Talk More, Urges Pentagon's New Science Strategy

“We are prepared to accept more risk to share more information with allies and partners,” it says.

This year’s version of the Pentagon’s science-and-technology strategy sounds a lot like last year’s, which called for outpacing China in quantum science, hypersonics, cyber, artificial intelligence, and other areas. But the new version, released on Tuesday, also calls for better communication with everyone from Congress to allies abroad.

“Outside the Department we will enhance communication with industry and academia, not only by communicating more, increasing transparency about our core operational problems,” says the 12-page document.

This will also foster more international collaboration, the document says, adding that “we are prepared to accept more risk to share more information with allies and partners who share with us and protect sensitive information.”

“Science and technology has long been part of the United States’ value proposition not just to the military and its capacity to influence the world, but to how we help our partners and allies,” Nina Kollars, advisor to the defense undersecretary for research and engineering, told reporters ahead of the strategy’s release. “And the implications if we do not succeed are quite dire.”

The unclassified document arrives as the Pentagon has requested nearly $18 billion in research funds for the 2024 budget—an ask that tops last year’s request, but doesn’t compare to China’s overall spending on developing emerging technologies, which hit $450 billion in 2022. 

The strategy was mandated by the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act to “articulate the science and technology priorities, goals, and investments of the Department of Defense,” make recommendations and outline a plan to identify, develop, and field emerging technologies. It covers everything from personnel and workforce needs to updating infrastructure for testing, labs and digital infrastructure.

The document largely echoes what defense leaders have been saying for years: “[W]e now face in the People’s Republic of China a strategic competitor with access to cutting-edge research and development and the will to mount a sustained challenge to a stable and open international system,” the document states. “The need for change is real and urgent.”

The strategy highlights the 14 critical technology areas Heidi Shyu, the defense undersecretary for research and engineering, announced last year. 

But Kollars said the Pentagon is most concerned with spending more for analysis and simulation technologies.

“What is particularly important to the building at this point is ensuring that we have the investments in modeling and simulation, rigorous analysis. All of those elements really we think will help us identify what it is exactly we should be getting after in terms of budgetary investments, which then necessarily make it easier to prototype, experiment, and transition,” Kollars said. 

“My sense is that we will continue to explore through pilot programs to look for successful models and pathways to include with our partners in acquisition and sustainment and all across the DOD. The strategy itself is meant to be a messaging document to say that this is where we will continue to put additional effort.”

The Pentagon is expected to release an implementation plan for the strategy and brief Congress in the next 90 days. It wasn’t clear whether the planning document or parts of it would be made public, but there’s plans to keep track of progress with data scientist-derived “internal metrics that are aligned to the department's planning processes,” Kollars said.