New National Strategy Calls for Promoting, Protecting Critical Tech

The Trump Administration released a new, all-of-government national strategy for high technology on Oct. 15, setting as its “pillars” the need to both develop new capabilities and protect them from world competitors seeking to steal them.

The document outlines a common set of 20 technology priorities for government agencies to nurture and protect, while acknowledging the list will evolve over time.

In addition to those technological priorities previously set by the Pentagon’s director of defense, research, and engineering—items such as quantum computing, artificial intelligence, networking, semiconductors, space, and hypersonics—the new national list includes non-military areas such as agriculture and public health.

The strategy comes in response to peer adversaries’ ability “to mobilize vast resources in these fields,” and steal a march on the U.S., according to a White House press statement.

“The United States will not turn a blind eye to the tactics of countries like China and Russia, which steal technology, coerce companies into handing over intellectual property, undercut free and fair markets, and surreptitiously divert emerging civilian technologies to build up their militaries,” the press office said.

A high priority will be to incorporate cyber security “early in the technology development stages, and work with partners to take similar action,” according to the document.

A “holistic” approach to the technology strategy is required because “many technology breakthroughs occur at the intersection of two or more disparate technologies,” the policy notes.

The Pentagon is already implementing many of the approaches laid out in the strategy. It has codified a tiered cyber security compliance model, which must be included in proposals for new work. The Pentagon has also embarked on a series of programs to defeat adversary tactics in tech transfer. These include pairing small businesses developing useful new technologies with “safe” investors who won’t try to export intellectual property once having acquired a financial stake in the business.

The new policy seeks to “secure our national security innovation base” by “strengthening rules where gaps exist, insisting that agreements be enforced, and working with like-minded allies and partners to promote, advance, and defend our industry, address unfair practices, and level the playing field for American workers,” a White House spokesman said.

To promote U.S. dominance in technology, the strategy calls for development of a high-performing technology workforce, increasing government research and development funding, and coaching allies and partners who don’t yet have systems in place to guard against technological pillage by adversary investment.

The 20 priority technologies in the strategy include advanced computing, artificial intelligence, autonomy, quantum computing, communications and networks, distributed ledger technologies, microelectronics and man-machine interfaces, data science and storage; advanced materials, manufacturing technologies, aerospace engines, advanced conventional weapon technologies; advanced sensing and space technologies; agricultural and bio-technologies; chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) mitigation technologies; medical and public health technologies.

To promote the “National Security Innovation Base,” the document details 12 broad initiatives aimed at encouraging and retaining investment and innovation. It says the U.S. should lead the world in setting technology “norms, standards, and governance models that reflect democratic values and interests.”

The initiatives also call for the U.S. to make government a desirable partner for tech companies, encourages public-private partnerships, including with academia, among state and local governments, and “with the private sector, [to] create positive messaging to increase public acceptance of critical and emerging technologies (C&ET).”

Among 10 initiatives to protect U.S. technology, the policy calls for proper control of tech transfer “under export laws and regulations, and multilateral export regimes.” It seeks to engage industry on the need to observe good cyber security and raise industry’s awareness of its “strategic vulnerabilities.” The policy also seeks to “ensure supply chains, and encourage allies and partners to do the same.

The policy specifically called out Russia for seeking to gain U.S. technology through “dual use” private partnerships, particularly in the area of artificial intelligence, which Russia “believes will bring it both economic and military advantages.”

Meanwhile, China, in addition to “stealing technology” and “coercion” of companies in which it has a financial stake, fails to “provide reciprocal access in research and development projects,” uses tactics such as dumping to corner markets, and promotes “authoritarian practices that run counter to democratic values.” The U.S. must also “prevail against state-directed models that produce waste and disincentivize innovation.”