The Pentagon Releases Its 5-Year Digital Modernization Strategy 

Joshua Snell/Army

Officials outlined plans to drive innovation, streamline IT acquisitions and build a more agile and resilient cyber posture.

Pentagon officials vowed to improve oversight of their IT investments as part of a multi-year push to upgrade the Defense Department’s tech for the 21st century.

Officials on Friday released their Digital Modernization Strategy, offering insight on how the Pentagon plans to prioritize its roughly $46 billion annual IT budget over the next five years. Cloud adoption, artificial intelligence and cybersecurity will all factor in heavily to the department’s technological future, according to the strategy, but those capabilities won’t be possible unless officials do a better job coordinating their efforts.

“More effective oversight of IT investments is necessary due to the decentralized nature of [Defense Department] operations and spending,” officials wrote in the strategy. 

In January, Congress passed a law giving the Pentagon’s chief information officer more authority over IT budget requests and spending plans, and officials said the new measures “will enable continual, comprehensive department-wide IT modernization in a common, coordinated way.”

In the strategy, officials outlined four overarching goals that will guide the department’s tech efforts in the years ahead: innovate for competitive advantage; optimize for efficiencies and improved capability; evolve cybersecurity for an agile and resilient defense posture; and cultivate talent for a ready digital workforce.

Under the first goal, officials pointed to a number of areas where the Pentagon should focus its investments in the years ahead, including cloud computing, artificial intelligence and command, control and communications systems. While each new capability will be critical to maintaining the nation’s technological edge, the department sees cloud adoption as “the foundation” for many of the others, officials said.

Today, the Pentagon is in the process of bidding out two massive cloud computing contracts—Defense Enterprise Office Solutions and Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure—worth billions. The platforms are intended to help the department make better use of data and pave the way for emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, and if they’re not up and running soon, Defense leaders fear national security could suffer.

Officials are also ramping up operations at the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, which will serve as the hub for AI research across the department. In the years ahead, officials plan to focus on building more partnerships between the JAIC, industry and academia, and building a pipeline to scale up the technologies developed at the center.

The second goal—optimize for efficiencies and improved capability—will focus largely on the department accelerating IT procurements and adopting more enterprisewide solutions, as opposed to component-specific systems. Officials plan to accomplish the goal in part by improving category management and technology deployment process, as well as optimizing migrating applications that can’t run in the cloud to optimized, enterprise data centers.

The third goal, agile and resilient cybersecurity, will involve prioritizing security in each step of the acquisition process for “every network, system, application and enterprise service,” they said. Other steps include restructuring the department’s cyber architecture to bolster defenses and digital awareness, deploying an “end-to-end” identity, credential and access management infrastructure, and securing information held by Defense contractors, they said.

Lastly, maintaining the country’s technological capabilities will require the department to build a similarly capable tech workforce, officials said. To that end, the department plans to improve its internal workforce management processes, increase training opportunities for IT procurement specialists and expand programs to recruit and retain cyber specialists.

The government faces a continuous struggle to recruit and retain talented technologists, though the Pentagon has historically fared better than civilian agencies.