Defense One Tech Summit wrap up: Leidos’ view on bringing commercial technology to the warfighter at speed and scale
Commercial technology advances rapidly, providing consumers and businesses with a stream of impressive new products and services at a relatively low cost. But the special requirements of the defense world raise an important question: How to fit commercial innovation into those special defense needs to advance the warfighter's capabilities in less time and lower cost than traditional defense industrial base (DIB) development?
That's the question tackled by Kevin Fogarty, chief technology officer of the Leidos Defense Group, speaking at the 2023 Defense One Tech Summit. “Speed is critical, and commercial technology is certainly delivering that," said Fogarty. “But we also need security and scale if we're going to bring technology to the fight. It's combining all three that gives us a differentiating edge."
The defense industry has reason to envy the innovation and rapidity of the commercial world, said Fogarty. “Their development environments are creating technology and inserting it into products and applications with a speed we've just never seen before," he says. “Just consider the way SpaceX's Starlink has deployed thousands of satellites in just the past few years, something the DoD and DIB couldn't have accomplished. That has the warfighter's attention, and it definitely has our adversaries' attention."
As an example of the DoD's need for speed, Fogarty pointed out that China now has more deployed naval assets than the U.S. “Our normal multi-year or even multi-decade pace of procurement and development just isn't going to be able to keep up. We have to look to technological innovation from the commercial sector to catch up."
Merging tech and mission
That doesn't mean simply throwing off-the-shelf technology at defense applications, Fogarty pointed out. “We need to look where commercial technology is headed, and where our customer's mission is going," he explained. “Then we have to determine where those two things intersect, and how to do it at scale."
Going back to the China naval example, Fogarty noted that Leidos has worked at that intersection in order to help the U.S. Navy narrow the gap. “We're integrating commercial off-the-shelf sensors into the Sea Hunter and Sea Hawk programs to provide vision and communications for smaller, uncrewed ships," he said. “That means we can get a higher number of assets into the field at a reasonable cost and timeline."
The National Defense Science and Technology Strategy is helping with the effort to bring commercial development speed and innovation to defense. “It's fostering a more vibrant ecosystem that makes commercial development and DIB development complementary processes," he explained.
Those advantages are already playing out in software development, he added. “Everyone is paying attention to the open architectures and standards put out by the DoD," he noted. “We're already seeing the benefits in space imaging, which has allowed the rapid sharing of well-defined and formatted imaging information in Ukraine and elsewhere. That's given more warfighters access to more data, and data that's more reliable."
Fogarty expects the same advantages to play out in hardware development. He points to additive manufacturing as a technology being refined in the commercial world with important potential applications in defense. “With all the complex parts that go into our weapons systems and other DoD platforms, commercial leaders in additive manufacturing are helping us reduce time and get things into the field quickly," he said.
Bridging two worlds
Leidos has been extremely active in bridging the commercial and DoD worlds, said Fogarty. He noted that Leidos has been at the forefront of efforts to bring rapid testing and demonstrations to more projects, pointing to Leidos' MACH-TB program aimed at testing hypersonic weapons. “That program is designed to step up the cadence of testing," he said. “We've had a goal of getting the test schedule from two or three times a year down to monthly tests."
Fogarty emphasized that as commercial technology finds its way into the defense world, it's more important than ever to be uncompromising on cybersecurity. “The Solar Winds attack was a wake-up call for all of us," he said. “Now we have a National Cybersecurity Strategy that gives direction to the industry, and the results will provide warfighters with a level of resilience that adversaries won't be able to counter."
In the coming years, said Fogarty, commercial advances in quantum computing and artificial intelligence will be moving into defense. “The commercial world is great at creating these foundational, game-changing technologies in ways that the DoD and DIB aren't going to match," he explained. “Now we need to expand these capabilities into those that provide orchestration of information and decisions in a contested environment. We don't want to use AI to answer funny questions, we want it to give the warfighter a distinct advantage."
Integrating commercial development with defense needs is an ongoing process, Fogarty noted. “We're going to keep expanding commercial sources of technology so that we can bring more and more of it to the fight," he said.
View Kevin Fogarty’s full remarks below.