After two-year defense buildup, Pentagon still lags in technology innovation

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SN Military.Space Sandra Erwin

At the Reagan National Defense Forum and the West Coast Aerospace Forum this weekend, analysts and former defense officials roundly criticized the Pentagon for lacking a solid plan to modernize capabilities in areas where China and Russia are advancing, such as hypersonic weapons, space systems and cyber warfare.

The Pentagon is “fixing readiness but it’s not a program that points to a culture of innovation,” said Kathleen Hicks, senior vice president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The National Defense Strategy “maps out our emergence from strategic atrophy, expands the competitive space with our adversaries, and rebuilds our military advantage,” Defense Secretary James Mattis said in a keynote speech at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.

DOD NOT PREPARING FOR GREAT POWER COMPETITION A much more downbeat assessment was offered by the co-chairs of a commission that reviewed the strategy, Eric Edelman and retired Navy Adm. Gary Roughead. They noted that the Pentagon faces the possibility of funding cuts next year as a result of Trump administration efforts to cut federal spending. After a two-year defense buildup, growth could come to a halt in 2020, and the Pentagon has done little to show it has invested in technologies to counter China and Russia, they said.

This is going to be a growing problem for the Pentagon if budget hawks in the administration and Congress decide that the Defense Department is not investing wisely, said Hicks, a member of the commission. Once DoD figures out an innovation strategy for great power competition, “then you have a stronger basis to have a conversation about increasing defense spending.”

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