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Q&A: How can research support the new DOD National Defense Strategy?

ASU director discusses the growing complexity of security challenges around the globe

Nadya Bliss

Nadya Bliss.

January 26, 2018

For the first time in ten years, the U.S. Department of Defense has a new National Defense Strategy. The strategy, released Jan. 19, covers a range of global issues affecting the U.S., including an increasingly complex age of technological innovation and warfare.

“The reemergence of long-term strategic competition, rapid dispersion of technologies, and new concepts of warfare and competition that span the entire spectrum of conflict require a Joint Force structured to match this reality,” the report’s summary reads.

ASU Now spoke with Nadya Bliss, director of Arizona State University's Global Security Initiative, about the growing complexity of security challenges around the globe, and how research can help address these challenges.

Question: What are your biggest takeaways from the DOD’s new strategy?

Answer: There is a clear focus on sustained commitment to maintaining a technological edge in support of the warfighter in the changing geopolitical landscape. Secretary (Jim) Mattis is committed to the U.S. maintaining its dominance, particularly in the context of emerging operational domains, such as space and cyberspace. In addition to technological advancements, there is a clear emphasis on implications of new technologies on operations and future conflict.

This strategy creates an opportunity and an environment to motivate new and disruptive research — both in technology and engineering and in interdisciplinary work. Also, there is a clear emphasis on the need for process innovation — essentially, we can’t just build the most cutting edge technology, we also need means with which to get it in the hands of people who need it.

Q: One portion of the strategy reads, “the surest way to prevent war is to be prepared to win one.” What does that mean for the research community? 

A: First, let me point out that this sentiment very much resonates with me. Often, researchers have misconceptions about what working with Department of Defense looks like — that the Department only focuses on weapons, weapon systems and kinetic warfare. A huge focus of the Department is deterrence — avoiding military conflict.

One of the key aspects of the strategy is making sure the U.S. is not just keeping up with all the technological developments, but is leading those developments. Particular topics of interest to the Department, specifically in context of research and development, are swarm robotics, cybersecurity, big data, machine learning, artificial intelligence and biotechnology.

ASU’s research strengths align with well with national needs. ASU’s work in swarm robotics, particularly the newly established Center for Human, Artificial Intelligence and Robot Teaming, is highly relevant to the new strategy; similarly, work on novel immunosignature technologies have relevance to emerging biosecurity challenges. Work in the Center for Cybersecurity and Digital Forensics, particularly on automated malware analysis and system resilience, have potential to increase efficiency of cyber operations.

Q: How can researchers work together with the Department of Defense, private companies and other entities to develop and implement solutions to these challenges?

A: The Department of Defense invests more than $2 billion annually in basic research. Significant additional funding is allocated to applied research. Both research components and labs of services – Army, Navy, Air Force — and agencies like DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, provide lots of opportunities for universities to engage.

The thing that tends to be different about the DOD, as compared to the NSF (National Science Foundation), for example, is that while the DOD still wants to fund basic science and engineering work, they would like you to think about how this work has impact on the DOD mission and needs.

This particular strategy strikes me as one that appreciates the long-term need for research investments. Plus, there is tremendous amount of opportunity for impact and quite frankly the problems are incredibly interesting. This strategy also calls for ensuring our alliances are strong — strategic international research alliances, such as the PLuS alliance, could have significant potential. 

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