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Hagel, Pentagon say U.S. falling behind in warfare technology

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel speaks at a defense forum on Nov. 15, 2014, where he outlines plans to develop innovative new weapons. Photo: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel speaks at a defense forum on Nov. 15, 2014, where he introduced a plan to develop advanced new weapons. In terms of defense innovation, Hagel said the U.S. is not “dominating the technologies it hoped to exploit.” Photo: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

At a defense conference on Nov. 15, 2014, outgoing Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel put in stark terms how the U.S. is losing its dominant status in military technology. In a memo to Pentagon officials launching the Defense Innovation Initiative, Hagel plainly stated, “We are entering an era where American dominance in key warfighting domains is eroding.”

Noting that the Defense Department is not “dominating the technologies it hoped to exploit,” Hagel said he would be open to working with private businesses and universities to develop the next generation of advanced weaponry. Specifically countries such as Russia and China and even non-state actors such as Hezbollah have put big money into researching or acquiring weapons that utilize modern technology.

Areas of focus, as discussed by Hagel at the conference and in the memo, include: robotics and autonomous systems, miniaturization, so-called Big Data, and advanced manufacturing tools, such as 3D printing.

Hagel’s cautions about losing the warfare technology edge have been echoed by other Defense Department officials, such as Under-Secretary Frank Kendall. He says the U.S. has gotten “complacent” about its superior technologies, and have taken its status as a dominant military power “for granted.”

While the idea of equipping soldiers with modern weapons is easy to support, Hagel was notably vague about how the Initiative would take shape and what would be its scope. No spending estimate was provided for the project.

It’s also unclear how much time, effort, and money the Defense Department is willing to spend developing weapons that may or may not be effective on the battlefield, or even how new weapons’ viability will be determined.

It is accepted that other countries are closing the technology gap when it comes to defense. How to best respond is still up for debate.



Scott Bleiweis

Scott Bleiweis writes on international relations topics for FPA. He has a M.A. in democracy studies and conflict resolution from the University of Denver, and a B.A. in Politics/International Studies from Brandeis University. Scott was formerly a Fulbright education scholar in Bulgaria (views in this blog are his own, and do not represent those of the Fulbright organization or U.S. government).

Scott supports Winston Churchill's characterization of the complex form of government known as democracy: “Many forms of Government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”