Science & Technology Corner

Technology Watch and Horizon Scanning for the Department of Defense

What are the best investments for today to prepare for tomorrow?

How can we best leverage automated approaches to make sound S&T investment decisions?

What newly discovered technology areas will provide the Department with a disruptive advantage?

OIT slideThese questions are key drivers of the Office of Technical Intelligence (OTI); the group that analyzes global science and technology (S&T) activities to inform future Department of Defense investments in workforce, laboratory, and research funding.

Mitigating new and emerging technologies is an important focus of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering (ASD(R&E)). OTI’s primary goals in technology watch and horizon scanning are:

  • Identify emerging S&T areas that will enhance operational capability in the next 10-20 years
  • Assess scientific areas that should be included in the long-range (10+ years) research strategy
  • Provide context to understand the S&T that will result in significant new discoveries

To achieve these goals, OTI is leveraging commercial forecasting research and systems, existing S&T products (such as internal reports and databases), and ongoing government investments to understand the current global S&T landscape and detect trends about the future of S&T. OTI is also investigating a theory-driven model to integrate multiple data analysis and semi-automated S&T forecasting products, which will improve the cost and technical effectiveness of technology watch and horizon scanning approaches.

There are many algorithmic approaches to technology watch and horizon scanning. For example, when a new field within S&T changes its vocabulary and starts using the same terms to talk about concepts, this can be a sign of technical maturity. OTI has the capability to detect these types of changes and then investigate what they might mean for militarily-relevant technology applications.

Another approach is based on the hypothesis that potentially disruptive science and technology often emerges when two disparate fields come together. Using a series of cluster analyses combined with an algorithmic approach, OTI detected the convergence of “neural network feature classification” and “carbon nanotubes.” This convergence was validated by papers on that combined topic; an area that has implications for defense, including advanced biomimetic sensor development.

The capability OTI is developing will provide the department with early identification of new concepts and technologies with disruptive potential and allow the department to assess the impact of emerging technologies on operations. ASD(R&E), is in a unique position to identify, evaluate and then integrate this information across both the department and Services to mitigate potential issues.

Updated 3/14/14
Dept of Defense US Air Force OASAALT RDECOM ONR NRL US Air Force Joint Chiefs of Staff Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency Force Health Protection & Readiness Defense Threat Reduction Agency Missile Defense Agency Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization Chemical & Biological Defense Program