Jeff Child, Editor-in-Chief, COTS Journal

I’ve spoken a lot in this column over the past couple years in praise of Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter. That’s probably not a big surprise given the technology bent of COTS Journal. Dr. Carter has a background as a theoretical physicist and is a former Harvard professor, just to cite some of his impressive background. The three SecDefs previous to Carter for their part have all expressed how critical technology is to the U.S. military. But his science and technology background quite frankly makes his perspective on the subject a cut above that of his predecessors when it comes to technology.

Continuing that trend, Secretary Carter in his speech at the Navy League Sea-Air-Space-Convention this month spelled out what’s happening in the Navy side of things in terms of technology and procurement to meet the challenges we face today and tomorrow. While he hit numerous topics in this speech, I’ll focus here on the technology-related items.

Regarding the DoD’s 2017 budget submission, he talked about the plans increase the number of ships to meet the department’s 308-ship posture requirement by 2021. It also invest in ways to make the Navy’s weapons more lethal, as well as making our ships harder to find and harder to attack. With that in mind, the investments reflect an emphasis on payloads over just platforms alone, according to Carter. It includes for example $29.4 billion to buy nine Virginia-class attack submarines over the next five years. Four of those submarines will be equipped with a versatile Virginia Payload Module, which can more than triple each submarine’s strike capacity.

The budget also invests a total of $18.3 billion to buy two Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers each year over the next five years-a total of 10-as well as nearly $3 billion for modernizing destroyers, 12 of which will also receive upgrades to their combat systems.  It continues to support 11 carrier strike groups, investing a total of more than $13 billion for new construction of Ford-class carriers, and it supports modernizing guided missile cruisers. The DoD is also investing a total of $8 billion in a wide range of versatile munitions, including buying more of the Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile. Meanwhile, the Navy also plans increases of the Navy and the Marine Corps F-35 procurements while also completing procurement in the advanced P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol and surveillance aircraft. And it’s buying an additional 16 F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fighter jets between now and FY 2018.

One the subject of technology specifically, Carter remarked “One of my top priorities as Secretary of Defense is to build, and in some cases to rebuild, the bridges between the Pentagon and the innovative business community that for decades has buttressed one of America’s greatest strengths, namely superior technology. When I began my career, most technology of consequence originated in America, and much of that was sponsored by the government, particularly by the Department of Defense,” he said. “Now, today, we’re still major sponsors, but much more technology is commercial and the technology base is global.”

As result, the technologies once possessed by only the most formidable militaries have now come into the hands of previously less-capable militaries and even non-state actors. Meanwhile, nations like Russia and China are modernizing their militaries to try to close the technology gap, according to Carter. “So to stay ahead of those challenges, to stay the best, and to keep our edge, we’re investing aggressively in high-end innovation.” he said.

With that in mind, the DoD’s budget invests nearly $72 billion in R&D. “To give you a little context, that’s more than double what Apple, Intel and Google spent on R&D last year combined”, said Carter, “That includes $12.5 billion specifically invested in science and technology to support groundbreaking work happening in the military services in our dozens of DoD labs and engineering centers across the country and at DARPA.”

The SecDef also discussed some recent enhancements to the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental, or DIUx. The DIUx is essentially an outpost of the Pentagon on the West Coast (Silicon Valley)-to help broaden the range of great companies that the DoD works with. The effort has launched and funded Manufacturing Innovation Institutes across the country to advance emerging technologies like flexible hybrid electronics. According Carter, these will make it possible to seamlessly print lightweight, flexible, structural integrity sensors right onto the surface of ships and aircraft; revolutionary textiles which combine fibers and yarns with all manner of embedded circuitry and power cells.

There’s seems little doubt that our country’s technology edge continues to be a high priority for the DoD. It’s great to have a Secretary of Defense who makes the case for technology with such a depth of detail. As the premier magazine covering technology applied to defense applications, that’s a welcome sign for us on COTS Journal. The embedded computing and electronics technologies developed by our embedded computing industry will continue to play a key role as the Navy strives to keep its technology investments in ship shape.