Sluggish deployment of emerging tech hampers US military, officials say

ARLINGTON, Va. — The pace at which the U.S. Defense Department is seeking and then deploying cutting-edge technologies, such as those fueled by artificial intelligence, can be slower than the clip at which new dangers arise, leaving troops at a potential disadvantage, according to one official.

U.S. Central Command’s chief technology officer, Schuyler Moore, on Sept. 6 said there is a desire to tap “exquisite technologies, that exist both in the department and out in industry, inside a 12-month time frame” should the conditions be right.

But such capacity is a rarity.

“We would love to have access to capabilities in less than two years. That would be really great,” she said at the annual Defense News Conference, held blocks from the Pentagon. “The fact that we’re talking about fiscal year ’25, and given the speed at which we watch the problems evolve, based on what we put into theater ... is faster than what our budget cycles move at.”

The DoD has long received criticism over its sluggish pivots and arcane acquisition processes. A commission with the Atlantic Council think tank suggested in an April report on innovation that the department update budget documentation and better align with its suppliers. Commission members included a former defense secretary and a former undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, among other high-profile individuals.

To fully exert the power of emerging tech, particularly tied to AI or autonomy, the department must understand that “capabilities require constant innovation and investment,” according to Joe Larson, an algorithmic warfare leader within the Chief Digital and AI Office.

The Pentagon rolled out its largest-ever innovation and modernization budget earlier this year, requesting $145 billion from Congress in fiscal 2024. The ask, about $15 billion more than the year prior, designates $687 million for the Rapid Defense Experimentation Reserve, an initiative spearheaded by Heidi Shyu, the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, that aims to fill high-priority gaps with advanced tech.

“As the department wants to expand these capabilities,” Larson said at the conference, “we need to look at our underlying infrastructure.”