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March 12, 2024

“We’re Losing Access to Innovation,” King Says Urging DoD to Take Advantage of Private Sector Technologies

WASHINGTON, D.C. — In a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), U.S. Senator Angus King, Chair of the Strategic Forces Subcommittee, questioned Dr. Paul Scharre, the Executive Vice President and Director of Studies at the Center for a New American Security, about the need for the Department of Defense (DoD) to shift its research and development (R&D) strategies. Citing hypersonic missiles and directed energy as examples, King suggested the Pentagon should prioritize working with the private sector and break bureaucratic barriers preventing access to innovative defense technologies.

In his exchange with Dr. Scharre, Senator King stressed the importance of the DoD working alongside the private sector to build new defense technology that is both effective and cost-efficient.

“There are new technologies that we've been slow, directed energy and hypersonics are the two that strike me as most obvious. How do we get the Pentagon to understand the role of new technology? Dr. Scharre, what's your view,” asked Senator King.

“I think that the Defense Department, baked into its DNA, understands the value of technology. Actually, I think what's missing right now is a sense of where the priorities ought to lie, because I think the DoD is still stuck in a mindset from the 1960s where it duly believes it has to invent all the technologies itself. But there's so much technological innovation happening outside the Defense Department, that I think that that's going to matter more,” responded Dr. Scharre. “And I would say that it's not, it's true that technology is absolutely critical to winning wars. But what matters most is finding the best ways of using the technology. That's clear looking at history. And so, having institutional processes that can figure out how do we capitalize on this? Because in many ways — ”

“We’ve had testimony to this committee that smaller companies in Silicon Valley don't even bother applying for contract to the Department of Defense, because it's so cumbersome, slow and, we're losing access to innovation,” said Senator King.

“I would actually say even worse, we're building barriers to access. Right? Those barriers are self-constructed by us,” replied Dr. Scharre. Red tape that makes it hard for companies that would like to work with DOD to work with us and so we need to find ways to tear down [the red tape].”

“In the meantime, we're spending $5 million a missile to knock down $200,000 or $300,000 drones [launched by] the Houthis when directed energy could do it for about 50 cents a shot. We just got to break down this barrier, both in terms of working with smaller and innovative companies, but also, as you say, taking advantage of technologies developed in the private sector, and then transferring them into our arsenal, if you will,” concluded Senator King.

A member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Senator King is recognized as an authoritative voice on national security and foreign policy issues. As the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee Subcommittee on Strategic Forces — which oversees the United States’ strategic forces and missile defenses — Senator King has been a steady voice on the need to address the growing nuclear capacity of our adversaries. Senator King recently expressed concern about the emerging threats of Russia and China’s development of “nightmare weapon” hypersonic missiles, which he has described as “strategic game-changers.”


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