Workmen give minute touches inside the United States Pavilion before opening of Montreal’s Expo 67 on April 26, 1967.

Workmen give minute touches inside the United States Pavilion before opening of Montreal’s Expo 67 on April 26, 1967. EDDIE ADAMS / AP

The Pentagon Wants You To Tell Them What To Invest in for the Future

The military is on the hunt for the next big tech breakthrough. Here’s how to help. By Patrick Tucker

The Pentagon is asking for ideas from the private sector on breakthrough technologies to guide military investment for the next decade and beyond.

On Wednesday, Defense Department officials issued a request for information calling on interested parties “to identify current and emerging technologies…that could provide significant military advantage to the United States and its partners and allies in the 2030 time frame.”

It's a sort of prelude to the not-yet-revealed offset strategy, the Pentagon’s ambitious plan to develop technology to put the United States decades ahead of rival nations like China and Russia in short period of time.

Previous examples of offset breakthroughs include precision-guided weapons and stealth. The concepts that win the current competition could shape weapons investment -- indeed the military itself -- well into the next decade.

“We’re after a competition of ideas,” Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Systems Engineering Stephen Welby said on Wednesday during a briefing with reporters. “It’s a good time to ask, what’s the future of the department look like? That’s what we’re asking here.”

Who are they asking? Silicon Valley first.

We made the pilgrimage to the Bay...We talked to people in the start-up world about bets that they’re making. We would love to hear from folks in those communities.
Stephen Welby, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Systems Engineering

“We made the pilgrimage to the Bay,” said Welby, referring to that American Mecca of computer technology, San Francisco Bay. They “talked to people in the start-up world about bets that they’re making. We would love to hear from folks in those communities.” That includes everyone from hotshot, 20-something social network magnates to “billionaire hobbyists” with rockets and moon ambitions.

There’s just one problem, no matter who you ask, predicting what sort of technology will remain relevant decades into the future was a lot easier when the Defense Department first attempted it 30 years ago. “The crystal ball worked pretty well,” said Welby, when the United States had but one major adversary in the Soviet Union and exclusive domain over the most cutting-edge research and development.

That’s no longer the case. New breakthroughs are copied, innovated against and rendered obsolete as quickly as the Internet spreads to new portions of the globe. Just look to the most recent Gartner report on those futuristic technologies that are already over the crest of the hype cycle like “big data” and “augmented reality,” technologies that have reached the point of investor saturation long before becoming household names. Inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil posits that, as a result of information technology, the rate of technological advancement will increase by a factor of 5.6 per linear decade.

Without validating Kurzweil’s figures, Welby said that, broadly speaking, it’s a problem that the military is aware of. “The reality is that we’re not likely to get a 40-year run out of any technology,” he acknowledged. “You won’t have a 40-year advantage.” 

The best bets include more capable robotic systems, commonly known by the shorthand, autonomy.  “The emergence of autonomy is a real shaper,” of the military approach to securing technological dominance in the future, said Welby. “The ability of systems to react to their environment…autonomy is an emerging technology with strong applications,” he said.

(RelatedThe Pentagon’s New Offset Strategy Includes Robots

The request for information lists five broad areas of exploration: space, undersea, air strike, missile defense and “other technology-driven concepts.”

Does it make sense to plan that far into future given the rapid pace of technological progress? Mathew Burrows, the director of strategic foresight at the Atlantic Council and author of The Future Declassified: Megatrends That Will Undo the World Unless We Take Action (Palgrave, 2014) applauded the effort as timely, if not overdue. His only criticism: 

“The five focus areas seem very constraining. There will be a lot of emerging technologies that don’t fall neatly into one or the other of the categories. Hopefully [the Defense Department] will look beyond their five constructs to see how emerging technologies—that don’t fall neatly into one of them—could transform the battlefield of the future.”

If you care to tell the military what they should invest in for the future, the link is here.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.