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DoD Undersecretary Frank Kendall Addresses Innovation and Defense Acquisition at NVTC Titans Breakfast

On May 19, about 400 members of the region's technology community gathered at The Ritz-Carlton, Tysons Corner for a Titans breakfast featuring Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Frank Kendall. Kendall is leading the Pentagon's focus on innovation, including efforts to transform the DoD through technology and improve the performance of the defense acquisition enterprise. During his address, Kendall focused on maintaining America’s military superiority, how federal budget challenges affect the Defense Department, and acquisition reform.

Frank Kendall.
Frank Kendall, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, addresses the Titans audience at The Ritz-Carlton, Tysons Corner on May 19, 2015.

Kendall shared that what keeps him up at night is that the U.S. is in danger of losing its military superiority to countries such as China and Russia. He expressed his concern that, while China has invested in modernizing its military, the U.S. military became complacent after the technology revolution that helped make operations in Iraq so successful post 9/11.

Kendall also discussed how sequestration has had a negative impact on the Defense Department, particularly in the areas of research and development (R&D), training, procurement and buying spare parts. While the country’s adversaries are growing their defense budgets, the U.S. is handcuffed by sequestration and will not be able to adequately compete, he said.

Addressing the Defense Department’s Better Buying Power effort, Kendall highlighted his focus on results and best practices in the areas that will make the most difference. He explained that DoD’s efforts are much more data focused now to help people make better acquisition decisions.

Finally, Kendall addressed the importance of research and development and innovation in the Defense Department’s ability to implement new technologies. He emphasized that procurement suffers when R&D is not completed due to budget cuts. Because of this, the new product pipeline has shrunk, and thus the implementation of new innovation is in decline. He also expressed the need to remove bureaucratic hurdles in the acquisition process in order get more value from every defense dollar the government spends.

Kendall also emphasized three important takeaways from his address: “that the U.S. technological superiority is not assured, that R&D is not a variable cost and that time is not recoverable.”

During a Q&A session with the audience, Kendall discussed the SBIR program, the importance of the nation’s STEM pipeline for the long term work of the DoD, and ways to get innovative companies to consider the Defense Department as a potential customer. He closed with a discussion of ways to balance defense and human rights issues, arguing that at strong military is crucial to the U.S.’s role as a stabilizing power focused on rights and values.