Acting Pentagon technology chief Michael Kratsios today called for using the Defense Department’s “unique authorities” to pursue its innovation efforts, while also committing to “redoubling” efforts to work more closely with non-traditional vendors and startup businesses.
In first remarks as acting under secretary of defense for research and engineering, Kratsios presented a notable foil to his predecessor, Mike Griffin. Kratsios spoke with Jason Matheny, founding director of the Georgetown University Center for Security and Emerging Technology, in a pre-recorded interview posted online this morning.
Griffin, a physicist and engineer, often focused his public presentations on traditional military technologies like missile defense systems and hypersonic missiles. But Kratsios, who worked in Silicon Valley prior to joining the White House as chief technology officer in 2017, barely mentioned those areas and instead concentrated on commercial technologies like artificial intelligence and fifth-generation wireless networks.
“As we have seen with the Chinese Communist Party’s aggressive effort to entrench compromised 5G infrastructure in every nation possible, adversarial powers threaten our security today just as much — if not more — through their commercial and technological powers than they do with their military capabilities,” Kratsios said.
He lauded DOD’s “unique authorities to pursue bold innovations through sandboxing, pilot programs, and other outside-of-the-box ways of testing, developing, and scaling game-changing technologies” to pursue innovation, pledging to “turbocharge this vital effort.”
He highlighted as an example DOD’s 5G prototyping program, which involves establishing network test bases at various military bases and hiring companies to prototype different technologies like spectrum sharing, augmented reality training and smart warehouses.
Kratsios also said he will focus the Pentagon on deepening its ties with the private sector and academic community.
While recognizing DOD has “successfully partnered for decades with large contractors who produce immensely powerful weaponry,” Kratsios said, “in this digital age, more and more innovation is happening in small startups and academic labs.”
He pointed specifically to the Defense Innovation Unit, one of several organizations under his authority, and its efforts to make it easier for startup and commercial technology companies to work with DOD.
“We are committed to redoubling our efforts to break down regulatory barriers and bureaucratic hurdles, ensuring that all companies, no matter their size, have the opportunity to do business with the department,” Kratsios said.
Prior to joining the White House in 2017, Kratsios served as principal and chief of staff at Thiel Capital, an investment firm founded by Trump ally Peter Thiel.
“To continue to think about innovative ways to actually engage with America’s greatest scientists and technologists that may actually be residing and working in small startups, is something I think a lot about,” Kratsios said when asked about how he’s drawing on his Silicon Valley experience.
While he focused more on commercial technologies, Kratsios said his directorate would continue to work on the 11 top technology priorities identified by Griffin. Prior to departing the Pentagon, Griffin reshuffled his office’s technology priorities, putting microelectronics in the No. 1 position and shifting hypersonic vehicles down to No. 3.
“We’re going to be continuing doing the critical work to build the roadmaps associated with those technologies, but one thing I want to emphasize even more is how these technologies interact with one another,” Kratsios said, pointing to how a hypersonic weapon will be combined with other technologies in operational scenarios.
“For me, it’s really building those relationships between those modernization priorities and ensure they don’t remain stovepiped,” he added.