NDIA launches Emerging Technologies Institute to provide analysis on innovation

April 29, 2021

By Marjorie Censer

The National Defense Industrial Association is unveiling its Emerging Technologies Institute, a new organization that will offer research and analysis to help Capitol Hill, the Pentagon and industry consider how to best incorporate cutting-edge advancements.

NDIA has brought on Mark Lewis, the Defense Department's former director of defense research and engineering, to lead the institute.

In an interview with Inside Defense this week, Lewis said the role was a "perfect fit, based on what I was doing previously."

"I spent time in the DOD worrying about a few things; first is we're in a technology competition, we've got peer competitors who are truly breathing down our neck," Lewis said. "How do we make good on the promises of these things like artificial intelligence and hypersonics . . . and how do we do it on a timescale that will, frankly, meet the needs of the DOD?"

Lewis said the Emerging Technologies Institute will be independent and objective. It won't be "operating on behalf on any one industry or industry member," he added.

However, he said it will call on NDIA's members to help it with its research.

Lewis said the hope is that the reports and panels the organization produces will be useful to industry, members of Congress and DOD.

"NDIA in many ways is in the perfect position to be the go-between between industry and government," Lewis said. "For me, the ultimate metric is the impact that we have, the impact on decision-makers in the Pentagon, on the Hill and in industry."

He said the institute won't just "be arguing for more emerging technology funding across the board.

"Part of what we'll be doing is separating the proverbial wheat from the chaff," Lewis added. "We'll help decipher what are the right investments and what are the investments that don't make sense."

Lewis noted that while the organization will produce reports, a column and a podcast, it will also be open to more casual interactions with the Hill or Pentagon as needed.

The institute will host its first event in June, a panel discussion on modernization.

Hawk Carlisle, NDIA's chief executive, told Inside Defense the organization has "picked some targets."

"Microelectronics is one of them, hypersonics is another one," he said.

ETI will be able to "go out and see where the technology is, determine where we can actually move forward and craft that data analytics backbone, make recommendations, bring it to the department, bring it to Congress," Carlisle said.

Lewis said the organization is seeking to add more staff members. This month, it brought on Rebecca Wostenberg as a research fellow. She previously was deputy director of the Secretary's Action Group at DOD.

"We are planning on growing," Lewis said, noting he is also expecting to have a cadre of visiting scholars as well as interns.

Eventually, Lewis said, he expects the institute to potentially become self-sufficient.

Carlisle said the organization will likely require a budget of $2 million to $4 million a year. "By 2026 or so, it will be self-sustaining," he added, noting he expects it to win sponsorships and grants.