Pentagon to sharpen tech edge with robotics, 3D printing, weaponry

No word on how the ambitious project will be afforded, though.

Image: CBS News

US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has warned that the Pentagon's technological edge is eroding, and the development of new technologies is necessary to maintain military dominance in the 21st century.

In a speech delivered at the Reagan National Defense Forum on Saturday, as reported by Reuters, Hagel announced new, ambitious plans to keep the US military sharp. The new "Defense Innovation Initiative" will include "an effort to develop and field new systems using technologies such as robotics, autonomous systems, miniaturization, big data and three-dimensional printing," according to the publication.

For example, the US military has already designed its own 3D printer as an alternative to commercial models, and low-cost models were sent to the front line to allow soldiers to repair weapons on the ground rather than wait weeks for parts to arrive, as noted by Dezeen.

However, these technologies are far from the military's usual domain, and both research and commercialization in these fields are dominated by universities, colleges, research institutes and IT companies. Hagel acknowledged this, and said the Pentagon plans to turn to these entities for help in the future.

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"We are entering an era where American dominance in key warfighting domains is eroding, and we must find new and creative ways to sustain, and in some areas expand, our advantages," Hagel said in a memo to Pentagon officials.

While investment in these technologies certainly has the potential to lower budget strain in the future — for example, switching expensive unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for cheap 3D printed variations alone could save thousands upon thousands a year — but while crawling out of a recession, such an initiative may not be feasible or advisable. Hagel said "new resources" would be poured into the plans, but considering the United States' debt has reached $17.075 trillion, those plans may be stopped in their tracks.

Hagel did not say how much would be spent on the Defense Innovation Initiative, and the figure is likely to be based on the country's fiscal 2016 defense budget — which is currently being drafted before being submitted to Congress in early 2015.

IHS Aerospace, Defense & Security analysts project that by 2020, the next five biggest spending countries will devote a combined $546 billion to defense, compared to $540 billion by the United States.

The project will be led by US Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work.

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