November 3 saw the completion of the 2021 SERC Sponsor Research Review (SSRR). The program focused on the key research results of the SERC in the last year.
Participants experienced an insightful keynote by Mr. Maynard Holliday, Director of Defense Research and Engineering for Modernization. Mr. Holliday discussed the challenges of legacy systems that have to be tackled to enable modernization and how to prioritize technology and cost to address legacy challenges. One long-standing issue is improving on the ability to span the “valley of death”, enabling academic innovations to make it through implementation and distribution and into the hands of the warfighter. He highlighted the need for systems perspectives to be able to overcome these challenges.
Mr. Holliday emphasized that the Directorate for Modernization is exploring and executing on interrelationships and dependencies across modernization themes rather than treating them as disjointed sets, a paradigm shift in how these issues have previously been addressed. He also called upon the SERC and the broader academic community to help identify blind spots that the DoD has not yet identified as challenges and stated that the Department and the US at large should actively engage in setting global technological standards.
Mr. Holliday closed by calling on academia and industry to collaborate with the government to research, plan, develop, engineer, prototype, acquire, and transition technologies and systems rapidly to meet Defense modernization imperatives.
The keynote was followed by a panel on modernization priorities in the Department of Defense (DoD). The panel, led by SERC Chief Scientist, Dr. Dan DeLaurentis (Purdue), consisted of a number of leaders from the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering (OUSD(R&E)) Directorate for Modernization. Mr. Holliday joined the panel along with Mr. Ian Crone (Cyber), Dr. Jill Crisman (AI), Dr. Jaret Riddick (Autonomy), and Dr. Stephanie Rogers (Biotechnology). Panelists discussed the unique challenges in their fields. A few highlights of the AM panel included:
- Creating methods and approaches that ensure AI follows the commander’s intent and that make decisions/processing from AI auditable is a crucial step to ensuring that the DoD will be able to utilize the potential advantages of AI.
- There are commonalities between the cyber and SE communities and synergies to be gained if the two communities begin learning from one another.
- The Directorate for Modernization is looking to utilize technologies in non-traditional ways. One example was the use of biotechnology to support new construction methods on the battlefield, reducing the time and labor required for immediate need construction.
- Domestic supply chain resilience is critical. COVID has highlighted issues with our supply chain as well as the US vulnerabilities to biological threats. Systems engineering can provide important perspectives and tools for insight on the overarching US supply chain.
- The utilization of systems perspectives and methods has the potential to reduce threats to the warfighter and reduce the current resource challenges to support the warfighter.
- Autonomy in systems is a systems problem. The three autonomy strategies are prioritized as:
- Operational trust autonomy – there is a need for assurance cases, extensive testing, and products as well as approaches to have trust in the battlefield, in particular persistent efforts in trust.
- Acquisition pipeline – autonomy is ubiquitous in the battlefield. There is a need for acquisition in autonomous platforms and partnership with mission engineering to fight together. Consider if there is agility to see it mature over time. There is also a need for acquisition data to validate simulations.
- Counteract autonomy – mission engineering tools can be utilized to identify the gaps and how autonomous technologies can help to deal with the daunting challenges facing the nation and its allies.
The Principle Directors reiterated that their main goal and daily focus is to capture, coordinate, and communicate all sources of innovation activity in their modernization area, and are just now starting to use a collaboration platform to link their roadmaps.
The second panel of the day on Systems Engineering Modernization was moderated by Mr. Tom McDermott, SERC Deputy Director. The PM panel was hosted by Ms. Nadine Geier (OUSD(R&E)) consisted of leaders in the DoD and industry: Mr. Geoff Draper (L3 Harris), Mr. Chris Schreiber (Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company), Ms. Phil Zimmerman (USDS(R&E)).
The remainder of the program consisted of presentations by Principal Investigators and researchers across the SERC portfolio from the last year. There were five primary tracks: Digital Engineering, AI & Autonomy, Velocity, Security, and Human Capital Development.
We sincerely thank Mr. Holliday, Mr. Crone, Dr. Crisman, Dr. Riddick, Dr. Rogers, Ms. Geier, Mr. Draper, Mr. Schrieber, and Ms. Zimmerman as well as the dozens of SERC researchers who made the program a success.