WASHINGTON — The Pentagon rolled out its largest-ever innovation and modernization budget on Monday, requesting $145 billion from Congress in fiscal 2024 to fund programs aimed at boosting the U.S. Defense Department’s spending on critical technology while strengthening partnerships with industry.

The request, which is about $15 billion more than the FY23 ask, designates $1.4 billion for the connect-everything campaign known as Joint All-Domain Command and Control and $687 million for the Rapid Defense Experimentation Reserve, an effort spearheaded by Undersecretary of Defense Heidi Shyu that aims to fill high-priority capability gaps with advanced tech.

The details were disclosed in budget documents published March 13.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks said Monday that the spending request will help the Pentagon “build bridges with America’s dynamic innovation ecosystem, with the traditional defense industry and well beyond it.”

JADC2 is the Pentagon’s vision of a wholly connected military, where information can flow freely and securely to and from forces across land, air, sea, space and cyber. The complex endeavor likely will never have a formal finish line, defense officials say, and is fueled by cutting-edge communications kit and cybersecurity techniques, as well as an embrace of artificial intelligence.

Hicks on Monday described AI as one of several “key technology areas” for the Defense Department and highlighted the request’s $1.8 billion allocation for it. The Defense Department cataloged at least 685 ongoing AI projects in 2021, including several tied to major weapons systems, according to the Government Accountability Office.

Exactly how the Pentagon intends to apply the funding for JADC2 development was not immediately clear. The budget documents describe the money as necessary to “transform warfighting capability by delivering information advantage at the speed of relevance across all domains and partners.”

The figure for JADC2, while not “the biggest number in the budget,” Pentagon Comptroller Mike McCord said, is a “very central organizing concept of how we’re trying to link information together.”

Congress has sought to audit JADC2 spending and implementation. An overall price tag or metric for the endeavor is difficult to ascertain, as the Army, Air Force and Navy each have their own contributions, and certain details are considered too sensitive to share publicly.

Investing in innovation

The Pentagon’s $687 million funding request for its Rapid Defense Experimentation Reserve is a significant jump from last year’s $358 million spending proposal. Hicks said the money will help speed technology delivery by “hastening the pathway from joint concept to experimentation to fielding systems.”

The overview documents don’t offer granular detail on how that funding would be spent, and much of the experimentation itself is classified. The department is in the midst of soliciting ideas from industry and the military services for its third round of experimentation, which is focused on defending installations. Earlier rounds were geared toward long-range weapons and contested logistics.

Supply chain risk-reduction also features heavily in the Pentagon’s budget proposal. The request includes nearly $3.6 billion to address “critical vulnerabilities” in five industrial base sectors: microelectronics, casting and forging, batteries and energy storage, kinetic capabilities and strategic critical materials.

Finally, the budget also calls for $115 million in FY24 for the department’s Office of Strategic Capital, which it created in December to drive private sector investment in key technology areas to help the military services field new systems faster. Officials plan to release OSC’s first investment strategy this summer and announced earlier this month a plan to partner with the Small Business Administration to help fund and incubate high-need technologies.

Courtney Albon is C4ISRNET’s space and emerging technology reporter. She has covered the U.S. military since 2012, with a focus on the Air Force and Space Force. She has reported on some of the Defense Department’s most significant acquisition, budget and policy challenges.

Colin Demarest was a reporter at C4ISRNET, where he covered military networks, cyber and IT. Colin had previously covered the Department of Energy and its National Nuclear Security Administration — namely Cold War cleanup and nuclear weapons development — for a daily newspaper in South Carolina. Colin is also an award-winning photographer.

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