DC on T2

Capitol Corner — August

Published monthly as part of the FLC’s DC Perspective content, Capitol Corner focuses on one notable news item pertaining to the T2 community. The focus stems from agency publications, news sites, and DC-central organizations, with original sources, contacts, and links provided. For more information and Corner-related inquiries, please contact dcnews@federallabs.org.

Earlier this month, the National Defense Industry Association (NDIA) held this year’s Army Science & Technology Symposium & Showcase in Washington, D.C. Keynote speaker Mary Miller, who is currently the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, held discussions on how the Pentagon can both accelerate past other research and development (R&D)-heavy nations and develop AI, quantum science, next-generation communications, as expanded on below.

As Assistant Secretary, Miller encourages international technological exchange through the Technical Cooperation Program (TTCP), which oversees basic research, exploratory development, and demonstrations of advanced technology across the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.

Before the Symposium: Mike Griffin’s R&D Priorities

In May, we reported on “Promoting DoD’s Culture of Innovation,” a House hearing featuring the Department of Defense (DoD) Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering (R&E) Mike Griffin and Google CEO Eric Schmidt. We summarized Griffin’s opening remarks, where he said the DoD needs to “ensure that ‘greater speed in translating technology into fielded capability is where we can achieve and maintain our technological edge’ on the battlefield and beyond.” Griffin’s technology priorities have previously surrounded hypersonic weaponry, as Chinese development in this area has been a cause for alarm. (Chinese dominance of microelectronics technology has also been viewed as a concern.) Miller’s remarks expanded upon different R&D scope areas that could ensure the supremacy of American innovation.

Miller’s Remarks on Directed Energy Weapons

In the same vein as Griffin’s hypersonic focus, Miller unveiled the DoD’s plans to spend $2.28 billion—with $661 million allocated for this fiscal year—over the next five years to build direct energy weapon prototypes. (A direct energy weapon uses fiber laser or microwave technology for its power source, a technology the National Science Foundation (NSF) is attempting to advance as well.)

But why so much room in the budget? Miller cited the increased accessibility of combined fiber laser technology as a stellar application to prototype laser solutions at cost, weight, and efficiency levels that have been near impossible in recent years. With that said, the DoD still needs to understand laser power level, and if a one-megawatt laser would work better on land or at sea. This question, along with fine-tuning defense laser prototypes at the kilowatt level, must be answered before Miller and Griffin would consider piloting a direct energy program.  

Miller’s Remarks on Communication Technology

In its current state, military communication technology is unlinked and unstandardized. Last year, joint DoD Chiefs of Staff put together a new National Military Strategy which, although classified, borrows from the concept of “network-centric warfare.” Introduced to Congress in 2007, network-centric warfare envisions a massive, interconnected telecommunications network that coordinates air, land, sea, space, and cyberspace operations in one resilient and agile ecosystem. The Air Force has already begun testing the Android Tactical Assault Kit (ATAK), a mobile version of a command-and-control station, to coordinate hurricane relief efforts.

Although the scope and application of this strategy is unknown, Miller echoed this desire for a joint telecom architecture by first championing a homogeneous data and network environment. The Pentagon is already attempting to standardize the service provider for its $10-billion defense cloud in support of this mission, but the infrastructure for such a goal is unmade. Over the next five years, $40.8 billion will be allotted to this vision, with $8.38 billion spent this year alone.

Miller’s Remarks on AI and Autonomy

Alongside efforts to extend American innovation in AI, including an interagency council to support R&D, Undersecretary Griffin announced the creation of the Pentagon’s Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC) in April. Like the Military Strategy telecom network, the scope for JAIC is largely unknown, but currently is expected to staff 200 people in about two years, with a budget similar to the $70 million given to the Air Force’s Project Maven, which employs AI technology to identify objects in videos captured by agency drones. Despite this strong example—Maven has already streamlined thousands of hours of video capture in eight months—Miller asserts that most federal AI projects amount to data science, and therefore AI R&D investments should focus on creating expert systems and programs that help the warfighter make mission-critical, real-time decisions.

Separate from the AI challenge is autonomy, a DoD R&D arm which will be fronted $10.3 billion over the next five years. Autonomy, Miller said, exists as the shaky relationship between humans and machines and, as such, her remarks in this area were slim, despite the large appropriations. (The National Defense Strategy defines “advanced autonomous systems” as those that encourage the “application of artificial intelligence and machine learning, including rapid application of commercial breakthroughs, to gain competitive military advantages.”)

Miller’s Remarks on Quantum Science

Finally, Miller closed her keynote address with thoughts on quantum science, a concept that we’ve touched on at length. Surprisingly, Miller finds the technology—already taking policy shape as a National Quantum Initiative and piloting quantum computing projects at the NSF—to be “overhyped” with its current application: supercomputing. With that said, Miller championed the DoD’s quantum applications to begin replacing GPS technology, which have been underway since 2014. A program of note, QuASAR, uses quantum computing and atomic physics to sense location up to 1,000 times more accurately than conventional locators.

Quantum science, for supercomputing, GPS or otherwise, will receive $565 million in funding over the next five years.

A complete summary of Miller’s keynote speech (with extended deliberation on microtechnology) is available here, along with the Symposium agenda and webpage.



DC on T2