SIMI VALLEY, California (REUTERS) - US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel, warning that the Pentagon's technological advantage was eroding, announced an ambitious effort to identify and develop weapons systems that would enable continued US military dominance in the 21st century.
Hagel, in a speech at the Reagan National Defence Forum, said the new Defence Innovation Initiative would include an effort to develop and field breakthroughs from cutting-edge technologies including robotics, autonomous systems, miniaturisation, big data and three-dimension printing.
Noting that the Defence Department did not dominate the technologies it hoped to exploit, Hagel said the Pentagon would reach out to businesses and universities for ideas and help in advancing its effort.
Hagel said the Pentagon expected the push would develop into a "game-changing 'third offset' strategy," producing systems that would offset its rivals' advantages, as atomic weapons did in the 1950s and precision strike and stealth have done today.
The Pentagon chief said the initiative, which would be led by Deputy Defence Secretary Robert Work, came at a time when the US military edge was in jeopardy as a result of the spread of technologies.
"Technologies and weapons that were once the exclusive province of advanced nations have become available to a broad range of militaries and non-state actors, from dangerously provocative North Korea to terrorist organisations like Hezbollah," Hagel said.
He noted that while the United States has been engaged in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, powers such as Russia and China have been "heavily investing in military modernization programs to blunt our ... technological edge, fielding advanced aircraft, submarines, and both longer-range and more accurate missiles."
The Defence Department "must continue to modernise our nation's capabilities and sustain its operational and technological edge. And we must do so by making new long-term investments in innovation," he said.
Hagel did not say how much the Pentagon would invest in the initiative, but that as it matured, he expected its impact on the Defence Department's budget to "scale up in tandem."