April 9, 2015 / 11:04 PM / 5 years ago

U.S. eyes robotics, longer-range weapons to ensure edge over foes

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. military on Thursday announced new steps to speed up weapons development, cut red tape and tap innovation in the commercial sector, and said robotics and longer-range arms could play a key role in securing U.S. technological superiority.

Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work said urgent action was needed after three years of “chronic” underinvestment in new weapons and capabilities leading to what he called a “steady erosion of our technological superiority.”

Chief arms buyer Frank Kendall told reporters the third installment of the department’s “Better Buying Power” initiative was focused on shoring up U.S. superiority, while further streamlining the often cumbersome defense acquisition process.

He said the department was about halfway done with an assessment of longer-range research and development priorities that would help shape the Pentagon’s fiscal 2017 budget process.

Lockheed Martin Corp, Boeing Co and other companies have been waiting anxiously to see what priorities emerge from a new “Defense Innovation Initiative” announced by then-Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in November.

Kendall said some key ideas had already emerged for reframing U.S. weapons priorities, including a bigger focus on automation and robotics, greater collaboration among different weapons platforms, and operating at longer ranges due to advances in missile technology by potential adversaries.

He said the department was being open about its eroding military edge because officials were worried about the lack of funding, and the threat of further cuts if congressional budget caps are not lifted in fiscal 2016.

The latest U.S. acquisition guidelines include measures to shore up the cybersecurity of U.S. weapons systems, as well as steps to make it easier to use technologies developed by commercial firms and allies overseas.

The guidelines acknowledged the need for companies to earn an “appropriate profit,” and encouraged use of incentive fees to encourage better performance, investment in prototypes. They also aim for more performance-based logistics contracts allowing private firms to service weapons systems under fixed-price contracts.

Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Christian Plumb

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