Members of the Senate Armed Services Committee pushed for more technology advancement in their focus areas after hearing from two National Defense Panel members on the panelists’ investment priorities–highlighting the committee’s near-unanimous sentiment that defense spending needs to be much higher than sequestration allows.

Eric Edelman, a panel member and former undersecretary of defense for policy, said in his opening statement that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel asked the panel to take a close look at whether the Defense Department’s 20-year research and acquisition plan would actually “produce the weapons that 20 years from now we’ll be needing.”

Former undersecretary of defense for policy Eric Edelman, in a 2007 Pentagon press conference. DoD photo.
Former undersecretary of defense for policy Eric Edelman, in a 2007 Pentagon press conference. DoD photo.

As the panel discussed how to invest now to set up the future force for success, several technology areas emerged as “areas that we felt had not been given sufficient attention by the department and need a further look in the future.”

“I’ll just tick them off: arms; intelligence; surveillance and reconnaissance; space, because of our critical dependence on it; cyberspace; maintenance of air superiority; joint and coalition command and control, because of the partnerships we have and the fact that we may be fighting with other people; long-range strike; and electric and directed-energy weapons,” Edelman said.

Fellow panelist and former undersecretary for policy Michele Flournoy in her opening statement praised the Pentagon’s efforts to identify the right technologies to pursue but said there needed to be money behind these initiatives.  

“Our technological edge has long been an advantage, but it is not a given. In a world in which technology is proliferating, much of cutting edge technology is commercial and off- the-shelf,” she warned. “DoD has to have a smart and determined investment strategy to maintain its edge. I would personally applaud the Department’s efforts like the offset strategy and Defense Innovation Initiative. But we’ve got to have the investment dollars to pursue those initiatives.”

While not disagreeing with the need for investment in these key areas, some senators added priorities of their own to the list.

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) noted that the United States has “the oldest nuclear arsenal in the world, that most of our warheads are 30, 40 years old, and our delivery systems–we look at the triad, you’re looking at the B-52, maybe 50 years old.”

“You ticked off five of the areas that have not been given proper attention. This wasn’t one of those areas. Do you think it should be?” Inhofe asked Edelman.

Edelman agreed with Inhofe’s concerns, saying that he not only worried about “the inevitable corrosion and degradation of components…but also the loss of human capital because we’re not able to get the best and brightest minds in the field the way we used to be able to do.”

“I applaud the administration for the very good work it’s done and the B-61 modernization effort, but I do think there’s much more that needs to be done in this area,” Edelman continued. Noting the United States’ historical advantage in nuclear weapons but also the proliferation currently taking place around the globe, continuing to convince U.S. allies not to build their own nuclear stockpile will become even harder to do “if the appearance is that we’re not paying sufficient attention to the stockpile and to the modernization of our forces.”

Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) asked about investments in undersea warfare, saying “as I look at the attack submarine fleet size, this is something that we have even greater need for now, especially as we want to have a presence in the Asia Pacific region.”

Flournoy cautioned that maintaining undersea dominance “will require continued investment in the attack submarine fleet, but it’s also going to require investment in new technologies, such as unmanned undersea vehicles and how we network manned submarines and unmanned systems to leverage that capability to have much greater impact. So I think this is an area very ripe for some new thinking and developing, of both leveraging of new technologies and developing of new operational concepts. But your core premise about the importance of the attack submarine fleet I think is a very important advantage area that we want to maintain.”