New Congressional Task Force Aims to Help the Pentagon Beat Rising Threats

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The Capitol is seen at day's end as the Senate works on a House-passed bill that would pay for President Donald Trump's border wall and avert a partial government shutdown, at the Capitol in Washington on Dec. 21, 2018. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
The Capitol is seen at day's end as the Senate works on a House-passed bill that would pay for President Donald Trump's border wall and avert a partial government shutdown, at the Capitol in Washington on Dec. 21, 2018. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

A group of House lawmakers has launched a task force focused on responding to rising threats such as Russia and China.

Reps. Seth Moulton, D-Massachusetts, and Jim Banks, R-Indiana, introduced the "Future of Defense Task Force" last week. They will undertake a fact-finding initiative over the next six months to assess the challenges the Defense Department faces as it prepares for high-end warfare.

"We don't think that enough people are asking the big picture, long-range questions for where we need to be 30 years from now," Moulton, a veteran Marine Corps infantry officer who recently quit the Democratic presidential primary race, told reporters during a roundtable discussion Tuesday.

"America hasn't faced two major adversaries like Russia and China really since the 1930s, and the pace that China in particular is trying to leapfrog us with their commitment to artificial intelligence, their investments in biotechnology, a whole range of things, they clearly have a multi-decade plan and we need to have that to match that [threat]," he said.

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Moulton acknowledged the Pentagon is making investments to counter existing threats, but said Congress should continue to provide oversight and push leaders "to ask the right questions" going forward.

The task force includes Reps. Susan Davis, D-California; Chrissy Houlahan, D-Pennsylvania; Elissa Slotkin, D-Michigan; Scott DesJarlais, R-Tennessee; Michael Waltz, R-Florida; and Paul Mitchell, R-Michigan, who recently announced he will not seek re-election next year.

The group expects to produce a robust report at the end of its six-month effort, which could spur legislation, Banks said. But that's not necessarily the goal.

"The goal is that we need to have strategic advantage over our adversaries and to a point where we don't [necessarily] have to fight wars," Moulton said, adding that the task force will hear from "outside-the-box thinkers," such as tech giants in Silicon Valley, California.

The Pentagon has not been particularly successful cracking into that technology market, despite the military services spending hundreds of millions pursuing new autonomy and artificial intelligence projects.

For example, Google last year backed out of its follow-on Project Maven contract with the Pentagon, after some employees reportedly voiced concerns about their work being used by the military for deadly warfare. Maven uses computer algorithms to detect, track and problem solve data variables on the battlefield, and then autonomously sift through thousands of hours of video or imagery feed to extract what the warfighter may be hunting for.

Moulton said innovation -- a recurring buzzword for the Pentagon -- often requires a better definition of exactly what top brass wants to accomplish.

"When we talk about creating a culture of innovation, it's not just about going through and saying, 'Well, this weapon system is too old. We should get rid of it and replace it with that,'" he said. "This is much more broadly saying, 'How do we get the Pentagon to be continually and effectively asking these questions themselves?'"

He added, "We're going to ask tough questions, and there may be some tough answers. We recognize that that's part of our responsibility in doing this, as well as to be willing to come to some tough conclusions if that's where the facts lead us."

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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