In the face of the pacing challenge from China and threats from Russia, Iran, North Korea and extremist groups, the Defense Department must transition from experimentation and prototyping to fielding capabilities much more quickly, Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen H. Hicks said.
Hicks provided virtual keynote remarks Aug. 31 for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's "Forward Conference: Advancing the Horizons of National Security," held at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado.
"Today, we have to evolve faster than the threats evolve, which means our capabilities must be designed and built to be flexible, adaptable and interoperable from the beginning. We must keep building and growing our enduring advantage," she said.
"Simply put, we don't have decades to wait for the latest and greatest concepts and capabilities to proliferate across our military forces. We have to shrink that 'lab-to-fab' timeline from decades to years, or even months — which means we've got to be thinking early and often about what happens after DARPA approves a concept and prototypes a capability," Hicks said, meaning to shorten the timeline between laboratory experiments to fabrication and fielding.
For example, when DARPA initiated the project that led to the first experimental stealth aircraft, Have Blue, to when DOD fielded an operational F-117 Nighthawk, that took nearly a decade, she said.
It took another decade for stealth technology to be incorporated into an operational B-2 bomber — and another decade or two after that for stealth to be mainstreamed across much of DOD's combat aircraft fleet, in the form of the F-22 and the F-35 stealth fighters.
"Perhaps that timeline was tolerable in the Cold War, when our main strategic competitor was relatively lumbering and slow," but not in today's fast-paced technologically changing world, she said.
Besides speed, greater collaboration, thinking and acting across sectors and across borders in close coordination with allies and partners will be even more important, because there is so much great innovation happening, whether it's in the commercial sector or in the science and technology ecosystem, she said.
"As a nation, and together with those allies and partners, we have what it takes. And any other country that might doubt our ability, our ingenuity, our commitment and resolve, should think again," she said.