Overview of U.S. DoD critical technology areas

Read about the 14 technologies of interest to the U.S. military, departments that are spearheading activities in each area, and how Canadian businesses can be part of the change.

The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) is in an era of accelerated modernization as it shifts its focus away from counterterrorism and toward peer and near-peer competition, modernization, and rapid technological innovation.

To help achieve its modernization objectives, the U.S. DoD has articulated its science and technology priorities, goals, and investments through its National Defense Science and Technology Strategy (NDSTS)., which emphasizes the 14 critical technology areas detailed in the DoD’s CTO’s Strategic Vision and are needed to create and field capabilities at speed and scale.

From advanced computing and software to renewable energy storage, the critical technology areas are shaping the Department and in this blog we review the 14 areas, list units supporting development and how Canadian businesses can be part of these initiatives.

Seed areas of emerging opportunity

From fighting global pandemics to reducing logistics and sustainment costs, biotechnology can help change how the Department conducts missions, performs in contested logistics environments, and adapts to major global changes.

Biotechnology subfields of interest to the U.S. DoD include nucleic acid and protein synthesis; genome and protein engineering, including design tools; multi-omics and other biometrology, bioinformatics, predictive modelling, and analytical tools for functional phenotypes; engineering of multicellular systems; engineering of viral and viral delivery systems; and biomanufacturing and bioprocessing technologies.

For those in the biomanufacturing space, the Department of Defense recently released its Biomanufacturing Strategy, which guides research efforts, industry partnerships, and allied relationships. Biomanufacturing is the use of biological mechanisms in manufacturing and could impact the production of fuels, chemicals, and even construction materials. The field also has the potential to enable the creation of biologically based environmental sensors, wearable technology, and materials with wholly novel properties. The department is interested in investing in areas that will allow it to address critical shortfalls in military capability and build enduring advantage in biomanufacturing by retaining domestic ability.

One department leading in this area is DARPA’s Biological Technologies Office. It is helping the Department of Defense expand technology-driven capabilities to detect novel threats and protect U.S. force readiness, support warfighter readiness, and focus on operational biotechnology for applying biological solutions to non-biological problems. The site provides more information about the program and opportunities. The Defense Innovation Unit also has a biotechnology community of interest that is worth looking over.

From more accurate information and faster decision-making to significantly stronger encryption capabilities, quantum science promises to deliver cutting-edge technology. Applications of interest include atomic clocks; quantum computing; materials, isotopes, and fabrication techniques for quantum devices; post-quantum cryptography; quantum sensing and quantum networking.

As outlined in the DoD Strategic Management Plan FY 2022-2026, the Department has allocated funding for prototype demonstration of quantum clocks and sensors, demonstration of quantum sensors and clocks in the operational environment and Low-Small Size Weight and Power (SWaP), low-cost quantum sensor and clocks for new and sustainable warfighter capabilities.

For those looking for more information and connections, the National Quantum Initiative is the source and gateway to quantum R&D across the U.S. government. It lists Quantum Information Science (QIS) centers, core programs, industry events and other resources.

FutureG is a suite of emerging wireless network technologies enabled by DoD and commercial industry cooperation to allow military operations and ensure a free and open internet. As Fifth Generation (5G) wireless technology is adopted and provides building blocks for capability, the DoD will also look to FutureG for leap-ahead technologies to lead in creating future standards.

The DoD Strategic Management Plan FY 2022-2026 states that FutureG targets include (1) creating software-defined radios for electronic warfare hardening and cyber protection; (2) developing advanced networking protocols and encryption for ubiquitous, small, low-power military devices; (3) and advancing the maturation of technologies into capabilities for warfighters.

The FutureG Office within the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering works to adopt, adapt, and advance commercial technologies. More recently, it has expanded its reach internationally, strengthening NATO and Allied partnerships through research and collaboration.

In addition to future-generation wireless technologies, the U.S. DoD is interested in radio-frequency (RF) and mixed-signal circuits, antennas, filters, and components; spectrum management technologies; optical links and fibre technologies; terrestrial/undersea cables; satellite-based communications; hardware, firmware, and software; communications and network security; and mesh networks/infrastructure independent communication technologies.

Advanced materials explore innovative new materials and novel manufacturing techniques that can dramatically improve many of the Department’s capabilities. Materials that have higher strength, lighter weight, higher efficiency, and can handle more extreme temperatures will protect service members better and enhance their ability to accomplish their missions.

Subfields of interest in advanced engineering materials include materials by design and material genomics, materials with new properties, materials with substantial improvements to existing properties and material property characterization and lifecycle assessment.

For those looking to learn more, the Materials Genome Initiative is a federal multi-agency initiative that includes the U.S. DoD for discovering, manufacturing, and deploying advanced materials twice as fast and at a fraction of the cost compared to traditional methods. The initiative creates policy, resources, and infrastructure to support U.S. institutions in adopting methods for accelerating materials development.

Other potential resources are the Materials & Manufacturing Processes (M&MP) Communities of Interest at the Defense Innovation Marketplace and the Defense Systems Information Analysis Center (DSIAC), which provides information research and analysis for ten technical focus areas including advanced materials.

Effective adoption areas

Trusted AI with trusted autonomous systems is imperative to dominate future conflicts. As AI, machine learning, and autonomous operations mature, the DoD will focus on evidence-based AI assurance and enabling operational effectiveness.

AI subtopics of interest to the DoD include machine learning; deep learning; reinforcement learning; sensory perception and recognition; next-generation AI planning, reasoning, and decision making; and safe and secure AI. DoD is also interested in autonomous systems and robotics for surface, air, maritime and space applications.

The DoD recently announced the creation of a new entity to oversee the development and integration of artificial intelligence capabilities within U.S. national security systems. The AI Security Center will focus on developing best practices, evaluation methodology and risk frameworks to promote the secure adoption of new AI capabilities across the national security enterprise and the defence industrial base.   

The Defense Department also recently released its strategy to accelerate the adoption of AI capabilities to support U.S. warfighters. The Pentagon’s 2023 Data, Analytics and Artificial Intelligence Adoption Strategy  prescribes an agile approach to AI development and application. It emphasizes speed of delivery and adoption at scale, leading to five specific decision advantage outcomes – superior battlespace awareness and understanding; adaptive force planning and application; fast, precise and resilient kill chains; resilient sustainment support and efficient enterprise business operations.

Integrated Network Systems-of-Systems technology encompasses the capability to communicate, provide real-time dissemination of information across the Department, and effective command and control in a contested electromagnetic environment.

Integrated Network Systems-of-Systems capability must enable engagements by any sensor and shooter, with the ability to integrate disparate systems. An interoperable network that leverages emerging capabilities across the electromagnetic spectrum, such as 5G, software-defined networking and radios, and modern information exchange techniques, will allow the Department to integrate many diverse mission systems better and provide fully networked command, control, and communication that is capable, resilient, and secure.

Virtually every military and commercial system relies on microelectronics. Working closely with industry, academia, and Government, the Department leverages state-of-the-art commercial development and production for defence microelectronic solutions.

Subtopics of interest in semiconductors and microelectronics include design and electronic design automation tools; manufacturing process technologies and manufacturing equipment; beyond complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) technology; heterogeneous integration and advanced packaging; specialized/tailored hardware components for artificial intelligence, natural and hostile radiation environments, RF and optical components, high-power devices, and other critical applications; novel materials for advanced microelectronics; and wide-bandgap and ultra-wide-bandgap technologies for power management, distribution, and transmission.

For FY2024, the DoD budget request includes about $145 billion for research, development, testing and engineering. That request is 12% higher than in FY2023 and represents department history’s most significant request. According to Heidi Shyu, DoD’s undersecretary for research and engineering, microelectronics gets about $1.7 billion in funding. In comparison, integrated sensing and cyber gets about $1.2 billion, and integrated network systems-of-systems get about $763 million.

The Defense Microelectronics Activity (DMEA) delivers microelectronics solutions to meet the needs of the Department of Defense (DoD) and includes four programs:

  • Trusted Access Program – ensuring access to cutting-edge microelectronics and accrediting trusted suppliers
  • Advanced Technology Support Program – accelerating microelectronics acquisition and providing technical oversight
  • Organic Engineering – providing flexible, full-spectrum microelectronics solutions
  • Radiation Testing – delivering secure, cost-effective radiation qualification testing and research

The NSA provides several microelectronic resources including guidance on assurance processes and best practices. DARPA, along with companies from the semiconductor and defense industries have initiated the Joint University Microelectronics Program (JUMP) with six research centers for high-risk, high-payoff research in microelectronic technologies. You can find information about upcoming events and programs through the DARPA website.

Space technologies include space flight, space communication and other technologies needed to maintain space operations. Novel space technologies are necessary to enable resilient cross-domain operations and

subfields of interest include on-orbit servicing, assembly, and manufacturing; commoditized satellite buses; low-cost launch vehicles; sensors for local and wide-field imaging; space propulsion; resilient positioning, navigation, and timing (PNT); cryogenic fluid management; and entry, descent, and landing.

According to the Space Policy Review and Strategy on Protection of Satellites (Sep 2023), the DoD FY 2024 budget request has the most significant space budget ever – $33.3 billion, a nearly 13 percent increase from the previous year. It requests funds for three areas – to assure critical space-based missions, strengthen the ability to detect and attribute hostile acts in, from, and to space, and protect from adversary hostile uses of space.

The U.S. DoD is also looking to enhance the ability to preserve access to space and ensure it can continue to provide critical space-based services to the Joint Forces in crisis and conflict. FY2024 budget includes requests to advance and expand the architectures of space-based sensors that provide indications and warning of threats to space systems; funding for ground and space-based sensors, deep space radar, and ground-based optical systems; and to produce highly accurate, rapidly available detection, tracking, and characterization of space objects, regardless of their origin.

The Space Development Agency (SDA) is a good source of information and opportunities for space-related technologies. Another department to check out is the U.S. Space Command which works with allies and partners, and plans, executes, and integrates military space power.

Renewable energy generation and storage includes solar wind, bio-based and geothermal technologies, advanced energy storage, electronic engines, and power grid integration and promises to decrease warfighter vulnerability and deliver new operational capabilities. Subfields of interest to the U.S. DoD include renewable and sustainable fuels, energy storage, electric and hybrid engines, batteries, grid integration, and energy-efficiency technologies.

In terms of budget allocation, according to the U.S. DoD’s Enhancing Combat Capability – Mitigating Climate Risk (March 2023), FY 2024 budget requests include:

  • $3.66 billion for Installation Resilience and Adaptation – (1) adapting military facilities to withstand increasingly challenging conditions and deploying advanced technologies to strengthen the ability to recover from disruptions to public infrastructure rapidly; (2) improving installation energy, mission resilience, and water resilience; and (3) modernizing Department operations to keep pace with industry.
  • $106 million for Operational Energy – gaining capability and reducing logistics supply requirements using digital flight planning tools, programs to optimize turbine engine compressor performance, and aircraft drag reduction technologies.
  • $1.32 billion for Research, Development, Test, and Evaluation (RDT&E) – (1) accelerate the development of hybrid tactical vehicles, (2) prototyping of new platforms like blended wing body aircraft that have the potential to increase range and payload; (3) advanced energy storage and energy management systems.
  • $54 million for Contingency Preparedness – (1) incorporate climate risks into wargames, exercises, and other planning tools; (2) work with allies and partners, support for Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR), and Defense Support to Civil Authorities (DSCA) activities.

The Department of Defense Operational Energy Strategy (May 2023) provides details about commercial technologies and trends that the U.S. DoD is eyeing to reduce energy demand, introduce energy substitution and diversification, enhance supply chain resilience, and enhance enterprise-wide visibility of energy supply and demand.

Advanced computing has surpassed traditional computing in processing power, speed, and versatility. With the explosion of big data, machine learning, and artificial intelligence, advanced computing and software have become critical technology areas. Subfields of interest to the U.S. DoD include supercomputing, edge computing, cloud computing, data storage, computing architectures, and data processing and analysis techniques.  

Advanced computing offices and programs with the DoD that may be of interest include:

  • High-Performance Computing Modernization Program (HPCMP) provides the supercomputing capabilities, high-speed network communications and computational science expertise that enable DoD scientists and engineers to conduct a wide range of focused research and development, test and evaluation, and acquisition engineering activities.
  • C4I COIs (Command, Control, Communications, Computers & Intelligence Community of Interest) establish priorities and guidance, monitor current and planned investments in science and technology (S&T) including but not limited to Networks, Command & Control (C2), and Data to Decision efforts. The CoIs will identify gaps, establish and maintain a set of S&T roadmaps to guide DoD research program investments, perform portfolio assessments, and provide future resource recommendations to leadership.
  • The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Strategic Technology Office (STO) develops and delivers solutions at a speed and scale to be operationally relevant, moving from the project initiation to proof of concept in just a few years. It leverages advancements in technologies such as advanced microelectronics, increased computing capacity, and applied machine learning/artificial intelligence to pursue solutions in advanced active and passive sensing, battlefield effects, command, control and communications, systems of autonomous systems, and empowered human decision-making.

Human-machine interfaces (HMI) enable seamless communication between people and technology. From improving accessibility for people with disabilities to creating new modes of interaction with machines, the future of human-machine interfaces will likely focus on more intuitive and adaptive interfaces that allow for more natural and responsive interaction. Subfields of interest to the DoD include augmented reality, virtual reality, brain-computer interfaces and human-machine teaming.

Offices and programs with the DoD that may be of interest include the Special Operations Forces Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics (SOF AT&L) Center which is responsible for all USSOCOM (United States Special Operations Command) research, development, acquisition, procurement, and logistics. It works closely with government, academia, and industry to meet its mission to provide warfighters with rapid and focused acquisition, technology, and logistics support.

Aother office to consider is the Office of the Director, Operational Test and Evaluation (DOTE) which is focused test and evaluation infrastructure, tools, methods and processes, and skillsets. It is also watching science and technology development to see what kinds of systems to test in the future to prepare the DoD T&E ecosystem. 

Defense-Specific Areas

Directed Energy (DE) technology includes energy beams like lasers, particle beams and high-powered microwaves. The technology has the potential to replace traditional weapon systems and could improve the military’s capabilities in areas like missile defence, aircraft interception and non-lethal applications. The DOD spends about $1 billion annually on directed energy application and has pursued these potentially transformative technologies for decades.

DOD-directed energy programs are coordinated by the Principal Director for Directed Energy within the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering (OUSD[R&E]). In addition to managing the directed energy roadmap, OUSD(R&E) manages the High Energy Laser Scaling Initiative (HELSI), which provides near-term prototyping opportunities for industry partners.

Other offices actively involved in directed energy applications include the  Office of Naval Research,  the Air Force Research Laboratory, DARPA’s Waveform Agile Radio-frequency Directed Energy (WARDEN) and the U.S. Army’s Directed Energy Systems Integration Lab (DESIL).

Hypersonic systems fly within the atmosphere for significant portions of their flight at or above five times the speed of sound or approximately 3700 miles per hour. They dramatically shorten the timeline to strike a target and increase unpredictability.  Since 2019 the DoD has spent over $8 billion on programs to develop hypersonic missiles. In its latest five-year budget plan, the 2023 Future Years Defense Program, DoD requests $13 billion over the 2023–2027 for developing hypersonic missiles.

For those looking to understand more about U.S. hypersonic weapons and alternatives, a recent report by the Congressional Budget Office provides more information about the current state of projects and associated military research programs.

The U.S. DoD is looking to develop wideband sensors to operate at the intersection of cyberspace, electronic warfare, radar, and communications.  Subfields of interest include payloads, sensors, and instruments; sensor processing and data fusion; adaptive optics; remote sensing of the Earth; signature management; nuclear materials detection and characterization; chemical weapons detection and characterization; biological weapons detection and characterization; emerging pathogens detection and characterization; transportation-sector sensing; security-sector sensing; health-sector sensing; energy-sector sensing; building-sector sensing; and environmental-sector sensing.

One office tasked to support this area of innovation is the U.S. Army’s Program Executive Office Intelligence Electronic Warfare and Sensors (PEO IEW&S). It has several program pages that offer details about projects and capabilities including Program Manager for Cyber and Space,  Program Manager for Electronic Warfare and Cyber, and Program Manager for Intelligence Systems and Analytics.

Selling to the U.S. Military

Selling to the U.S. DoD is a powerful way for Canadian companies of all types and sizes to elevate their business. Learn how to take advantage of this huge opportunity with CCC’s step-by-step guide.

Opportunities for Canadian businesses

International allies and industry partners are integral to U.S. DoD’s research and development efforts and the Department is always seeking to expand opportunities to co-research and co-develop with them. Through the Defence Development Sharing Agreement, Canada and the U.S.  share a special agreement for cooperation on research and development which is an advantage for Canadian businesses.

As Canada’s foreign military sales agency, CCC partners with other Canadian government departments and U.S. military departments to introduce Canadian technologies to the U.S. military. For Canadians looking to explore opportunities, our U.S. DoD Innovation Programs page provides an extensive list of programs that Canadians businesses can access to accelerate their research and commercialization of technologies.

If your technology and solution is already commercialized and would like support to start selling to the U.S. military, read our Selling to the U.S. Military page which provides steps to get started. You can also watch our webinar on 5 things to do before bidding on US DoD contracts.

Work with CCC

If you are looking to take your critical technology solution to the U.S. military, learn more about CCC and  how we can help you. If you are already working with a U.S. military department, contact us so we can provide Government of Canada support to your proposal.

This post was last updated on January 9, 2023.

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