WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Defense is facing a $5 billion shortfall across its lab and testing infrastructure, and a new innovation steering group is working to identify which of those needs are most critical and find ways to fund them.

The group, led by Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Heidi Shyu, has been reviewing infrastructure needs across the DoD’s labs and testing facilities to better understand what capabilities the services need to support science and technology efforts. Speaking during a Jan. 19 Potomac Officers Club event, Shyu said the review has highlighted the scope of the need and the steering group is now working to understand the possible repercussions of that capability and funding gap.

“I need to understand from the $5 billion, which ones are most critical,” Shyu said. “If I don’t fund this, what happens? What are the implications if we don’t fund that?”

Shyu didn’t offer details on what elements of the infrastructure need the most attention and said she will brief members of Congress on the findings by the end of this month. She noted that as her team continues to “tease out the details,” they’ll likely look to industry to help fill the gap.

“If industry has it, maybe we can go through them,” she said. “We don’t have to duplicate everything industry is doing.”

Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks directed the steering group’s creation in March, tasking it with identifying impediments to embracing innovation within the department and recommending changes. Shyu serves as chair and the group is made up of representatives from the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the combatant commands, the military services and several of the Pentagon’s innovation-oriented organizations.

While the laboratory infrastructure review has been one of its primary initiatives, Shyu highlighted three others: Creating an inventory of innovative organizations in the department; developing a better mechanism to transition technology from small business innovative research efforts into programs of record, and standing up the Rapid Defense Experimentation Reserve, which will fund demonstration campaigns focused on high-need capability gaps across the services.

For the innovation inventory, Shyu said the intent is to better understand the roles and responsibilities of the Pentagon organizations tasked with driving innovation throughout the department.

The group also wants a better sense of what sorts of budgets the organizations are working with, what processes they use to award contracts and what they’ve procured to date. Part of the goal, Shyu said, is to make it easier for companies to engage with these organizations.

Shyu is working more closely with federally-funded research and development centers, and is meeting quarterly with their CEOs to talk about some of the Pentagon’s toughest technology challenges.

On the industry side, Shyu convenes quarterly meetings with the chief technology officers from the top seven defense prime contractors to discuss critical technology needs and how the companies may be able to direct internal research and development funds to address them. She also meets regularly with smaller companies and non-traditional commercial companies to better understand the challenges of working with the department and to better align with their processes.

Courtney Albon is C4ISRNET's space and emerging technology reporter. She previously covered the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Space Force for Inside Defense.

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