The software chief at the Pentagon, Nicolas Chaillan, believes the United States will have “no competing chance against China” in cyber within the next two decades.
Chaillan, 37, resigned his post as the first chief software officer at the Pentagon last week over the slow pace of the United States’ cyber and tech development which is putting the nation at risk of falling behind China. In Chaillan’s view, the U.S. has already lost the battle.
“We have no competing fighting chance against China in 15 to 20 years. Right now, it’s already a done deal; it is already over in my opinion,” Chaillan told the Financial Times in his first media interview since resigning his post. There is “good reason to be angry,” he added.
Chaillan blamed misallocation of military resources, overregulation, and the failure of U.S. tech companies to aid the federal government in tech research for the United States’ poor position on tech and cyber. The Times reported:
“Whether it takes a war or not is kind of anecdotal,” he said, arguing China was set to dominate the future of the world, controlling everything from media narratives to geopolitics. He added US cyber defences in some government departments were at “kindergarten level”.
He also blamed the reluctance of Google to work with the US defence department on AI, and extensive debates over AI ethics for slowing the US down. By contrast, he said Chinese companies are obliged to work with Beijing, and were making “massive investment” into AI without regard to ethics.
The former software chief explained his resignation in an open letter posted to LinkedIn on September 2.
“I realize more clearly than ever before that, in 20 years from now, our children, both in the United States and our Allies’, will have no chance competing in a world where China has the drastic advantage of population over the US. If the US can’t match the booming, hardworking population in China, then we have to win by being smarter, more efficient, and forward-leaning through agility, rapid prototyping and innovation. We have to be ahead and lead. We can’t afford to be behind,” Chaillan wrote.
He went on to state that he was “underutilized and poorly leveraged” during his time in the Pentagon. He ripped Department of Defense (DOD) leadership for poorly staffing IT departments with the DOD.
“I told my leadership that I could have fixed Enterprise IT in 6 months if empowered. Yet with my 22 years of expertise running IT innovation, I was underutilized and poorly leveraged by the DOD, as most of my time was wasted trying to convince folks to engage with me and consider more relevant and efficient solutions, while I watched as they continued to deliver capabilities that do not meet the basic needs of our warfighters,” Chaillan wrote. “The DoD should stop pretending they want industry folks to come and help if they are not going to let them do the work. While we wasted time in bureaucracy, our adversaries moved further ahead.”
“I, as have many of us, have been trying for 3 years now to convince various teams to partner and merge work across the Department. We don’t need different stacks just for the sake of egos. There are 100,000 software developers in the DoD,” he later added. “We are the largest software organization on the planet, and we have almost no shared repositories and little to no collaboration across DoD Services. We need diversity of options if there are tangible benefits to duplicating work. Not because of silos created purposefully to allow senior officials to satisfy their thirst for power.”
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