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Using American Innovation to Improve Our Defense

We must ensure that our service members get the full benefits of technological advancements pioneered by the very people they are tasked with defending.

Give them every advantage we can.Photographer: Mazen Mahdi/AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. Department of Defense was responsible for nearly 33% of global R&D in the 1960s. Over 33% of global R&D. These investments paved the way for the internet, semiconductors, and a slew of other technological breakthroughs that have altered our lives forever.

Only around 3% of worldwide R&D goes to the Defense Department today. At the same time, business R&D in the United States has reached a new high, accounting for 70% of total R&D.

Given that the vast bulk of technology innovation occurs outside the federal government, how does the Pentagon keep up? And how can we ensure that our service members reap the full benefits of technologies developed by the people they’re tasked with protecting?

We all want to ensure they have the best tools possible, especially as the world becomes increasingly chaotic and interconnected. We are responsible for guaranteeing that the Pentagon has access to the most cutting-edge advances in data, information sharing, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, and a variety of other critical areas for national security.

Because members of the military risk their lives for us, America may continue to be the most accessible and prosperous country on the planet. There is no more deserving use of the private sector’s assets than assisting service members in their duties.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin recently asked me to chair the Defense Innovation Board and assist him in recruiting new members from across the United States corporate and academic communities to assist the military in using private-sector views on technology and organizational innovation to build coordinated deterrence across the agency.

The board was established to assist the United States military in maintaining its technological edge in the tools that our service members use daily, such as data and intelligence gathering systems that can make the difference between a successful flight and a failure as well as life and death.

Two months after the September 11 attacks, I was elected mayor of New York. In my first year in office, I traveled to Afghanistan to meet U.S. troops, delivering FDNY and NYPD gear as well as the thanks of our community. I had the opportunity to tell the troops how much their service was valued and admired by all of us back home during lunch in an outdoor mess hall.

My principal obligation at City Hall was to protect residents’ lives and health from another terrorist attack. It wasn’t unusual for me to see how difficult it was to overcome resistance to new technology and ways of working throughout government.

Years had passed since I had attempted to persuade my Wall Street business, Salomon Brothers, to No one was interested in a computer system to digitize data because pen and paper and ticker tape had served us well for over a century. Isn’t it true that if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it? Wrong. When a company or government stops looking ahead, it begins to slip behind.

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