GAO: DoD has to step up efforts in space, cyber and artificial intelligence to compete with China

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GAO's managing director Cathleen Berrick: 'Business as usual for DoD is really a losing proposition'

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Government Accountability Office in a new report says the Defense Department has to be better prepared to respond to China’s advances in space, cyberwarfare and artificial intelligence. 

“Successful preparation for strategic competition with China will depend on continuing efforts to increase U.S. combat credibility and enhance conventional deterrence that can help prevent conflict, protect U.S. interests and assure allies,” GAO said in the report titled “Challenges Facing DoD in Strategic Competition with China.” 

The three-page summary GAO published Feb. 15 is the unclassified version of a much more extensive report that is classified. 

Going forward, said GAO, the U.S. defense Department should be prepared to “maintain supply chains, gather intelligence, and responsibly leverage emerging space, cyber, and AI technologies in response to potential threats.”

The watchdog agency suggested that Congress will need to pay close attention to DoD’s efforts in these areas and whether DoD takes “timely actions.”

Cathleen Berrick, GAO’s managing director of defense capabilities and management, said DoD has taken some steps to invest and innovate in response to China’s leaps in cybersecurity, space and the use of artificial intelligence. But more could be done, she said. 

With regard to space, GAO in the report listed a number of recommendations it has issued in the last several years such as the need for DoD to revamp its satellite-based communications architecture and ground-based systems for the command and control of satellites. These are “actions that may better position DoD to address the challenges with China but DOD has not yet implemented.”

Recent reports that a Chinese satellite “actually grabbed another Chinese satellite and pulled it out of its orbit really demonstrates a significant leap in anti-satellite capabilities,” said Berrick. 

“Space is very important because DoD, of course, relies on its space based capabilities for communications, for navigation and targeting, and also for intelligence collection. And China knows this and is actively developing systems that could counter these capabilities.”

“I think it’s important for Congress and DoD to continue to have this China pacing threat reality at the forefront of their thinking because business as usual for DoD is really a losing proposition,” Berrick said. “This means they’re going to have to figure out how to adapt everything the department does away from the current industrial age approach to something more suitable for the information age.”

Berrick said it would not be an understatement “to say that strategic competition with China is unlike any other challenge DoD has faced.”