Transition Tracking Action Group chair says it will supply insights on programs like Replicator and RDER

By Georgina DiNardo  / April 17, 2024

The chair of the Transition Tracking Action Group (TTAG) told Inside Defense yesterday the group will provide recommendations to Defense Department programs involved in bridging the acquisition "valley of death," like the Replicator initiative and the Rapid Defense Experimentation Reserve (RDER).

The TTAG, which Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Heidi Shyu inaugurated last week, focuses on ensuring cutting edge systems and tools get fielded quickly.

Cyrus Jabbari, R&E’s chief data officer and the chair of the advisory group, told Inside Defense that TTAG will focus specifically on providing recommendations for Defense Department programs that have quick technology transition timelines.

“TTAG wants to work in the spirit of what the deputy has set forth with the deputy’s innovation steering group and make sure that we can help uncover technologies that could be useful to any initiative, whether that’s Rapid Joint Experimentation that’s being executed by the Rapid Defense Experimentation Reserve, or RDER program, or the Replicator initiative, where we have a surge focus on a set of technologies focused on all domain autonomous attritable [systems].”

Specifically, Jabbari said TTAG wants to help with the quick adoption timelines that RDER and Replicator face.

“We want to bring quick insights into what technologies are in the pipeline that could be used for those different processes so that they could be better aligned as well and more efficient in what they are trying to achieve on such rapid timelines to support the warfighter,” he said.

The Replicator initiative is the Defense Department’s secretive program aimed at fielding thousands of attritable, autonomous weapon systems by August 2025, whereas RDER focuses on experimenting on quick modernization efforts.

However, TTAG will not be limited to providing insights to just those two programs, according to Jabbari; TTAG will supply advice to all programs relating to adopting new technology.

“The key goal of the TTAG is to enhance visibility across the department of all of our technology investments, from research and engineering to acquisitions, and then to the field, with end users,” he said. “The primary way of doing that is by modifying the underlying data systems and processes that exist in the department to leverage information that could yield greater insights and oversight of those technology investments.”

To achieve this goal, Jabbari said some “acute” action steps have already been taken by Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks and Shyu prior to the formal establishment of TTAG.

“The first prime step is the deputy’s establishment of the innovation steering group, or ISG, in May of ’21, and one of the key lines of effort of the ISG was to get a better grasp of who are the players within the ‘innovation ecosystem’ and how are they transitioning technology,” Jabbari said.

Jabbari said another acute step he participated in was the department-wide mapping of the defense ecosystem to better understand and define how technologies transition and bridge the “valley of death,” which is a time between prototyping and production in which many technologies fail due to lack of funding.

“It turns out there are a lot of different definitions [of technology transitions] in different agencies and across the military departments so the output of that work was creating the first-ever standard DOD definition for technology transitions,” he said.

Jabbari said the department took many other steps in advancing the understanding of technology transitioning.

Now that TTAG has officially been formed, they will meet every other month, with the first meeting set to occur this spring or summer. However, Jabbari says the TTAG has been meeting informally for about a year.

“TTAG has existed informally since about a year ago and we’ve been having meetings to craft our first set of draft recommendations since then and to pilot out some unique data analytics views and connect data systems since them," he said. "But without formal establishment, fingers crossed that our draft recommendations get approved soon; we are targeting late spring/early summer as our first meeting to enact some of those recommendations.”

TTAG group members are made up of senior DOD officials and military personnel.

Jabbari said he cannot release specific names of people in the group, although the charter notes individuals from several senior OSD offices, like research and engineering, acquisition and sustainment, the comptroller, the chief digital artificial intelligence office and more make up the group, alongside members from the Defense Innovation Unit, the Strategic Capabilities Office, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, combatant commands and the military services.

Jabbari said this has been a “multiyear approach” that’s already underway and aims to bring “massive” department-wide changes to the way data is treated and transformed through meticulous planning of meetings.

“We have it mapped out down to the week, its not day, so it’s a safe approach,” he said. “I treat the last year plus as phase zero and phase one where we were identifying the right points of contact and organizations, we were mapping the data schema from research and engineering to the field, we were racking and stacking the key target data sources where we could effect policy changes to connect those and make them better and now we are hoping to actually enact policy changes and bring in data from those newly changed data sources and pilot out with them before creating more broad recommendations than just this initial pilot.”

Jabbari said there will not be public notices nor agendas of meetings as they currently focus on aligning “internal processes and systems.”

“However, the output of meetings will feed into many of our responses for congressional requests, for example, for just public information and we hope to provide some more substantive updates on some of the unique things we’ve been able to uncover with these insights, as well,” he said.

Jabbari said the creation of the group comes from a department need for “greater visibility” and understanding when it comes to technology investment.

“We want to be more answerable to Congress, the taxpayer and our internal needs and we want to demonstrate greater visibility than we’ve had before," he said. "To make the right technology investments, we want to bring greater insights so we can offer it at better oversights.”

Personally, Jabbari said he wants to help solve the department’s challenges with technology investments getting lost in the “valley of death.”

“This is something I personally care about a lot. It’s a puzzle that has plagued the department for decades, how much of our technology investments get lost in the ‘valley of death’ or how much of it end[s] up making it across into an acquisition program or to the field or, even better yet, make it into the commercial sector [and] increase economic security for the country, and we end up buying that back off the shelf,” he said.

“That is a big puzzle and I want to be a part in getting the department forward, a baby step forward maybe, in addressing, perhaps even solving that big puzzle and I think TTAG is the first serious time the department has given this whole of department effort and thought,” he added.