The Growing Popularity Of Defense Tech Is Bringing Silicon Valley Back To Its Roots

The good news is that asymmetrical competition is exactly what Silicon Valley and startup founders do every day. Their scrappy ambitions and limited resources force them to do more with less on a regular basis.

Fremont, CA: The age-old quest for national competitive advantage has been accelerated by globalization. The US and the Soviet Union competed ideologically and militarily during the Cold War.

Countries now compete for advantage across their entire economies and every domain of warfare. Consumer and business product technological superiority feeds directly into the great power race for air, land, sea, space, and cyberspace.

The Defense Department has put in place a number of programs to help startups get started. These programs are well intended, but they miss the point: the Pentagon must abandon its procurement strategy and rebuild its defenses for the weapons that our adversaries use today. We live in a world where "Costco drones" can outmaneuver an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which costs upwards of $100 million per unit or more. Because of America's long-standing defense superiority, countries have innovated asymmetrically — and they are now pulling ahead.

The good news is that asymmetrical competition is exactly what Silicon Valley and startup founders do every day. Their scrappy ambitions and limited resources force them to do more with less on a regular basis. They go up against entrenched incumbents, identify their weaknesses, and relentlessly exploit them to gain a competitive advantage. We have the technology, as well as the know-how and people, to bolster America's defense. Now all that remains is for the Pentagon to demand more of itself and to be willing to award large contracts to the most competitively advantaged emerging American startups.

While change at the Pentagon is critical, there is also an opportunity to assist liberal democracies around the world with their defenses. There is an incredible wealth of talent and available technologies in Europe that could be used to strengthen the continent's defense. Nonetheless, its defense systems are a technological Tower of Babel with significant interoperability issues. Streamlining defense standards for next-generation technologies would benefit many of our allies as well as the United States.

America is facing the most significant challenge to its competitive advantages in recent memory, with advantages eroding across all domains of warfare and many economic sectors. Adversaries are increasingly aggressive in their search for flaws to exacerbate and exploit. But, at its core, America's values and influence continue to provide us with enormous soft power: an openness to new ideas, new people, and new opportunities. It is not optional to defend our open values against the encroaching authoritarianism of adversaries such as China and Russia. Defense technology is the next big sector for Silicon Valley, if only because every other sector will rely on the US to keep the peace in the coming years.

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