabilities. A third offset strategy would also ensure that our conventional deterrence posture remains as strong in the future as it is today and would establish the conditions to extend that advantage into the future.

The DoD anticipates that the capabilities delivered through a third offset strategy will enable the Joint Force to:

  • Fight and deliver effects from a distributed posture at extended ranges.
  • Leverage range, precision, and speed to seize and maintain the initiative.
  • Leverage dispersal and new forms of operational sanctuary to increase survivability.
  • Achieve mass in the form of ensembles of many low-cost, collaborating “effectors.”
  • Develop new forms of distributed maneuver and close combat techniques that combine kinetic, electronic warfare, and cyber-enabled operations.
  • Operate battle networks much less vulnerable to cyber and electronic attack.

Mr. Welby concluded that we must engage all parties, including industry, academia, Federally Funded Research and Development Centers (FFRDCs), University Affiliated Research Centers (UARCs), and global partners, to rapidly advance new technology development, innovation, speed, and agility and ultimately ensure technological superiority. The DoD labs are the centers for driving science and technology ideas. There are 63 labs and engineering centers that provide expertise and enhance our warfighting capabilities. There must be more industry partnerships. And the newly formed Defense Innovation Unit – Experimental (DIUx) should serve as a nexus between innovating ecosystems and the DoD.

Mr. Robert Baker, Deputy Director, Plans and Programs, OASD (R&E), addressed the President’s FY17 budget submission to Congress. He said that S&T is 2.7% of the DoD’s top line budget. He also said that the S&T budget submission has 0% growth and that this is a good thing because the rest of the defense budget has dropped. S&T investment is $12.5 billion, and we need to protect it. Mr. Baker also spoke to the need for technological superiority, noting that the five main challengers today are Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, and ISIL. We must mitigate current and anticipated threat capabilities and work more affordably. We must create technological surprise. Through the third offset, we must concentrate on anti-access area denial systems, robotics, biotechnology, autonomous learning systems, human machine collaboration, and unmanned and autonomous systems; and we must make critical finance decisions.

Mr. Earl Wyatt, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, Emerging Capabilities & Prototyping, OASD (R&E), spoke about using prototyping to accelerate the adoption of transformative capabilities and bringing ideas to DIUx. He explained that prototyping is a set of design and development activities intended to reduce technological uncertainty to improve the quality of subsequent decision-making. Better Buying Power talks about prototyping, cost, and how we make decisions. The offset strategy is how to offset a cost disadvantage with a force multiplier that we can employ. Mr. Wyatt also identified the focus areas for FY17, which include asymmetric force application, the electromagnetic spectrum, autonomous systems, and the integration of operations and analysis.

Col. Steve Butow, representing the Lead National Guard Element, DIUx, discussed how disruptive technologies that were once safely possessed by advanced nations have proliferated widely and are now being sought or acquired by unsophisticated militaries and terrorist groups. Other competitor nations are closing the technology gaps by pursuing and funding long-term modernization programs. DIUx seeks and supports the innovation of disruptive technology that sustains and extends U.S. strategic advantage.

In addition, the respective Services presented their S&T program overviews, with a common emphasis on the importance of defining future needs and capabilities, the challenges of the current budget, and the need to protect the S&T budget.

Mr. Kurt Kratz, Deputy Administrator of the Defense Technical Information Center (DTIC), spoke of the tools of the information analysis centers (IACs), including DSIAC. He explained that the IACs are a collection of subject-matter experts (SMEs) from industry, government, and academia that provide resources for partnerships. For industry, the IACs are a way to get an in-depth look at government needs across warfighting labs and program managers. For the industry defense and innovation marketplace, there is a portal that covers the CCMDs’ unclassified needs (see www.dtic.mil). Mr. Kratz also urged industry conference participants (with proper clearances) to use the combatant commanders’ reading room at DTIC to learn about classified needs.

Mr. Dale Ormond, Principal Director, Research, OASD (R&E), explained the needs of the CCMDs and the roles of the COIs. He discussed the complicated acquisition process and the need to meet the needs of the CCMDs quickly. He also explained the process that the Joint Chiefs and Services use to procure capabilities on behalf of the CCMDs. Mr. Ormond stated that the S&T community needs to have demonstrations and put developmental items into the hands of operators to help adjust to their needs. He advised industry to be tied to the labs and to work with the joint staff to have demonstrations.

Mr. Ormond also discussed Reliance 21, the overarching framework of DoD’s S&T joint planning and coordination process, as well as the issues of S&T oversight, emerging threat mitigation, affordability generation, joint coordination, and the S&T executive committee (led by Steve Welby). He stated that one role of the COIs is to defend S&T investments—that is, to identify opportunities and efficiencies that provide data to ensure that warfighters are receiving the greatest benefit from S&T resources and efforts. As far as Better Buying Power goes, he said that we must eliminate duplication and explore collaborative opportunities. Industrial engagement is crucial.

DSIAC is continuing to collaborate with the organizations and representatives who participated in this year’s NDIA Science & Engineering Technology Conference. In particular, ongoing discussions with Col. Butow, Mr. Chew, Mr. Wyatt, Mr. Ormond, Dr. Michelle Atchison (the University of Texas System’s Associate Vice Chancellor for Federal Relations), and others will help continue to advance DSIAC integration with these and other organizations in the community.

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