WASHINGTON — The Pentagon’s chief technology office will soon brief Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks on the first slate of joint projects known as the Rapid Defense Experimentation Reserve.

Hicks observed the ongoing RDER experimentation round during a visit this week to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Oahu, Hawaii. There, as part of the annual Northern Edge exercise, operators showcased the ability to securely feed software into operational environments across the military services and intelligence community, according to a July 6 Pentagon news release.

The exercise is one of several summer demonstrations to feature RDER projects, including a Technology Readiness Experimentation event in June and a second slated for September in Indiana, plus a joint Grey Flag exercise in August hosted at Naval Air Station Point Mugu in California.

“Equipment currently being tested through these exercises includes systems to enhance the portability of secure communications, improve communications security, improve maritime communications, provide real-time language translation, and confuse enemy sensors and equipment,” the Defense Department said in the release.

Following this first round of RDER projects, the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, Heidi Shyu, will brief Hicks on the results to “support acquisitions decisions.” The statement did not specify the timing of the briefing.

Hicks directed Shyu to create the Rapid Defense Experimentation Reserve in 2021 to address near-term capability gaps that cut across the military services. Shyu and her office have since culled through hundreds of project proposals from the services and designed plans for three demonstration sprints. Following the first effort, which is focused on technology to support long-range fires, the second sprint will focus on contested logistics and the third on base defense.

The Pentagon’s fiscal 2024 budget request includes $687 million for RDER, nearly double its $358 million ask for fiscal 2023. Lawmakers have been cautiously supportive of the effort, appropriating $34 million for FY22 and $272 million for FY23.

In its FY24 defense spending bill, the House Appropriations Committee’s Defense Subcommittee praised the program, but called for improved digital infrastructure to manage the influx of commercial companies participating in efforts like RDER and other Pentagon science and technology projects.

In a report accompanying its bill, the subcommittee pointed out that while the Pentagon’s science and technology activities were once managed primarily by service-level labs, “anyone in the department who wants to start an innovation project” is now running these efforts.

“Unfortunately, adoption of digital tools has not kept up, undermining transition of the highest-impact capabilities,” the report said.

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.

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