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Pentagon green-lights procurement of 3 ‘pretty special’ RDER capabilities

The Deputy's Management Action Group signed off on the plans, Pentagon CTO Heidi Shyu said.
Undersecretary of Defense for Research & Engineering Heidi Shyu meets with Maj. Grover Smith of the Indiana National Guard during Technology Readiness Experimentation (T-REX) 2023 at Camp Atterbury, Ind. T-REX is a critical component of the Rapid Defense Experimentation Reserve (RDER) effort, which facilitates modernization efforts through rapid prototyping and experimentation of integrated joint military technologies. (Defense Department photo).

SIMI VALLEY, Calif. — Pentagon leaders have approved the procurement of three “pretty special” capabilities that were tested under the Rapid Defense Experimentation Reserve (RDER) initiative, the department’s chief technology officer said Saturday.

RDER is a signature initiative of Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Heidi Shyu that started about two years ago. It includes a series of technology “sprints” to identify and experiment with prototypes in order to more rapidly field new systems, close capability gaps and address joint warfighting requirements, particularly for U.S. Indo-Pacific Command. Focus areas include resilient communication, joint command and control, contested logistics and “asymmetric capabilities,” according to Shyu.

The department has conducted RDER-related experiments in recent months to put promising technologies through their paces.

The procurement of three capabilities was recently green-lit by the Deputy’s Management Action Group — a key resource decision-making board — Shyu said at the Reagan National Defense Forum.

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“We had a classified DMAG, okay. So, there were three initial experimentation we’ve gone through that proved military utility. And all three of those are moving forward, okay. I can’t really get into a lot of the specifics, because you got to remember one thing, okay — RDER is scenario-based experimentation with a focus on joint warfighting capabilities, right, and pushing capabilities out as quickly as possible. So, these are the capability that’s maturing and going through and pushing out. So, I don’t want to tell China what we’re doing specifically, but the pipeline is started,” she told DefenseScoop during a meeting with reporters at the conference.

The Pentagon CTO declined to identify the types of capabilities that were given the go-ahead.

“I really can’t talk about that. I don’t want to get into classification problems,” she said, adding that they’re “pretty special.”

The tech is not part of the Defense Department’s Replicator initiative which aims to field thousands of autonomous systems in less than two years, Shyu disclosed, noting that technologies that could apply to Replicator are only a subset of the types of capabilities that fall under RDER.

The department hopes to push the three DMAG-approved approved capabilities into production during this budget cycle and get them into the hands of warfighters as quickly as possible, according to Shyu.

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“I will say [they could be fielded] quite quickly, that’s exactly it. We’re ready to go into production — as long as there is production money,” she told reporters.

However, Congress has yet to pass a full-year defense appropriation for fiscal 2024 and federal agencies have been operating under a continuing resolution. A year-long CR would throw a wrench into the Pentagon’s plans for moving forward with the three DMAG-approved RDER capabilities because they’re a “new start” procurement that doesn’t have funding yet, she noted.

“My biggest fear is we have a yearlong CR this year. That is my number one fear. We’re on the pipeline with demonstrating capability. We’re demonstrating multi-domain command-and-control capability. We’ve just demonstrated that a couple months ago, right. So the things that worked really well, we want to push it forward, right? If you have a CR that’s going to create problems,” Shyu told reporters.

For fiscal 2024, the Pentagon requested $687 million for RDER efforts.

“The question is: Are we gonna get a budget, right? Everything’s depending on us getting a budget so I can field quicker if the budget supports the procurement. Here’s the fundamental problem that we’re running into: We can move really fast but there’s a lot of activity we have in the pipeline that we want to fund as a part of rapid prototyping that’s stuck because I can’t give the contractor the money to move fast, okay. So please, give us a budget,” she added.

Jon Harper

Written by Jon Harper

Jon Harper is Managing Editor of DefenseScoop, the Scoop News Group’s newest online publication focused on the Pentagon and its pursuit of new capabilities. He leads an award-winning team of journalists in providing breaking news and in-depth analysis on military technology and the ways in which it is shaping how the Defense Department operates and modernizes. You can also follow him on Twitter @Jon_Harper_

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