Defense Department leaders want to equip troops with high technology as much focus — and much money — is now going toward modernization and innovation. But against a backdrop of struggles with readiness after more than 16 years of war, can the military both prepare for war and offer leading-edge tools to fight it?

The answer has not always been “yes.” But officials are serious about changing that, focusing on research and development that fosters U.S. military dominance, according to Ellen Lord, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics.

“We’re trying to strike that balance [between readiness and innovation], trying to get a very federated system of labs, [federally funded research and development centers], the Office of the Secretary of Defense and so forth and align them in terms of modernization,” Lord told the Senate Armed Services Committee in a Dec. 7 hearing.

“Instead of working on hundreds of projects, we’re trying to identify specific technology domains that we agree across the department are critical to really reach the overmatch capability we want to have.”

Right now, that specifically means areas such as hardened micro-electronics, hypersonics, and offensive and defensive cyber, Lord said.

The hope is that after the Feb. 1 split of the AT&L office into two new offices — the undersecretaries of Research and Engineering and Acquisition and Sustainment — will provide opportunity to not only boost research and development that accelerates modernization, but also ensure R&D remains in line with acquisition goals and activities.

“Quite simply we’re trying to push the risk into the research and development side with prototyping and experimentation … in order to understand costs and capabilities of new systems before pushing them to the [acquisition and sustainment] side,” Lord said. She added that she’s working on better incorporating streamlined acquisition processes that employ simpler contracting methodologies and tools like Other Transactional Authority.

Lord also said she’s leveraging other existing DoD innovation organizations, such as the Defense Innovation Board and the Defense Innovation Unit-Experimental, to tap into unrealized opportunities for the broader military.

One key area she said she’s emphasizing is software, where perhaps the most opportunity lies for innovation in contracting and development. She said she’s coordinating with Google executive Eric Schmidt, who heads up the Defense Innovation Board, as well as DIUx leadership to solve specific issues and partner with Silicon Valley companies.

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