Four members of the Senate Armed Forces Committee sent a letter to Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin, asking him to set up an Operations Technology Task Force (OTWG) between the US and Israel. The working group approved in the annual Defense Act is required to ensure that U.S. forces have the most advanced capabilities and can outperform potential adversaries.
The good news is that Austin seems to be realizing the problem with normal business operations. During his Senate confirmation process, he expressed a belief that the Pentagon needs to be “more agile and responsive” when it comes to deploying cutting edge technology to deployed forces.
He is not alone in this belief. In the letter included Sens. Gary Peters, D-Mich., Tom Cotton, R-Ark., Jacky Rosen D-Nev. And Mike Rounds RS.D. and Russia is asking the department to do better at quickly giving our troops the capabilities they need. “To do this, the Senators believe the United States must” work more systematically and effectively with tech-savvy democratic allies. “
While this enhanced collaboration can and should include a number of America’s allies, the Senators said that an OTWG with Israel offers some unique benefits. “Israel is beating well above its weight in many of the technologies critical to modernizing the US military,” the senators wrote. “In addition, Jerusalem always shows its agility in the use of vital military capabilities that can benefit our war fighters.”
Note that it wasn’t until 2019 that the Pentagon acquired active protection systems for US tanks that have been in service in Israel since 2011. As a result, US soldiers operated around the world for years without the state-of-the-art protection Washington could have provided against missiles and missiles. That put US soldiers at unnecessary risk.
Rather than belatedly attempting to fill such capability gaps, the US and Israel should work together more systematically beforehand to prevent the gaps from arising in the first place.
Other potential candidates for such research and development cooperation include artificial intelligence, robotics, autonomous vehicles and cybersecurity technology.
Accordingly, the Senators called on Austin to use his powers under Section 1299M of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2021 to “provide immediate assistance to the US and Israel Operations Technology Working Group.”
This section of the law not only empowers Austin to form the working group, it also sets out what Congress expected to do. As the Senators noted, Section 1299M makes it clear that Congress wants the Pentagon to systematically “evaluate and share options to develop and acquire intelligence-informed military requirements that directly support the combat capabilities of both the Department of Defense and the Department of Defense of Israel.” The OTWG could then “establish plans to research, develop, procure and deploy weapons systems and military capabilities as quickly and economically as possible to meet common capability requirements.”
While some tend to defend the status quo as sufficient, Austin seems to intuitively understand the urgent need to do better.
“I believe the department faces a huge challenge in accelerating the adoption of new technology to ensure new functionality gets from the lab to the warrior’s hands quickly,” Austin said ahead of his January 19 hearing to the Senate Armed Forces Committee.
To bring the point home during the hearing, Austin emphasized the need to “make the ability available as quickly as possible to the people who need it, to the people who will use it.”
These “people” are America’s war fighters, and the success of such efforts will determine whether they can deter and defeat authoritarian aggressors in the years to come.
In a report to Congress last year, the US Indo-Pacific Command stated that the military balance of power with China continues to “deteriorate”. The order warned that the United States “is placing additional risk that could encourage our adversaries to unilaterally change the status quo before the US can come up with an effective response.”
While there are a number of reasons for this eroding security situation in the Indo-Pacific region, the failure to rapidly deploy advanced, new capabilities to American forces is one of them.
To reverse these worrying trends in the Indo-Pacific and elsewhere, the Senators noted, “no longer needs the Pentagon to do business as usual when it comes to defense science and technology (S&T) and research, development, testing and evaluation (RTD & E). “
This is exactly what the OTWG should help with.
To strengthen the working group and ensure that American forces have the skills they urgently need, the bipartisan Senatorial Group invited Austin in their letter to “consider us partners”.
Senators don’t have to wait long to see if Austin is ready to team up with them: the OTWG section in the Defense Act is asking him to submit a report to Congress by March 15 setting the Pentagon’s actions in context listed with military-technical cooperation with Israel.
Unless this report includes a clear decision to use Congressional approval in support of the OTWG, Senators will likely conclude that more guideline law may be needed.
Bradley Bowman is the executive director of the Center for Military and Political Power at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.