Pentagon’s R&D Czar ‘Looking For Money’ for 32 New Tech Projects

Felix Jonathan, robotics engineer from Carnegie Mellon University, inputs data into an autonomous ground vehicle control system during the Project Convergence capstone event at Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona, Aug. 11 – Sept. 18, 2020. (Spc. Carlos Cuebas Fantauzzi/Army)

AUSA: The Pentagon’s top research and development official wants to kickstart a new experimentation campaign geared toward closing capability gaps shared by the services.

Though short on details, the hope would be to start funding the effort in fiscal year 2022, with field experiments starting in FY23, said Heidi Shyu, the department’s undersecretary of defense for research and engineering.

“There’s a lot of enthusiasm, because the capability gaps that we’re closing are joint capability gaps, it isn’t just within one service,” she said during a media roundtable at the Association for the US Army conference. “We have mapped this thing out. It’s already been briefed. We’re just looking for the money to get this going.”

RELATED: Project Convergence 2021 Kicks Off, Showcases 110 New Technologies

While Shyu declined to disclose how much money she is seeking, she said, “the amount of money we’re looking for, relative to the value its going to bring, is pretty small and very impactful.”

Shyu’s office has briefed Deputy Defense Secretary Kath Hicks on 32 proposed experimentation areas that hold the promise of the biggest payoffs.

They range from unclassified technologies to top secret, special access programs where knowledge of the project is confined to a handful of individuals. The proposed projects were based on 203 white papers submitted by the Joint Staff, combatant commands and services, she said.

If successful in obtaining funding in FY21, the Pentagon would hold experiment events at least once a year, though Shyu added that she would like to conduct two sprints annually. Industry and the services would be invited to bring prototypes designed to ameliorate a designated capability gap, which would then be tested and evaluated by operators.

RELATED: JADC2 Must Start With Missiles To ‘Overwhelm’ Adversary, Army General Says

If found to be effective, the product could be rapidly fielded by the services and combatant commands, Shyu said. Other technologies may take several cycles of testing before the Pentagon begins purchasing them.

While Congress has yet to approve a FY22 appropriations bill, the Pentagon’s proposed budget did not request seed money to start the experimentation campaign. If Pentagon leadership approves Shyu’s effort, the department will have to work with Capitol Hill to free up funding in the FY22 budget.

In addition to the experimentation campaign, Shyu said she also wants to create two new leadership positions under her office: the director of sustainment technologies and the and the director of software and processing.

While Shyu’s counterpart, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, is charged with overseeing the maintenance of existent weapons systems, the director of sustainment technologies would focus on discovering tech that could be used to lower the cost of sustainment.

“We’re in the process of actually getting the new org chart revamped and focus on some of the key strategic thrust areas that I want to focus on,” Shyu said. “And then I need to get together with the deputy secretary of defense to show what my strategy is moving forward, get her blessing and then it will be rolled out. So hopefully it will be done pretty soon.”

Read More

Valerie Insinna