The U.S. Department of Defense is launching a campaign to help maintain its technological edge on the battlefield for years to come.

The new Long-Range Research and Development Planning Program is designed to identify, develop and field “breakthrough” technologies, especially in robotics, autonomous systems, miniaturization, big data, and advanced manufacturing, including 3-D printing, according to DoD’s top leader.

“This program will look toward the next decade and beyond,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said. “In the near term, it will invite some of the brightest minds from inside and outside government to start with a clean sheet of paper and assess what technologies and systems DoD ought to develop over the next three to five years and beyond.”

Hagel, who announced the program Nov. 15 at the Reagan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley, Calif., compared it to a similarly named DoD effort in the 1970s that helped develop and field “revolutionary” systems, such as extended-range precision-guided munitions, stealth aircraft and new intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms.

Hagel said the new program is needed because American warfighting superiority “is being increasingly challenged.” China and Russia are investing heavily in military modernization, and dangerous technology is increasingly available to terrorist groups and such hostile nations as North Korea.

The program is part of a broader Defense Innovation Initiative that Hagel unveiled in his speech and in a memo to Pentagon officials. The initiative also will pursue advances in war-gaming, operational concepts, military education and business practices.

“We are entering an era where American dominance in key warfighting domains is eroding, and we must find new and creative ways to sustain, and in some areas expand, our advantages even as we deal with more limited resources,” Hagel wrote in his memo. “This will require a focus on new capabilities and becoming more efficient in their development and fielding.”

Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work and a new Advanced Capability and Deterrent Panel will lead the initiative. Work will give Hagel quarterly updates on the panel’s progress.

To ensure DoD has the money it needs, Hagel urged Congress to prevent the return of across-the-board budget cuts, known as sequestration, in fiscal year 2016. He also pressed lawmakers to allow his department to implement cost-saving measures, such as the retirement of aging aircraft, curbs on military pay and benefits, and a new round of base closings.

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Marc Selinger is a journalist based in the Washington, D.C., area. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @marcselinger.