Home » Budget Industry » Pentagon Research Chief Nominee: China, Russia Racing to Develop Next Generation Weapon Technology


Pentagon Research Chief Nominee: China, Russia Racing to Develop Next Generation Weapon Technology

Russian Zircon hypersonic missile.

The nominee for the Pentagon’s first research and engineering chief warned a Senate panel that China and Russia risk outpacing the U.S. in key technology areas like artificial intelligence and hypersonic.

Former defense executive, DARPA program manager and NASA associate administrator Lisa Porter told the Senate Armed Services Committee said platforms like U.S. aircraft carriers would be at risk from a weapon moving five times the speed of sound and “you can’t see it, you can’t take it down.”

Using space as another example of new challenges, Porter said, “I believe Russia and China hold our assets [satellites] at risk” and they see “it as a domain where they need to take away our advantage.”

The Chinese have a head start in hypersonic development and are making large investments in artificial intelligence but the U.S. can catch up in advanced technologies if the United States coordinates its public, academic and private efforts in these areas. “The ingredients are here … to solve the problem” of integration.

“We have to reset the culture at the Pentagon” to allow for failure, learn from it and move on, she said. To Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, “risk aversion is anathema,” but that is the practice in the Defense Department.

With that in mind, she said she was a strong proponent of rapid prototyping to move projects across the so-called “Valley of Death” where technologies never move from research and development to production.

Right now, the Pentagon “is too big, too slow” when it comes to buying and fielding needed technologies. “Flexibility is necessary.”

Congress in an effort to speed technologies into the field approved separating acquisition from engineering and science in the Pentagon over the objections of then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter.

Porter said she realized the split was not done easily. “I am going to build that bridge” to keep a strong relationship in place between the developers and the buyers. The idea is foster a “culture of experimentation and warfighter engagement.”

At the same time, Porter said she was very aware of “the tyranny of the immediate” overriding long-term future investments in research. “We need to protect DARPA so it can take on the really hard things.”

Likewise, on missile defense, James Anderson, nominated to be the assistant secretary of defense for strategy, plans and capabilities, there “needs to be a clear sense of urgency when we consider rogue threats” from nations like Iran and North Korea.

The requirement must not be solely to “stay abreast, but stay ahead of them” as they expand their missile programs, said the current vice president of academic affairs at Marine Corps University and past director of Middle East policy at the Pentagon’s Office of the Secretary of Defense.

He told the panel future unmanned systems could “have anti-missile capabilities [that work] in the boost phase, the Holy Grail of missile defense.”

Anderson said he would be paying close attention to cost ratios “to make sure our interceptors are not costing more than the missiles” they are targeting.

On China’s reclaiming coral reefs as islands and militarizing them, he said we need to reassure allies in the Pacific “we intend to honor those commitments.”

Both nominees are expected to be confirmed.

  • D. Jones

    DARPA credentials aside, not sure an InQTel veteran is the right fit for DoD.

  • Centaurus

    China and Russia will crash and burn on this technology because WE have the Dugway Proving Grounds, Groom Lake and Los Alamos NL. And our brains are bigger than the micro-brained Chinee who can only steal and reverse-engineer our stuff, POORLY

    • DaSaint

      Since the late 80s China sent waves of students to US universities, mostly to learn engineering of all types and to a lesser degree Architecture. I can recall Chinese students all around me for those years.

      They didnt have to pay for tuition. The Chinese government made that investment in them.

      30+ years later, it has paid off.

      There is a lesson there.

      • Centaurus

        The lesson is to STOP giving the rice-eaters student-visas and offer better incentives to our own students in Science and Engineering curricula .

        • Zorcon, Fidei Defensor

          Our students would rather major in law or women’s studies. Engineering is hard work. Yes, I am an engineer…

          • Jim DiGiacomo

            Most science and engineering majors seem to be Asian Americans.

    • Frank Langham

      You grossly underestimate the intellect, the talent-pool, the resources, the commitment and the progress of our competitors, especially when it comes to the cyber-domain and, in the case of China, any modality that derives leverage by means of accelerated mass production. In the 2020s, Rosie The Riveter speaks Mandarin. .

    • Mr. Speaker

      Kinda like how the U.S. and Britain reverse engineered a lot of German technology during/after WWII.
      Oh right, the Germans are white people so they would get a pass in your book.

      • vetww2

        Please, remember several enlightening facts:
        1. All German rocketry was based on the patents of Dr. Goddard.
        2. The German moon mission partly created by Von Braun, was Earth Orbit Rendesvous, which the Russkies cheerfully adopted and which totally failed. killing several cosmonauts.
        3. The All-American plan, Lunar Orbit Rendesvous, authored by Johnny Houboldt of Langley Firld, was a raging success.
        4. The gimballed nozzle engine, is a US invention.

  • Ed L

    The Chinese and Russians already have super sonic cruise missiles in service The Taiwan’s have there supersonic cruise missiles we could do and exchange so we can see what they out there.

  • PolicyWonk

    It going to be difficult to pay for the research, and education of our work force to retain our technological edge, let alone the weapons and force structure required to prevent a major conflict with the Chinese, if we keep cutting taxes for the ultra-wealthy and corporate donors, thereby putting our national and economic security, and middle class at risk.

    • RunningBear

      “It going to be difficult to pay for the research, and education of our work force”, I agree if we only expect our education system to generate “hamburger flippers”. When I have job openings for 40 people and get 4,000 applicants and can only interview 400 because of “lack of education”, it is disheartening. Our education system must be scrapped and excused from teenage “baby-sitting”. Academics cannot design our education system, the customer must set the requirements for excellence and only those students that “work” (yes, that ugly four letter word) for the education and strive to achieve without all of the useless social excuses. I need education, not excuses and “OJT” is not possible in this age of technology. All state school education with above average grades should be free to all citizens (only) with a commitment to a defined program of employment (as the “payback”). That defined program “could” include military service, research, civil service,etc. but not in welfare or social programs. The time spent in these programs would establish experience in their chosen discipline.
      IMHO.
      🙂

      • PolicyWonk

        As one who is a hiring manager looking for educated and talented resources, I have had the same experience as you. We got tons of resumes, where there was an astonishing amount of “puffing”, and useless skill sets, and very few qualified candidates.

        The education drain started during the Reagan years, when the editors of Aviation Week, and Proceedings all got together to implore President Reagan to restore education funding and Pell Grants, lest we lose our technical edge, and/or have to resort to hiring foreign nationals for top secret work – which brings its own hazards – as we’ve all seen.

        The system never recovered, and we’re living with the consequences now: we’re losing our technical edge, and we’re stuck with a (mostly) brainless work force. Its so bad, that (for example) Toyota built a new plant neat Toronto, despite the hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks they were offered AK. Toyota decided on Toronto for two reasons:
        1. A educated work force that could READ (the other location’s work force lacked this virtue). They didn’t want to have to invest and take a huge amount of time to develop manuals without words (i.e. only visual instructions).
        2. No health care problems – the Canadian heath care system took that entire mess off the table.

        • RunningBear

          In Houston, Texas (in the year 2,000) a workforce of 4,000+ and face-to-face interview surveys yielded 14 employees who could neither read nor write. They were removed from their operational positions and placed in a union supervised education program. To return to their previous positions, a reading and writing ability was negotiated.

          An interesting aside was that when the union approved job descriptions were defined, many of the senior “old timers” elected to revert to the less challenging/ complicated jobs that were not interfacing with the computer automation systems.

        • D. Jones

          Started easily a decade earlier. Has gotten much worse. Had a technical question with a major optics supplier this past week. Went through 3 levels of front line support and all were clueless (“we have info on our website…” “No, you don’t, that’s why I’m calling”). Gave up and called and old hand consultant. Had the answer in 30 seconds.

          Companies have been so merged and scrambled that most of the institutional memory is gone. Wall St. Mergermania and “right sizing” has done more damage to this country than a dozen world wars. Our industrial base and more importantly the people that can design & run machines to build stuff has been wrecked.

  • Frank Langham

    When it comes to speed and risk, I hope that we can exploit virtual modeling, virtual operations training, simulated scenario projections, Battle Management AI simulations, and 4D CAD design project tools to accelerate cyclic iterations of various development spirals. … THERE IS A REASON that large stock-market trading firms build optical server farms directly across the street from the various stock exchanges. … The best and fastest A.I. for (extra-global) sensor fusion and battle management wins. … Period … Hypersonic swarms and numerical volleys cannot be won where humans are in the active loop. The best quality and speed of calculus (automated analysis and command decision) is THE locus of success, and is dependent upon the scope and quality of sensor fusion.

    • D. Jones

      Stock markets pushes speed for HFT. Buying a selling zillions of times a day.

      If we slapped em with $1/share held < 1 week trading fees, the hokum would disappear.

      • Frank Langham

        Or, we could charge them, on volume, and fund a very healthy chunk of these stated R&D objectives, while providing real, ceramic coffee cups, and quality jo, for our best talent.

    • RunningBear

      “THERE IS A REASON that large stock-market trading firms build optical
      server farms directly across the street from the various stock
      exchanges.” Perhaps these industries could entertain a little “EA/EW” competition to spice up their lives??
      🙂

      • Frank Langham

        Well … I would not want to incite any extra-legal method, but our global competitors have committed to exploiting every possible domain and modality, just short of an all-out, strategic fur-ball so, I guess it really is true, what they say about love and war.

  • Frank Langham

    When Congress and The Defense Industry, The Western Banks and The Fortune 500 finally grasp the fact that it is THEIR survival and markets that are under mortal threat, THEN, we may see faster progress at less cost and with less graft. … If you expect to achieve survival on the backs of America’s dwindling Middle Class, Western civilization will be reduced to ash. much sooner than later.

  • Curtis Conway

    Here is a horse of a different color . . . weaponize the GQM-163 Coyote.

    • Frank Langham

      Curtis? … Stop making so much sense ! … Heads will start exploding, all over the place.

    • Frank Langham

      … I approve.

  • DaSaint

    There needs to be an acceptance of innovation from non-typical sources. I feel it is starting to happen. Who would have thought just years ago that Boeing and Lockheed could be successfully challenged by a startup like Space X. The same needs to happen with weapon systems. Allowing innovation by new sources will lower costs, just as Space X has already lowered launch costs and introduced innovations that both Boeing and Lockheed claimed were impossible.

    Since the late 80s China sent waves of students to US universities, mostly to learn engineering of all types and to a lesser degree Architecture. I can recall Chinese students all around me for those years.

    They didnt have to pay for tuition. The Chinese government made that investment in them.

    30+ years later, it has paid off.

    There is a lesson there.

    • D. Jones

      The Chinese sent students to learn engineering to teach other students upon returning. They leveraged their investment. Meanwhile we cranked out lawyers and insultants.

      • Centaurus

        We need to kidnap all these cheese students and boil them down to glop. Our students will then be able to get better grades, having none of the grade-curve distorting robots, sent by Chinese Govt. to hijack our Tech. Next we do away with Lawyers. We don’t need them without pesky laws.

      • Centaurus

        Furthermore, launch said Cheese Glop into the Sun to make some sort of Egg-sun-foo-young-Chop-Suey-ish bubbling mass that can no longer pestify Earth.
        Nuking is too good for them. Where is Elon Musk when you need him ?

    • Hugh

      Regarding Chinese students abroad, the same happened, and is still happening, in Australia. Hopes to Westernise the leaning of students does not seem to have happened, indeed mother China and their minders seem to keep a short chain on their overseas students. Now Australia has lost most of its manufacturing and industry, innovative technology seems to end up going offshore, and Australia is under the Chinese thumb regarding its economy which is based on exports of raw materials to China.

      • Centaurus

        Homogenize the pesty slop…b4 it virulizes, A ‘la “World War Z”…….

  • zard

    The financialization of the American economy

    American De-Industrialization
    Continues Unabated

    US de-industrialization will result in military crashes

  • Duane

    Of course it is necessary that the US continue to invest in developing defense tech. Ditto with our defense contractors who also spend considerable sums on their own private R&D efforts in order to compete on the world market … ditto with the defense contractors of our allies.

    Telling false scare stories is not the way to keep doing this important development work. Saying that hypersonics can’t be detected because they fly at Mach 5 is simply not true. We’ve been detecting and tracking for decades, and for the last decade successfully intercepting intercontinental ballistic missiles at up to Mach 24+ via the mid-course intercept system, and at lower speeds (but still above Mach 5+) with others such as AEGIS and Patriot. Even the ubiquitous and cheap Russian short range Scud BMs travel at Mach 5+ and we’ve been shooting them down with regularity with Patriot PACs for more than a quarter century. Our Saudi allies have successfully intercepted many dozens of Houthi Scuds over just the last year with our Patriot PAC-3 batteries with 100% intercept success.

    We know what we have with AN/SPY 1 and now 6 radars, the AEGIS system, and the SM-3 and SM-6 and ESSM missiles that our CSG escorts deploy to protect our carriers. We are also equiping our carriers themselves with multiple SeaRAM and ESSM batteries. And before long also lasers and railguns.

    Yes, Chinese hypersonic cruise missiles represent a credible new threat that we certainly have to address … but they are not the “scary super duper weapons” that our news media and this new DOD R&D bureaucrat are hyping to Congress.

    • Centaurus

      Do you get paid to write all this BLATHER ?

  • Zorcon, Fidei Defensor

    Right now, the Pentagon “is too big, too slow” when it comes to buying and fielding needed technologies. “Flexibility is necessary.”

    Gee, really? Last SBIR I dealt with took one full year from award to a contract. Dealing with the US Government is a waste of time unless your a large contractor. The FAR has become a obstacle to innovation huge.

    • D. Jones

      Thankfully, the LCS has an HSM (Hypersonic Spoofing Module) which emits a high-pitched REEEEEEE which confounds high-speed enemy sensors and convinces them they are being approached by something even faster. Their guidance computers overheat trying to generate a solution, and the missiles crash harmlessly into Gary, Indiana.

  • Duya Taksis

    ‘Pentagon is “too big, too slow”‘ is a polite way of saying too corrupt.

  • Centaurus

    Just like “Cap and Enslave”

  • vetww2

    Lisa Porter. If you will give me a place that i can meet with you i will be glad to show you the interception of a Mach 4 projectile by WOW, 35 years ago, by Mary Lacey, who I’m sure you knew. I have extensive Hypersonic experience from my time at Cornell Aero Lab (now Calspan) and I state that the undue concern over an increase in speed is unwarranted. I presented a more detailed exposition on the subject, here, but it it was oblitered for some reason.,