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Artificial intelligence, microelectronics and “Next-G” will be on a soon-to-be released list of the Pentagon’s top research-and-development priorities, a senior Defense Department official said Jan. 13.
The Pentagon’s research and engineering office’s list of 14 technology priorities will be revealed as early as Jan. 17, Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Heidi Shyu told reporters.
A previous list issued by her office during the previous administration had 11 priorities, and Shyu said she originally intended to reduce that number. Ultimately, her list reached 14. It will include AI, autonomy, integrated network technology, microelectronics and hypersonics, she said during a Defense Writers Group event.
Artificial intelligence and integrated network technology complement each other, she noted.
“If you want to utilize autonomy on an unmanned system, you want to also have the ability to talk for disparate systems that [were] never designed to talk to each other,” she said. “The integrated network system will be very important.” The Army, Navy and Air Force are all working on different network integration programs that fit into the joint all domain command and control concept.
Microelectronics are another focus that falls under a wide range of applications — and a priority that Shyu said will be well funded. “Microelectronics is another one of our top priority areas because it is a critical piece that’s in everything,” she said.
The Department of Commerce and Congress have been “very interested” in providing additional funding for development of the technology, she noted. The importance of microelectronics has come into the forefront as COVID-19 pandemic-related supply chain issues have plagued the defense and commercial industries and created shortages in microchips.
Though Shyu recently raised the alarm about the high costs for hypersonic weapons, she noted they are still “one of our top priority areas.”
The release of her new strategy will coincide with the creation of additional oversight positions within the office of research and engineering. She is also prioritizing hiring for existing positions that are not currently filled, she said.
For example, the leader who will oversee 5G and “Next G” — the wireless technologies that will follow 5G — will be in place in about a month, she said.
“What is critical enabling technology [for] 6G impossibly 7G that you want to develop today so you can shape the standards because otherwise you’re just always playing catch up,” she said. China currently holds the vast majority of patents for 5G technology, which is primarily for the commercial telecommunications market, but has a variety of applications for the military.
“What you will see is when my tech strategy comes out, there’s 14 areas that I’m going to focus on,” she said. “I’m going to be hiring folks, making sure … if there is not a current person there, I will be hiring that person.”
Filling the positions will ensure the Pentagon is preparing for the future, she said.
To fund these initiatives, the Pentagon’s budget request for research and engineering will likely increase for fiscal year 2023, she added. Last year, the Pentagon requested its largest ever research development test and evaluation budget at $112 billion.
In a December briefing to members of Congress, Shyu said legislators were enthusiastic about her office’s activities. “They were thrilled,” she said. “Halfway through my briefing they actually said, ‘How much money do you need?’”
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