and foreign competitors with fast-growing software industries, most notably India and China.16

4.9 Possible Defense IT Outcomes

The slowdown in the growth of single-processor computing performance described in Chapter 1 brought an end to the virtuous cycle of ever-faster sequential processors coupled with increasingly feature-rich software built atop a sequential model. Explicit parallelism in both hardware and software is now required to realize greater performance and desired functionality. The consequences of this shift are deep and profound for computing and for the sectors of the economy that depend on and assume, implicitly or explicitly, ever-increasing performance. From a technology standpoint, this has lead to heterogeneous multicore chips and a shift to new innovation axes that include but are not limited to chip performance. In turn, these technical shifts are reshaping the computing industry, with global consequences.

Today, global equilibration, access to standard hardware Internet protocol (IP) blocks, and open foundries have lowered the barrier to entry for international competitors, particularly in Asia. As a result, it is possible that the locus of innovation may shift further from the United States. Technology limitations are forcing a new ecosystem of mix-and-match IP blocks and heterogeneous multicore SoCs on all computer systems. This trend and the proliferation of device types present daunting challenges, especially given the historical hegemony of the United States in mainstream computing. Barring concerted action involving major technology breakthroughs and a major shift in U.S. industrial competitive policy, this accelerating innovation shift may open the door to a latecomer innovation advantage (discussed in Chapter 3).

The challenges and the opportunities for the United States are in capitalizing on its historical strengths in systems design, engineering, and integration. Defense systems and their information technology components are often large and complex, with interconnected and often redundant components. Advanced computing is a critical element of such systems, but only one element. If the United States focuses on nimble and rapid system integration, with designs that emphasize reliability and verification, it can continue to build effective defense systems.

Otherwise, the DOD could find itself with deployed computing technology that is no better than, or even inferior, to its adversaries.17 Such technical parity (or even inferiority) could occur due to either a loss of U.S. technological capabilities or the inability to deploy the appropriate new technologies sufficiently rapidly to maintain a competitive advantage.


16N. Gregory, S. Nollen, and S. Tenev, 2009, New Industries from New Places: The Emergence of the Software and Hardware Industries in China and India, Stanford University Press and World Bank, Washington, D.C.

17Further, computing technologies could also potentially be manufactured by adversaries.

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