Russia, China are our biggest strategic threat – Pentagon must partner with tech sector to keep us safe

In the next decade technology will significantly impact strategic and tactical support to the warfighter

The U.S. is facing more complex and significant threats to our national security than at any time in our history.  A staggering array of enemies, including North Korea, Iran, terrorists, and proliferators, are seeking to do us harm.  But near-peer adversaries China and Russia constitute the greatest strategic threat and it is they who are challenging the U.S. technological dominance, on which our superior military relies.

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During the next decade technology will significantly impact strategic and tactical support to the warfighter, who will be expected to fight simultaneously on land, air, sea, space and in cyberspace.

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Russia and China have sparked a new arms race with their development of an arsenal of hypersonic weapons. According to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Russia has deployed two hypersonic weapons: the air-launched Kinzhal ballistic missile and the boost-glide Avangard. 

But it’s not just state of the art missiles capable of traveling five times the speed of sound, which threaten our national security. Advances in technology are occurring at lightning speed with cognitive computing and big data analytics as well as quantum computing on the near horizon.

For decades it has been the power of government-led innovation, which enabled the Department of Defense (DOD) to remain a step ahead of our enemies.  But DoD is no longer the engine that drives innovation.  Deterring Russia’s and China’s growing threats to our nation will depend on whether the U.S. can leverage industry to deliver fast, disruptive technology-- including big data, artificial intelligence, and robotics—to ensure U.S. dominance in the 21st century.

Russia and China mount aggressive espionage operations to steal our cutting edge technology.  The U.S. intelligence community must work closely with the private sector including our universities, which China ruthlessly targets for technology transfer, to defend classified information and intellectual property.

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DOD is taking clear steps in this area with the recent introduction of cybersecurity requirements for defense contractors aimed at defending contractor networks.

But DOD also needs a new approach to incentivize and reap the benefits of the private sector’s technological innovation - a critically important force multiplier for the DOD mission.

We need DOD and the private sector to embrace a 21st-century partnership, which shortens product development times; absorbs private sector intellectual property; and delivers innovation-enabled capabilities in the most efficient and cost-effective way possible.

DOD can incentivize private sector innovation by protecting IP and cutting regulations, which will help companies realize profit margins closer to those which they enjoy in the commercial sector.

The Trump administration’s 2017 Executive Order directing all agencies to repeal at least two existing regulations for each new regulation was a great start.

But more can be done to incentivize defense industry innovation. No longer should the private sector follow the Cold War model of reacting to DOD product development requirements.

DOD is a unique, single customer. DOD bureaucracy and regulations significantly add to the costs of doing business and deter the high tech firms as distinguished from traditional defense contractors, who lack the patience and often the financial wherewithal to wait out DOD’s multi-year budget cycle, from entering the market.  Faced with a high opportunity cost, they will simply gravitate to other projects.

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Similarly, faced with government opportunities offering lower profit margins or commercial markets offering higher profit margins, many companies will opt for higher margins.

The focus should not be the profit of the contractors but the value to our warfighters.

For its part, DOD needs more transparency in decision-making, faster project reviews and openness to new approaches to innovation.

Speed to customer matters, especially when it comes to delivering cutting edge technology needed for maintaining a nuclear weapons arsenal, cyber operations, artificial intelligence, and Space operations.

DOD and the private sector might not appear to be natural partners but they can break down mutual barriers with greater cross-cultural understanding.

Russians are fond of saying, “V chuzhoi monastir so svoim ustavom, ne khodyat” — that is, “No one goes to another monastery with their own charter,” or, the equivalent of “when in Rome, do as the Romans do.” 

For innovation to succeed, the Trump administration needs to work with the Congress to ensure that the DOD relationship with the private sector is a melodious symphony rather than a clash of cultures.

Cutting red tape with regulatory reform and removing barriers to entry in the market to fulfill DOD’s requirements, would increase the number of commercial suppliers.

The resulting increased competition would result in lower costs, greater efficiency, and the high impact innovation on which our national security so deeply relies.

Daniel N. Hoffman has been a Fox News contributor since May 2018. Before joining Fox News, Hoffman had a distinguished career with the Central Intelligence Agency, where he was a three-time station chief and a senior executive Clandestine Services officer. Hoffman also led large-scale HUMINT (human intelligence gathering) and technical programs and his assignments included tours of duty in the former Soviet Union, Europe, and war zones in the Middle East and South Asia. In addition, Hoffman served as director of the CIA Middle East and North Africa Division.

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