Leaders in national defense meet at Reagan Library for prominent forum – Daily Breeze


A common theme during one of the nation’s most prominent defense forums, held this weekend at the Ronald Reagan Library and Museum, was what the United States can do to bolster its protections against the emerging threats of countries with similar capabilities, such as China and Russia.

The Ronald Reagan National Defense Forum held in Simi Valley on Friday and Saturday, Dec. 3 and 4, included a keynote address by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III.

The forum drew top military leaders, defense industry executives and lawmakers responsible for military and national defense to the Reagan library for a series of panels.  Among the topics discussed were how the national defense strategy should contend with China and its stance in the Indo-Pacfic region, the importance of a strong Space Force – one if its key new commands was located in Southern California this summer  – and how the Department of Defense is evolving to attract help from private companies with cutting edge innovation and technologies.

More than 700 people attended the forum, now in its eighth year at the library.

Gen. David Thompson, vice chief of space operations for the US Space Force, speaks on a panel about the Space Force and the new space economy at the Reagan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley. (Photo courtesy of the Reagan National Defense Forum)

Austin — speaking at the defense forum after returning from his third trip to South Korea — addressed China’s recent displays of strength in the South Pacific. And, he discussed the importance of the Pacific region to U.S. security.

“Everyone who lives in California understands America is a Pacific power. And we will always be,” he said. “The Indo-Pacific is a region of great opportunity – and real challenges.”

“We’ve seen two decades of breakneck modernization by the People’s Liberation Army,” Austin warned. “And China’s military is on pace to become a peer competitor to the United States in Asia — and, eventually, around the world. China’s leaders are expanding their ability to project force and to establish a global network of military bases.”

In order to keep a competitive edge over China, Austin said the Pentagon will focus on working with private businesses – small and large – to maintain dominance in areas such as cyber security and space defense.

Among those who weighed in was Gen. David Thompson, vice chief of space operations for the US Space Force, who with several others spoke on a panel about cyber security and space.

“If we don’t start accelerating our development and delivery capabilities, they will exceed us,” Thompson said, adding China could be on a course to do that by 2030.

The panel also included Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tennessee, who chairs the House Armed Services Committee’s strategic forces subcommittee. Cooper called himself Space Force’s biggest advocate and critic, saying the service branch is not moving as quickly as private companies.

“To really be superior, we’ve got to go beyond Elon Musk’s imagination, Jeff Bezos’ imagination, beyond their pocketbooks,” he said. “That’s a lot of money, but considering how crucial space is, are we doing enough? We need to make sure our Space Force is at the cutting edge. I just hope we’re getting there fast enough.”

In April, the Space Force opened its Space Systems Command – tasked with developing and buying space technologies – at the Los Angeles Air Force Base’s Space and Missile Systems Center in El Segundo. Southern California is among the nation’s largest aerospace hubs and locating the command in the LA area opens opportunities to many small and large companies.

Getting a handle on the space race with the help of private business is something Austin promoted Saturday, speaking directly to Southern California defense firm executives in attendance.

Calling the strategy “integrated deterrence,” he said along with the American military working and training with allies and partners of the U.S. government, private business can play an important role in bolstering national defense.

“For far too long, it’s been far too hard for innovators and entrepreneurs to work with the (Department of Defense),” he said.

There needs to be more opportunities, he said, like the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency that connects top research teams with corporate leaders, the Small Business Innovation Research Program that helps American companies pursue research and development tailored to the DOD’s needs and the Rapid Defense Experimentation Reserve that looks at how promising tech and prototypes can help the military services.

“When we maintain our technological edge,” he said, “we maintain our military edge.”



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