WASHINGTON — With funding “finally” in hand, the Pentagon can start a series of advanced technology demonstrations for which its research and engineering team has planned during the last two years, according to the department’s top technology officer.

Heidi Shyu, the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, said this week that the Defense Department began to execute four of the projects in the Rapid Defense Experimentation Reserve’s first series of exercises — or sprint — which will focus on technologies that support long-range fires.

“We’re going to be off and running, demonstrating these prototypes in a contested environment,” Shyu said March 15 at the McAleese & Associates conference. “It can’t work just in a lab. It’s got to work in a real environment, and that’s exactly what we’re focused on.”

The Pentagon created the Rapid Defense Experimentation Reserve, or RDER, in 2021 to address high-need capability gaps across the military. Since then, Shyu and her office have culled through hundreds of project proposals from the services and crafted plans for three demonstration sprints. Following the long-range fires effort, the second sprint will focus on contested logistics and the third on base defense.

The department requested $687 million for RDER in its fiscal 2024 budget — nearly double the $358 million it asked for last year. Congress appropriated $272 million for the program in FY23 and $34 million the previous year for the effort, funding that Shyu said helped the department start the first series of demonstrations.

The growth in the FY24 spending request, which was released this week, is required to support the second and third sprints, she added.

The details of the sprints are classified, so it’s unclear what specific projects they’ll support. The first series includes demonstrations with the United Kingdom and Australia, Shyu said, adding that RDER sprints will take place as part of joint exercises, including U.S. Indo-Pacific Command’s annual Northern Edge training event scheduled for May.

“We’re leveraging multiple experiments and exercises that are being conducted in different parts of the world,” she said.

Courtney Albon is C4ISRNET’s space and emerging technology reporter. She has covered the U.S. military since 2012, with a focus on the Air Force and Space Force. She has reported on some of the Defense Department’s most significant acquisition, budget and policy challenges.

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