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Defense to influence tech industry to develop systems useful to military

Retired Vice Adm. Arthur Cebrowski, head of the Defense Department's office for modernizing the military, said on Thursday that he will seek to influence commercial technology development at the earliest stages to encourage more appropriate military technologies.

"We need to broaden the technology base and marketplace and influence it so we're better positioned to take advantage of what's there," Cebrowski said. The military also should promote entrepreneurial activity, he said, adding that the way to accomplish those goals is by working with venture-capital firms.

He made the comments at the "Commercial Information Technology for Defense Transformation" conference sponsored by National Defense University, the Information Technology Association of America and the Computer Coalition for Responsible Exports. Cebrowski is the director of force transformation at Defense, with the mandate of transforming military capabilities "from the industrial age to the information age," he said.

The idea to influence technology development further upstream came from research that his office conducted recently. Most of the transformation proposals received from industry were from large, traditional defense contractors, but a "not insignificant" portion came from very small firms, he said. Often, small firms' technologies eventually will be bought by the larger firms and then shared with the military, but Cebrowski said it might be possible to influence technology development before it reaches that buyout stage.

He said the venture-capital community has been "very responsive" to the suggestion that they act as "tech finders" for the military, but now the next step rests with the Pentagon. "We'll see what happens," he said.

Cebrowski said the United States spends "most of the world's money with regards to defense," and, in doing so, should adapt to change. To address change and the new types of decentralized and unpredictable threats, the military is moving into "network-centric" warfare, he said.

Cebrowski said the "cultural bias" in the military is toward hierarchy but added that networking, where different nodes can connect directly without going to the top of the chain, is a better approach now. He also said a technical change that the military must address is the prevalence of ubiquitous, low-cost technologies, which lowers barriers to competition.

The joint forces of the military face "very severe joint problems" in applying information technology, Cebrowski said. A special problem is "last mile" interoperability among their devices, he said. Systems may be able to communicate at higher levels of command, but a soldier on the ground and pilot in the air above sometimes cannot view the same computerized information on a target that the other sees, which leads to delays as higher-level tactical command has to relay communications.

"The network has more power and is more survivable than the old hierarchy," he said.

Margaret Myers, Defense's deputy chief information officer, said in the move to a data-centric approach, the military is trying to build security requirements so each piece of information is tagged for who can see it. "We do know the Achilles Heel [of a network-centric approach] is security," she said.