Since the inception of the digital age, the United States has been the unchallenged global leader in computing technology, but with little public attention, our advantage has been eclipsed. We are now engulfed in a computing technology race that is as portentous as any military conflict we have ever faced before.
TOP500, the organization that monitors and ranks the world’s supercomputers, reported last summer that China has developed two different computer systems that are now the two fastest on the planet. Just 15 years ago, China had none of the top 500 supercomputers in the world, but today, it has more than any other nation, including the United States. China’s new Sunway TaihuLight achieves speeds that are five times faster than the fastest supercomputer in the United States — and it achieves those speeds with Chinese-made chips.
Supercomputers are used to simulate and study everything from the paths of hurricanes to the genetic origins of man and are critical to future advances in healthcare, the development alternative energy resources and national security. While China’s latest advance does not yet fundamentally change the balance of power, the impacts are clearly visible on the horizon and should be a wake-up call to policymakers.
It is no longer science fiction to imagine an adversary’s use of the first, large-scale practical quantum computer to decrypt previously unbreakable encryption keys that would blind us to enemy military movements while our own would be entirely visible to the enemy. While such a practical quantum computer does not exist today, China is investing billions in their development.
The race is on.
We can no longer rely on decades of military superiority or the so-called technology “offsets” like nuclear weapons, and stealth technology and global positioning satellites. While we may hold a technological lead, it is tenuous: the other runners are advancing on us, clearly visible in our peripheral vision.
The challenge before us is clear. If we are to stay ahead of the ever-growing wave of global technological innovation, we must out-invent, out-discover and out-innovate our adversaries — and we must do so on a constant, daily basis.
There is no third offset. There is only a continuous offset, the keys to which are speed and effectiveness in translating basic research, discoveries and technological advances into affordable operational products and systems that move quickly into actual, practical use. Our singular mission can be described in three words: rapid, affordable innovation.
To accomplish this mission, we have launched the Institute for Global Security and Defense Innovation (i-GSDI), where our researchers from across campus will converge all of the relevant academic disciplines, including the social and behavioral sciences, to ensure the university’s focus and commitment to national security and defense innovation. With the launch of i-GSDI, Purdue will be a leading innovator for the nation’s defense and security community. The Institute will provide integrated, world-class scientific, engineering, policy, economic and social science problem solving capabilities and solutions.
The Institute was launched in conjunction of the Global Security and Defense Symposium on Dec 1, 2016, where speakers highlighted the critical role of research universities in global security. Throughout the course of seven keynotes and four panels, the notion of convergent thinking across technology, policy, the social sciences took center stage as a necessary approach to a world of increasing, and increasingly complex, challenges.
The Institute is already assembling faculty and student experts and thought leaders for workshops and integration strategy sessions in key areas of autonomy and hypersonic flight technology, with others to follow shortly after.
This convergence is not confined to campus. On the contrary, and by necessity, i-GSDI is also leading strategic partnerships with critical organizations, including the Naval Surface Warfare Center-Crane Division, Sandia National Laboratories, the Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC), and the Air Force Life Cycle management Center. Each of these partners has recognized that Purdue brings critical, complimentary expertise that both broaden and deepen their respective missions.
Longstanding partnership areas with NSWC Crane, such as trusted microelectronics and power/energy storage, are growing at the same time as new areas like model-based systems engineering (MBSE) analytics and hypersonics are emerging, altogether making the relationship truly strategic for both sides.
Similarly, i-GSDI is developing a deep understanding of the needs of the AF Global Strike Command in areas central to our nation’s nuclear deterrent, such as Nuclear Command, Control and Communications. In support of this mission, the Institute is leading a new relationship with Louisiana Tech University, a key local supporter of AF Global Strike, in order that the two universities can maximize impact on the Command’s mission needs.
Purdue is proud to be one of five universities in the Sandia Academic Alliance Program. The i-GSDI has taken the lead in identifying and connecting critical research needs with combinations of Sandia staff and Purdue faculty. These efforts have already produced numerous research efforts and products, and again are drawn much more clarity to the Purdue ecosystem on the critical technologies needed for a “continuous offset”, including advanced energetic materials, hypersonic systems and novel propulsion concepts, next-generation computing and cyber security, to name a few.
The opportunity for Purdue to contribute to our nation’s security and well-being continues to grow. Faculty teams are converging and responding to grand-challenge-scale proposal solicitations from DOD, DHS, the National Nuclear Security Administration, and others in areas such as homeland security, employing Internet of Things technologies on the battlefield, energetic materials, etc. With sustained support from the government, the private sector and venture capital, universities like Purdue that embrace this commitment to developing innovative, convergent technologies will help ensure our continued lead in defense technology — and the security of our nation.