National Security

Report: Pentagon Must Close Gap With Silicon Valley

U.S. military risks losing its technological edge

Aerial view of the Pentagon / Reuters

The Trump administration will need to close the gap between the defense industry and Silicon Valley to prevent the U.S. military from losing its technological edge, according to a new report released Wednesday.

The Defense Department's complex regulations and bureaucracy have made it difficult for the agency to adopt new technological capabilities at a reasonable pace and cost, say the authors of the "Future Foundry" study published by the Center for a New American Security. This has made defense innovation unappealing to tech companies that thrive on risk-taking and adaptability.

"There is a very finite number of companies that are deeply engaged, almost to the point of exclusivity, in national security related matters," Sean O’Keefe, a former NASA chief, said Wednesday morning during a panel hosted by the think tank in Washington. "When you size it up relative to all other competitive opportunities, many companies are reaching the conclusion it just isn't worth it."

Retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis, Donald Trump's pick for defense secretary, largely will be responsible for pursuing reform within the Pentagon. The report recommended that Mattis outline a new strategy for the department within 100 days of taking office to achieve significant progress during Trump's first term.

Michèle Flournoy, the CEO of the Center for a New American Security and a former Defense Department official under President Obama, said the Pentagon needs to establish a culture that rewards risk-taking and tolerates failure, similar to the commercial environment. She said another fix would be to eliminate the so-called "valley of death" that exists between an innovative concept and the creation of the product.

The report suggested streamlining the process for awarding defense contracts to incentivize participation by tech companies. Although Defense Secretary Ash Carter has begun efforts to reach out to Silicon Valley, Flournoy said the department as a whole needs to embrace innovation.

"We are in an international security environment that is increasingly challenging and is only going to become more challenging over time, and if the United States Armed Forces were to stand still we would lose our edge in terms of technology and our ability to prevail in the future," Flourney said.

"The impact of what happens in the next handful of years is going to last for several administrations and influence the tools that are available, or not available, to a number of future presidents," she continued.