Pentagon research arm says military must react faster to tech changes

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 26, 2015 1:54 PM

By Andrea Shalal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The famed Pentagon research arm that gave the world the Internet and the miniaturized GPS receivers used in consumer devices said on Thursday one of its key goals now is to ensure U.S. troops do not get left behind as technologies advance at a lightning pace.

Arati Prabhakar, director of the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, said easy access to once-proprietary products and the fast pace of commercial technological development threaten the U.S. military's competitive edge, and underscore the need for change.

"Pace today matters on every scale," Prabhakar told the House Armed Services Committee's subcommittee on emerging threats and capabilities. She called for a shift away from complex military systems that take decades to produce and toward far more nimble and adaptive systems.

"In a world in which pace is inexorably increasing ... the military’s current approach to harnessing complexity is outdated and inadequate, and risks leaving the nation vulnerable to adversaries developing more nimble means of adopting the latest technologies," she said.

To reverse that trend, DARPA said it will focus on making weapons more modular and easier to upgrade, reducing dependence on Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites for positioning, timing and navigation, and making better sense of the "accelerating glut of information".

DARPA's thrust is part of a drive by U.S. defense officials, weapons makers and Congress to reform the Pentagon's cumbersome acquisition process given military advances by countries such as China, Russia, North Korea and Iran.

Prabhakar said DARPA is still working on game-changing new materials and technologies, including a vast network of prepositioned underwater pods for deep ocean areas that could supply equipment and sensors as needed, new technologies derived from advances in neuroscience and synthetic biology, and hack-proof drones.

But she said the real key is to give U.S. troops better tools and training to identify and respond to rapidly evolving threats on the ground and in the air, sea, space and cyberspace, including more automated systems.

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For instance, Prabhakar told reporters, DARPA is working on technologies that could reconfigure U.S. weapons systems within a day after identifying new waveforms or frequencies on the electromagnetic spectrum, instead of waiting a year or more for new weapons systems to deal with those threats.

She urged Congress to reverse congressional budget caps that are due to resume in fiscal 2016, noting that the cuts would have a "real and negative impact" on the agency's work.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Peter Galloway)