As he shows off a flexible screen on the sleeve of a camouflage uniform, Morton estimates that the Army lab’s investment has sped development of the flexible displays by five years. “We are successful in the sense that there will be commercial technology this year that the Army will be able to buy,” he says.
That success is just the kind the Department of Defense seeks from its nearly $75 billion-per-year science and technology enterprise, which is larger than all other federal R&D programs combined. Its internal research labs and contracts with universities and industry all focus on developing the science and technology that the military will need in the future.
But DOD is facing changes now that could make designing future technologies more challenging. Shifting military goals, a decreasing overall defense budget, and the globalization of science will all alter DOD’s approaches to science and technology. The very nature of the agency’s mission—its size and bureaucracy, its need for secrecy, and its importance to the U.S.—also colors its future. Charting a path where its basic and applied research can quickly be turned into arms or aircraft or armor will, in part, define whether DOD’s R&D is successful.I found this section on getting a better sense of other nations' military-oriented science very interesting:
Some in Congress would rather not see cooperation between the U.S. and its rival countries, especially China, particularly on research with potential national security implications. But nowadays any researcher not working with scientists abroad would be missing out on what could be important research developments, Hummel says.
The Office of Naval Research Global, the military’s main outreach arm to the global scientific community, has posts and scientists on five continents. But more needs to be done to make sure DOD is connected to scientists worldwide, he says. “We have got to get much better than we are today at dealing with the ubiquity of knowledge discovery,” Hummel explains. “Europe is probably doing better, and China is unequivocally doing better.”That's an interesting and delicate dance to have to perform, but being blind to advances in science elsewhere is really not a good idea. I found this section to be interesting, to say the least:
Globalization is also causing problems with recruiting and retaining the right people to work on military problems. “I was worried when I was in charge, and I still worry now: Are we getting the talent pool that is both technically really talented and can get clearance?” Rees says, pointing out that he is especially concerned about recruiting high-quality engineers.
Chabalowski says that the Army Research Lab is recruiting great staff, but “some of the best and brightest we just can’t get” because they are not U.S. citizens. “It’s that simple. “When you look at the population in graduate school in science, technology, engineering, and math, it is overwhelmingly foreign nationals,” Chabalowski continues. “And we would love to tap into that.” The ability to recruit noncitizens will have to be authorized by Congress, which will need to pass legislation to fast-track citizenship for newly minted science Ph.D.s.Here's my thought process on this last point by Dr. Chabalowski:
- Passing fast-track citizenship for newly minted science Ph.D.s seems like a potentially unwise move and a really kludgey way to get better scientists and engineers into the military research establishment.
- Relying on citizenship as a first-pass proxy for "will not betray the US government's secrets" seems really unwise as well. The Walker spy ring and Aldrich Ames were all US citizens.