Continuing resolution may delay DOD's rapid technology experimentation plans

By Jaspreet Gill / December 6, 2021

SIMI VALLEY, CA -- The Pentagon's chief technology officer is aiming to address four critical capability gaps through a planned set of joint technology experiments starting in fiscal year 2023, but an appropriations delay on Capitol Hill could hold up the department's schedule.

Speaking to reporters Dec. 4 during the Reagan National Defense Forum, Heidi Shyu, under secretary of defense for research and engineering, said information advantage, command and control, logistics and integrated fires are all top focus areas for the first joint experiment through the Rapid Defense Experimentation Reserve, or RDER.

“The technologies and topics that we selected span from classified to secret to top secret to special access,” she said. “Very broad spectrum of capabilities and all of them will be demonstrated in FY-23.”

In total, the RDER initiative will fund 32 projects based on needs identified by combatant commanders, but Shyu declined to state the amount of funding she would specifically request.

Shyu said she aims to conduct two joint technology experiments per year, telling reporters, based on feedback from COCOMS, the designs for those technologies can be revised before the next experiment.

Shyu said she met with several companies -- ranging from large commercial companies to small startups -- here last week regarding how they can be involved in the RDER effort.

Although Shyu declined to name any companies, she said she was “incredibly enthusiastic” after meeting with them.

“I will tell you, as I told each of those companies, they have an opportunity to play within the space that we’re dealing with,” she said.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in his keynote remarks here said the RDER initiative will “let us quickly see if promising tech and prototypes can help our warfighters” and will allow all of the services to test innovative technologies together at scale for the first time.

However, Congress has yet to pass its FY-22 appropriations bills.

Lawmakers last week voted to fund the government with a stopgap continuing resolution until Feb. 18.

But a continuing resolution may delay Shyu’s RDER plans.

She likened the CR to a self-inflicted wound, saying it would put the U.S. further behind its adversaries.

Not having an FY-22 budget hurts “quite a bit,” she told reporters. “And that will be incredibly frustrating, especially on critical needs that we have to have. I mean, you see how fast the threat is moving. We [have] got to come together as a country to understand that I need a budget . . . this whole department needs a budget to move forward.”

Austin today released a statement saying he’s worried Congress may opt for a full-year CR, a move that could “cause enormous, if not irreparable, damage for a wide range of bipartisan priorities,” including research and development, modernization and readiness.

“Of course, failing to reach an agreement on appropriations would also significantly impact the programs, the technologies and the initiatives we are trying to undertake to ensure we remain the most capable military in the world,” Austin said. “The department’s efforts to address innovation priorities such as cyber, artificial intelligence and hypersonics programs would be slowed.”