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Panel of experts talk future of defense

  • Published
  • By Jessica Casserly
  • 66th Air Base Group Public Affairs

HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. – The Middlesex 3 Coalition, a non-profit organization focused on economic and workforce development, hosted a virtual Future of Defense roundtable with U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton via Zoom Feb. 10.

Moulton kicked off the discussion with a brief overview of the report produced by the Future of Defense Task Force, which he co-chaired in 2020. The task force was established to investigate and assess how to address complex emerging threats, retain economic and military competitiveness, and develop a “whole-of-nation approach” that embraces emerging technology and “harnesses ingenuity and innovation” from the private sector.

During his opening remarks, Moulton noted the significant role Massachusetts, and in particular the Merrimack Valley, has played in building tools and technologies to enhance national security.

“To make sure America continues to lead, we need to make some hard choices and smart investments,” he said. “Figuring out those decisions and where we need to invest is the whole point of the Future of Defense Task Force.”

Moulton also emphasized the importance of the work the task force did, noting the high cost of falling behind in the race for innovative technological advancement.

“Winning this race accords you the authority to set the rules of the road,” Moulton said. “When it comes to establishing future Geneva Convention guidelines on the use of artificial intelligence in the world, it’s really critical that [the United States] sets those rules.”

Moulton was joined by panelists from government, industry and academia, including Joe Bradley, director of the Cyber Resiliency Office for Weapon Systems and the director of Engineering and Technical Management for the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center at Hanscom.

Bradley said it’s important to find the next “national imperative” that is going to feed the pipeline and help create a workforce to meet the challenges laid out in the Future of Defense report.

“We talk a lot about the pipeline and bachelor’s degrees in science or engineering or mathematics, but we also have to look at the folks that don’t necessarily need a degree,” he said. “We need trained technicians and we need to think about how our community colleges and trade schools fit in to provide a complementary path.”

Partnership was a key theme throughout the discussion.

David Logan, vice president and GM, C4ISR Systems at BAE Systems, Inc., highlighted the importance of collaboration across government, industry, small business, and academia in order to succeed and stay on the cutting edge of technology and innovation.

“We know that a lot of the innovation that we are going to need in order to address the kinds of challenges that Congressman Moulton identified is going to come from all corners of the ecosystem,” he said. “Being a good partner is something that is very important.”

Bradley agreed and pointed to just one example of how Team Hanscom is working with allies in the Greater Boston innovation ecosystem.

“We’ve partnered with MassChallenge in downtown Boston on the Safety & Security Track to try to build that non-traditional pipeline,” he said.

Panelists also talked about having processes in place to help sustain and grow collaborative efforts with partners, especially startups.

Dr. Triveni Upadhyay, founder, president and CEO of Mayflower Communications, emphasized the need for things like the Small Business Innovation Research program to help startups collaborate with the Department of Defense.

“One of my recommendations would be resurrecting the rapid innovation program funding so that we can transition from SBIR to a program of record, and then all of us can benefit,” he said.

Moulton confirmed that he’s a “huge supporter and fan” of the SBIR program.

“I see SBIR in a broad context of innovative programs that we need to reform and reinforce to make sure that they’re better able to support these new innovations,” he said. “We need to make sure that when you have a new idea and a company with some innovative technology they actually see the DOD as a viable customer.”

The roundtable moderator, Julie Chen, vice chancellor for Research and Economic Development at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, also lead the group in discussing other needs, including speeding up acquisition, shortening fielding timelines, better utilizing dual-use technologies, improving training, and continuing to create workforce diversity.

“This is really just the beginning of a series of conversations,” said Middlesex 3 Coalition executive director Stephanie Cronin. “I know that we just touched the surface, so we have some work to do and we need to keep moving forward.”