By Lisa Ferdinando
DoD News, Defense Media Activity
WASHINGTON, Feb. 24, 2016 — Investments in science and technology are critical in maintaining the nation's military edge in an increasingly competitive global arena, Defense Department officials told Congress today.
The United States is at a "pivotal moment in history" where investments in military technology are being made by "increasingly capable and assertive foreign powers," Stephen Welby, the assistant secretary of defense for research and engineering, told the House Armed Services Committee’s subcommittee on emerging threats and capabilities.
Welby appeared at the hearing to discuss defense innovation to create the future military force. Other witnesses included Arati Prabhakar, the director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA.
The United States is still the largest investor in research and development around the world, Prabhakar said in her written statement. "But unlike past decades, we are not alone in our excellent scientific and technical capabilities," she added.
Keeping the Edge, Meeting Future Challenges
The challenge at DARPA and DoD is to create a "significant advantage for military and national security purposes against this competitive, shifting backdrop," Prabhakar told the panel.
"Our senior military and civilian leaders face a world of kaleidoscopic uncertainty today and into any foreseeable future," she said. "The daily fare is a noxious stew of violent extremism, terrorism and cross-border criminal activity."
Welby said the goal of sustaining and advancing the nation’s technological superiority in the current national security environment requires investments in sound research and development.
DoD laboratories have produced significant innovations in vital defense areas, he said, listing areas such as electronic warfare, propulsion and weapons design.
"Maintaining this unique technical expertise within the department is critical for ensuring the department's ability to prepare for future threats," he said.
Investments in Personnel
Welby said when he visits laboratories and organizations, he meets young scientists and engineers who are pursuing technological innovations to meet the challenges that are emerging globally. The Defense Department employs more than 39,000 scientists and engineers in 63 defense laboratories, warfare centers, and engineering centers across 22 states, he noted.
"Our strength is in our people," Welby said. "We must recruit and retain the best and brightest military and civilian scientists and engineers and harness their innovative spirits to give our military forces the warfighting edge."
The scientists and engineers are sustaining the department's ability to support and field militarily critical technology that often has no commercial equivalent, he said.
Prabhakar described DARPA personnel as a "team of about 200 extraordinary individuals" that propels the agency and revels in the opportunity to attack "pressing, nearly intractable problems -- all in the context of public service."
DoD cannot innovate and bolster its future technological superiority from within the department alone, Welby told the subcommittee. He said that is why DoD’s science and technology enterprise touches the broadest range of emerging concepts through engagement with academia, industry and international partners, he noted. That keeps keep DoD "smart, knowledgeable, agile, and responsive in the face of new and emerging threats," he said.