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Shelby holds hearing to review defense innovation, research funding

Brandon Moseley

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U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Alabama, conducted a classified subcommittee hearing Thursday to review the Fiscal Year 2020 budget request for defense innovation and research funding.

Michael Griffin, Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering and former NASA Administrator and eminent scholar at the University of Alabama in Huntsville was one of the witnesses. Steven H. Walker, the Director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, also testified.

Following the witness testimonies, Shelby questioned Griffin and Walker about hypersonic missile development, hypersonic missile defenses, artificial intelligence, 5G and the Defense Department’s efforts to establish a Space Development Agency.

“This morning, we meet to review the fiscal year 2020 budget request for Department of Defense innovation and research programs,” Shelby said. “We welcome our panel: Dr. Michael D. Griffin, Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, and Dr. Steven H. Walker, Director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.”

“In order for our military to maintain its technological advantage over near-peer adversaries, we must focus on research and development programs that will get the most advanced capabilities to our war fighters,” Shelby said. “This subcommittee appreciates the department making technology modernization a top priority in its fiscal year 2020 budget request.’

“In the fiscal year 2019 Department of Defense conference agreement, Congress made critical investments in priorities such as Hypersonics, Missile Defense, Microelectronics, Directed Energy, Cybersecurity and Artificial Intelligence,” Shelby added. “We would like to know what progress is being made in these areas and what further investments the department is proposing in the fiscal year 2020 budget request to achieve cutting-edge capabilities.”

“We are speaking with you today in a closed session because we believe that it is important to delve into advanced technology priorities in a classified setting. Specifically, we would like to hear your thoughts on the efforts of China and Russia to develop next generation capabilities across the air, land, maritime, space and cyber domains and our ability to deter and prevail against them,” Shelby continued. “Dr. Griffin and Dr. Walker, again, we look forward to hearing from you.”

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While the information in the Shelby hearing remains classified, on Tuesday it was reported in Defense News that the U.S. Army will field a hypersonic weapon and a directed-energy weapon in less than four years, with the Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office leading the charge, according to the RCCTO director.

The office will reportedly deliver a battery of combat-capable, long-range hypersonic weapons to soldiers by 2023, and it will field a battery of Stryker combat vehicles with 50-kilowatt lasers by late fiscal year 2022.

Lt. General L. Neil Thurgood told reporters this during a media roundtable at the Pentagon Tuesday.

Thurgood is the director of hypersonics, directed energy, space and rapid acquisition at the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology, where he oversees the development of all things hypersonic, directed energy and space for the service. He’s based at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville but directs the RCCTO, which is based at the Pentagon.

Meanwhile, a team from Huntsville-based Dynetics and Lockheed Martin beat out Raytheon for a $130 million contract to build a laser weapons proto-type.

“High-energy laser weapons have been a system that the United States has wanted to add into their defense portfolio since the invention of the laser,” said Dynetics Senior Vice President of Contracts Ronnie Chronister in a company release on March 15. “We are glad to be selected to build this new and safe weapon system that will provide a simple, yet cost-effective approach in theater.”

Shelby is the chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriations and its subcommittee on defense.

Original reporting by Defense News contributed to this report.

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