In the 2023 defense policy bill, lawmakers urge the intelligence community to look at tech-innovation efforts like the Air Force's AFWERX, which sponsored this May 2022 demonstration of Lift Aircraft’s Hexa aircraft at Hurlburt Field, Florida.

In the 2023 defense policy bill, lawmakers urge the intelligence community to look at tech-innovation efforts like the Air Force's AFWERX, which sponsored this May 2022 demonstration of Lift Aircraft’s Hexa aircraft at Hurlburt Field, Florida. U.S. Air Force / Staff Sgt. Taylor Crul

Cyber, Speed, and UFOs: A Tour of Tech Provisions in the 2023 NDAA

The defense policy bill also prods the intelligence community to follow other defense agencies’ emerging-tech efforts.

The 2023 defense policy bill appears to reflect lawmakers’ desire to accelerate and integrate various tech projects—and to prod the intelligence community to emulate other agencies’ tech-innovation centers.

Released Tuesday evening and expected to receive a vote within weeks, the bill tells IC leaders to look into establishing an emerging-technologies office—call it ICWERX—that draws lessons from the Air Force’s AFWERX, the Pentagon’s Defense Innovation Unit, and the CIA’s In-Q-Tel. The office would also plan for the IC’s STEM employment needs.

The bill also calls on intelligence leaders to draft a policy promoting the “use of code-free artificial intelligence enablement tools.” (Perhaps something like the OpenAI tools that lit up the internet this week?) The policy should list incentives, lay out a coordination plan, and arrive within a year. The bill also gives the director of national intelligence new duties to review AI-related policies, standards, and procedures relating from acquisition to maintenance. And it adds new reporting and auditing requirements to help Congress evaluate how the intelligence community is integrating AI.

And there’s plenty more tech in the bill. Here are some snapshots:

In the categories of cybersecurity and info ops:

  • The bill orders U.S. Cyber Command to add a program executive office and a subordinate management office to oversee and manage the Joint Cyber Warfighting Architecture. The JCWA, an effort to streamline and integrate systems, has been criticized as lacking resources and proper governance
  • The bill gives principal cyber advisors in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the military departments the authority to review proposed budgets before they get to the comptroller and certify to the defense secretary whether planned spending is adequate.
  • The bill would authorize a support center for universities that can advise the defense secretary on cybersecurity. These institutions have to be designated centers of academic excellence by the National Security Agency’s director or the secretary of homeland security.
  • It would approve the creation  of projects that focus on data management, artificial intelligence, and digital solutions. 
  • There were also provisions that limited funds until past-due requirements from past NDAAs were met, including a reference for joint terminology related to information operations, a strategy and posture review for information operations, and an assessment on the cybersecurity of the defense industrial base.

Software and space

The bill directs the Pentagon to:

  • Study the costs of bad or ill-working software and IT.
  • Report on how long it takes to buy or create software.
  • Update curricula for acquisitions professionals on software and cybersecurity “to increase digital literacy” so they can “use technology to identify, critically evaluate, and synthesize data and information related to such acquisitions.”
  • Create strategies and requirements for buying and protecting satellites and reporting on space debris. 
  • Report on Space Force manning needs and how recruiting for those positions would affect sister services.

Unmanned, UFOs, and more

  • The U.S. Coast Guard would get an unmanned system program to improve mission efficiency and effectiveness on ships, aircraft, and ground systems. The bill also authorizes an autonomous control-and-computer vision technology project for two small boats. 
  • Unexplained phenomena made it into the bill, which would require the defense secretary and director of national intelligence develop a secure way to report on “any event relating to unidentified anomalous phenomena” and other efforts by government agencies or contractors including material retrieval, analysis, reverse engineering, research and development, detection and tracking, testing, and security. 
  • The bill would also give the Air Force procurement authority to have multiple contracts for “commercial digital engineering and software tools to meet the digital transformation goals and objectives.”
  • Starting in 2024, the Air Force also gets a new program element in budget materials “dedicated to the procurement and management of the commercial digital engineering and software tools.” The Air Force Secretary has until March to come up with a list of potential vendors and a list of programs and offices that could best use these tools.
  • One provision would create a TSA PreCheck-like process for certain tech workers. This pilot program would allow the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency to “sponsor the personal security clearances of the employees of innovative technology companies that are performing a contract of the Department of Defense while the government completes the adjudication of the facility clearance application.” Only 75 companies can enter the pilot.
  • Congress wants a new strategy to boost the number of competitions for companies to “transition critical technologies into major weapon systems and other programs of record” and improve the “integrity and diversity of the defense industrial base.”