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NEWPORT, RHODE ISLAND — The U.S. military's technological superiority is being challenged by other nations, including China and Russia, and to maintain its dominance America must be more innovative in how it develops and buys new technologies, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told industry leaders here Wednesday.
In a speech to members of the Southeastern New England Defense Industry Alliance at a conference on defense innovation, Hagel said that unsophisticated militaries and terrorist groups are acquiring destructive weapons, and Moscow and Beijing are modernizing their armed services, including their electronic warfare and special operations capabilities.
And unless the U.S. takes these challenges seriously, he said American troops could face advanced weapons and technologies on the battlefield that will put their lives at risk.
"We are entering an era where American dominance on the seas, in the skies, and in space — not to mention cyberspace — can no longer be taken for granted," said Hagel. "And while the United States continues to maintain a decisive military and technological edge over any potential adversary, our continued superiority is not a given."
As examples, he pointed to advancements in precision strikes, stealth technology and wide-area surveillance several decades ago, but said those U.S. advantages are beginning to erode.
To maintain the technological edge, Hagel said Pentagon needs to invest wisely in the face of declining budgets, including in new sophisticated commercial technologies such as 3D printing and robotics.
The department has taken steps to improve its often cumbersome and complex acquisition system. Hagel said a new phase of changes will make it easier to buy commercial products and improve the Pentagon's ability to work with industry partners.
"We must take this challenge seriously, and do everything necessary to sustain and renew our military superiority," said Hagel. "This will not only require active investment by both government and industry — it will require us to once again embrace a spirit of innovation" in how American buys and develops new technologies..
Hagel's speech in Newport is the first stop on a weeklong trip that includes his participation in the NATO summit in Wales, as well as stops in Georgia and Turkey.