Hagel announces push to boost U.S. military's technological edge

By David Alexander and Andrea Shalal
U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel listens during his testimony at the House Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, November 13, 2014. REUTERS/Larry Downing

By David Alexander and Andrea Shalal SIMI VALLEY Calif. (Reuters) - Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, warning that the Pentagon's technological edge is eroding, announced an ambitious effort on Saturday to identify and develop weapons systems to enable continued U.S. military dominance in the 21st century. Hagel, in a speech at the Reagan National Defense Forum, said the new Defense Innovation Initiative would include an effort to develop and field new systems using technologies such as robotics, autonomous systems, miniaturization, big data and three-dimensional printing. Noting the Defense Department did not dominate the technologies it hoped to exploit, Hagel said the Pentagon would turn to businesses and universities for ideas and help. He said the Pentagon expected the push to produce systems that would offset its rivals' advantages, as atomic weapons did in the 1950s and precision strike and stealth have done today. "We are entering an era where American dominance in key warfighting domains is eroding, and we must find new and creative ways to sustain, and in some areas expand, our advantages," Hagel said in a memo to Pentagon leaders announcing the initiative. While the United States has been engaged in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, powers such as Russia and China have invested heavily in military modernization, fielding advanced aircraft, submarines, and both longer-range and more accurate missiles, Hagel said. Technologies and weapons that were once the exclusive province of advanced nations have become available to a broad range of militaries and non-state actors, from North Korea to Hezbollah, he added. Hagel's remarks echoed those of other senior Pentagon officials appearing at the forum. Frank Kendall, the Pentagon's chief arms buyer, said the U.S. military had been "complacent" about its superior technologies. "We’re so used to having a dominant military power that we just took it for granted," Kendall told Reuters. Hagel said the Pentagon would put "new resources" into the initiative, even as he acknowledged the constraint of shrinking budgets as the department tries to cut nearly a trillion dollars from projected spending over a decade. He did not say how much the Pentagon planned to spend. The initiative, which will be led by Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work, comes at a time when U.S. officials have been voicing rising concern that the department is loosing its technical edge due to the spread of technologies. (Reporting by David Alexander; Editing by Mohammad Zargham and Andrew Hay)