Pentagon eyes $12-15 billion for early work on new technologies

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Pentagon’s fiscal 2017 budget request will include $12 billion to $15 billion to fund war gaming, experimentation and the demonstration of new technologies aimed at ensuring a continued military edge over China and Russia, Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work said on Monday.

The U.S. military plans to invest in autonomous weapons and deep-learning machines that draw on advances in artificial intelligence, with a heavy focus on human-machine collaboration and teaming in combat, Work said.

“This is designed to make the human more effective in combat,” he said at a conference hosted by the Center for a New American Security.

“We believe that the advantage we have is ... our people; that tech-savvy people who’ve grown up in the iWorld will kick the crap out of people who grew up in the iWorld under an authoritarian reign.”

The Pentagon would work closely with Congress to ensure enduring support for the military’s new technology focal point, Work said, while continuing to lower costs and speed up its acquisition system.

The Pentagon would keep its work in these areas strictly classified, while announcing specific accomplishments to help deter potential adversaries, he said.

“I want our competitors to wonder what’s behind the black curtain,” Work said.

The new technologies include wearable electronics, exoskeletons, greater use of drones and manned aircraft working together, and mother ships that would send out mini-drones to execute military missions, he said.

Top U.S. weapons makers, including Lockheed Martin Corp LMT.N, Boeing Co BA.N and Northrop Grumman Corp NOC.N await clues on which programs will be funded in the fiscal 2017 defense budget being finalized by Pentagon officials this month.

These efforts could lead to a system that would allow a missile to independently identify and analyze previously unknown enemy defenses, propose alternatives and enable military commanders to adjust course while still in combat, instead of waiting for later “lessons learned.”

There was “a lot of skepticism” within the Defense Department over whether the military would be able to perfect and protect such a network, he said, though he was convinced such weapons are “not only possible, but ... a requirement.”

The United States would continue to seek cooperative engagement and relations with Russia and China over the long term, but viewed it as essential to strengthen its conventional deterrence position and “do things smarter,” Work said.

Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Bernadette Baum