WASHINGTON — The Pentagon is “on track” to start soliciting ideas for its third round of joint rapid experimentation projects, which will focus on base defense, according to Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Heidi Shyu.
The forthcoming “sprint” is part of the Rapid Defense Experimentation Reserve, an initiative the U.S. Department of Defense took on last year to help address high-need capability gaps. The department selected its first projects last summer and is poised to begin experimentation efforts as soon as fiscal 2023 funding is available, Shyu told a small group of reporters during an Oct. 10 interview at the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual conference.
The first RDER sprint, which is the process the program uses to gather ideas from industry and the services, focused on long-range fires and the second on contested logistics. The program held an industry day in July and drew nearly 500 people from 190 companies.
Shyu said the engagement drew additional proposals for the first two experimentation rounds and noted that the department plans to maintain some reserve funding for each sprint so it can continue to solicit ideas in those areas as they arise.
“I don’t want to shut the door on any small company that could have a fantastic, novel idea,” she said. “As long as we have funding, we’re always interested.”
Congress appropriated $324 million for RDER in fiscal 2022, and the department requested $358 million in fiscal 2023. The Senate Appropriations Committee, concerned the department hasn’t developed sufficient plans to transition RDER technology into the services, wants to reduce that funding to $176 million, which would cut the Pentagon’s request in half.
“The committee encourages the department to continue the development, testing and experimentation of innovative joint force concepts,” lawmakers said in a July report accompanying its version of the fiscal 2023 defense spending bill. “However, experimentation and innovation absent defined program goals merely widen the ‘valley of death’ instead of addressing core programmatic and process challenges inside the department.”
The report also questioned whether RDER is distinct from existing joint exercises.
Shyu said she has met with committee members since the report was released to discuss the department’s plan for RDER and explain that the experiments will be directly connected to service needs. Asked whether those conversations have been fruitful, she said, “I think so.”
“We’ve had additional discussions with them, and I think what’s important is for us to be totally candid with them and to provide whatever information they’re looking for,” she 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.