Shanahan names cyber as top modernization priority

In March 26 testimony to Congress, acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan pointed to cyber modernization as a key element of DOD's $750 billion top-line budget request.

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Cybersecurity is a key component of the Defense Department's $750 billion budget request for fiscal year 2020, acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan told legislators on March 26.

Less than $10 billion of that request is explicitly allocated for DOD cybersecurity efforts. But Shanahan testified before the House Armed Services Committee that "modernization is the most important thing we can do to maintain deterrence, create military capability, but that's also what enables us economically, so they really all tie all together." He also emphasized the state and local ripple effects that DOD investments create through industry relationships.

Shanahan added that the military must be "an enabler to unlock diplomatic and new relationships" rather than be a solution unto itself. While spending on cyber and emerging technologies represents only a sliver of the overall budget request, he called the investment in such critical areas "fundamental."

Diplomacy in an increasingly digital battlefield was a concern for committee members as well.

Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) praised the DOD budget for investing in new tech but asked if the virtual arms race in the cyber and artificial intelligence arenas might also be addressed with arms control restrictions.

"This is where we need to, in my view, do the most significant work," Shanahan said, adding that neither the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty nor the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty "contemplate artificial intelligence or these new weapons that have been created."

"We need to really think about what does 'machine on machine' mean as we take humans out of the loop," he said. "And these are arms control agreements that we need to have with people that we don't have arms control agreements with."

Shanahan also said that while warfighting doctrine would inevitably change as the future force pivots to focus more on cyber, missiles and space, it was all about finding the right mix.

"I don't think the course that the Chinese are on is the same course that these naval battles will be fought on in the future," he said, mentioning autonomous vessels. "Warfighting doctrine is going to change drastically. That doesn't mean we divorce ourselves from our current infrastructure, but I think this transition to future forces -- space, cyber, missiles -- will have a profound impact on the type of Navy we have and the size of those vessels and the composition."