NEW YORK — The U.S. Navy is creating an innovation center and an advisory board focused on science and technology as the service seeks to better invest its resources to stay ahead of potential adversaries in the long term, the Navy secretary told Defense News.
The Navy Innovation Center will be located at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, and will “focus on the truly transformational technology that we need, not just two years, five years down the road, but 10, 15 years down the road,” Carlos Del Toro said while traveling back from a visit to Columbia University in New York.
Early focus areas will include, but are not limited to, artificial intelligence, machine learning and quantum computing, he explained.
In justifying the move, Del Toro described an Obama administration-era effort to modernize NASA, transforming how the space agency did business and putting a greater emphasis on leveraging private sector innovation rather than developing everything in-house.
“They were crucified for that,” the secretary said, but investments mad by the private sector in the years since led to more rapid innovations in manned and unmanned space flights as well as low-Earth satellite orbits than the government could have accomplished alone.
The Marine Corps recently stood up its own innovation unit in Troy, New York, to leverage the expertise and connections of Marine reservists, and then pair developing tech with operations and concepts.
“It’s hard for government to keep up with that pace of innovation, and what I envision at the Navy’s innovation center is a really solid group of individuals there at the Naval Postgraduate School, and up in Troy, that are looking out and working with the most innovative individuals in society, whether it be Google, Amazon, Silicon Valley or some small business innovator in Idaho that comes up with these great ideas. That becomes a central hub of how we can work with those companies — medium, small, large companies — and innovate together,” Del Toro said.
The Navy in the last several years tightened its relationship with small businesses and academia to leverage their new products and research investments. A web of so-called Tech Bridges throughout the United States and globally provides a point of contact for a company or research group looking to pair ideas with a Navy or Marine community.
Del Toro said the Marine Innovation Unit and the Navy Innovation Center would not compete with the Tech Bridges but rather complement them by looking at broader tech development trends over a longer range of time, compared to the more immediate work the Tech Bridges do to put new gear in the hands of warfighters.
A soon-to-be established Department of the Navy Science and Technology Advisory Board will also help make strategic decisions about where to invest limited funds. Del Toro said the Navy selected individuals from a range of backgrounds for the board, and the White House will screen them before they formally join the board.
Megan Eckstein is the naval warfare reporter at Defense News. She has covered military news since 2009, with a focus on U.S. Navy and Marine Corps operations, acquisition programs and budgets. She has reported from four geographic fleets and is happiest when she’s filing stories from a ship. Megan is a University of Maryland alumna.