WASHINGTON Technology can provide important leverage to help the Defense Department cut costs and increase the efficiency of military spending, the Pentagon's chief technology officer said on Thursday.
Zachary Lemnios, director of defense research and engineering, emphasized the Pentagon's new cost-cutting drive is aimed at freeing up cash to sustain U.S. forces and fund needed modernization, not lower the overall defense budget.
"The efficiencies initiative is an important thing to do. I see technology as a leverage for that," he told reporters at a briefing in Washington.
He said his office was already working hard to get new technologies to troops on the battlefield more quickly and respond to hundreds of "joint urgent operational needs" requests from military commanders, while trying to ensure continued investment in longer-term pure research.
"We take every one of these seriously," he said.
Lemnios said one project launched six months ago to protect helicopters from small arms fire by adapting a system developed for use on military Humvees that listens for the sound of bullets and triangulates to fix their location.
Sikorsky Aircraft, a unit of United Technologies Corp, had fitted four helicopters with 16 microphones that were currently being tested and were scheduled for use in Afghanistan beginning in October.
Working closely with military commanders, the department had also been able to buy and field 13 smaller aerostats, or air ships built by Lockheed Martin Corp and other companies, to provide continuous surveillance over military bases in Afghanistan, Lemnios said.
He also cited the development and deployment of thousands of more agile mine-resistant trucks in Afghanistan in less than a year, comparing it to accelerated U.S. military efforts to get weapons to troops during World War Two.
The focus now, he said, was clearly on innovation, speed and agility. He said the department was trying to respond to urgent military needs in a matter of "days and weeks" rather than the years and decades spent on programs in the past.
His office was also studying new weapons programs closely and trying to identify risks earlier, a move that could generate enormous savings compared with the cost of making changes after programs were in work for years, Lemnios said.
"We're actually doing that. That's our day job," he said.
Lawmakers and watchdog agencies have urged the Pentagon for years to monitor weapons programs more carefully, given massive cost overruns and chronic schedule delays on most programs.
Better technologies could also help speed up analysis of the enormous amounts of surveillance, intelligence and reconnaissance data being collected over the battlefield, also leading to big savings, Lemnios said.
The Pentagon's annual spending of about $2 billion on basic research should remain steady in coming years, Lemnios said. The challenge, he said, was to find "bright ideas" and "game-changing" technologies, especially in the areas of cybersecurity and computational science involving algorithms and more predictive analysis.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal-Esa; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)