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DOD Under Secretary Seeks New Cyber Sensor, Autonomous Flight System

Defense leader Heidi Shyu created a new “strategic capital director” with the responsibility of finding funding for small businesses.

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image of Defense Under Secretary Heidi Shyu addresses attendees at Special Operations Forces Industry Conference (SOFIC) May 18, 2022.
Defense Under Secretary Heidi Shyu addresses attendees at Special Operations Forces Industry Conference (SOFIC) May 18, 2022. Photo Credit: NDIA

Defense Department Under Secretary for Research and Engineering Heidi Shyu outlined a few of her wishlist items for new cybersecurity and artificial intelligence programs during her keynote Wednesday at the Special Operations Forces Industry Conference (SOFIC) in Tampa, Florida.

Like many of the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) leaders who have spoken at the conference, Shyu focused more of her time highlighting information technology, cyber and intelligence systems programs versus platforms and weapons.

Sitting on stage with Lisa Sanders, SOCOM’s director of science and technology, Shyu was asked to identify cybersecurity and AI programs she is excited about. She said she couldn’t share too many details because of security clearances, but she did hint at two.

First, she identified the need to further develop AI technologies to fly autonomously in contested airspaces. The military has sought autonomous search and rescue aircraft to fly and pick up critically injured troops behind enemy lines.

Shyu also offered insight into the cybersecurity technologies she wants to use her budget to further develop.

“I’m interested in pushing technology toward developing a single sensor that has the ability to listen, ability to jam, ability to communicate, ability to inject — all in one,” Shyu said.

Currently, DOD has a wide variety of systems that tackle these security tasks, but Shyu made sure to emphasize that she wants to have one sensor achieve all four — listen, jam, communicate and inject.

Shyu highlighted a new fund called the Rapid Defense Experimentation Reserve. As the name implies, Shyu said the reserve will be spread across DOD to boost experimentation on multiple programs. DOD leaders requested $377 million over five years to fund the reserve, according to DOD’s budget request documents.

Shyu said DOD has already received over 200 white papers seeking funding through the reserve and has kickstarted the process to review those requests and issue funding in 2023.

Similar to the message delivered by SOCOM leaders all week, Shyu made sure to highlight the need to collaborate with small businesses. She said she visited SOCOM’s small business innovation tank, SOFWERX, in nearby Ybor City and came away impressed by the level of integration with users.

However, Shyu said she’s worried about small businesses running out of capital after using their funding through the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program.

Shyu said DOD needs to help small businesses find capital to keep their businesses afloat beyond the funding they receive through the SBIR program. She said she’s created a new position called the “strategic capital director” with the responsibility of finding funding for these small businesses.

The Air Force has a program, Shyu highlighted in her remarks. She explained how the service matches promising programs with the matching program executive office, which then provides an additional $1 million. The service then connects the company with partner venture capital firms that matches the total funding the company has already received.

“One of the things I’d like to do is take the process and the methodology and let’s bring it across DOD,” Shyu said.

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