In a preview of the Pentagon's 2017 budget request, Carter said military research and development spending would rise to $71.4 billion, up from last year's $71.3 billion request.
The following is a list of areas (as compiled by Defense One) where Carter said the Defense Department was already seeing "returns" on R&D spending through the Strategic Capabilities Office.
Sending Swarmboats to Watch Manmade Islands
Carter highlighted "swarming, autonomous vehicles in all sorts of ways, and in multiple domains."
"And for the water, they've developed self-driving boats, which can network together to do all sorts of missions, from fleet defense to close-in surveillance – including around an island, real or artificial, without putting our sailors at risk," Carter said.
China has been constructing artificial islands in disputed South China Sea waters. Washington suspects the islands will be used as military outposts, while Beijing claims they will serve primarily humanitarian purposes.
The high cost of larger and faster guns is driving the military toward cheaper alternatives, including direct energy and electromagnetic railguns that hurl shells at hypersonic speeds. The Navy is planning an at-sea demonstration of a railgun that can fire 44-pound shells.
Carter wants to shrink railguns until they can fit into "the five-inch guns at the front of every Navy destroyer, and also the hundreds of Army Paladin self-propelled howitzers. This way, instead of spending more money on more expensive interceptors, we can turn past offense into future defense – defeating incoming missile raids at much lower cost per round, and thereby imposing higher costs on the attacker," he said.
Smarter Smart Bombs
Carter highlighted advanced navigation projects that would use "the same kinds of micro-cameras and sensors that are littered throughout our smartphones today, and putting them on our Small Diameter Bombs to augment their targeting capabilities. This will eventually be a modular kit that will work with many other payloads – enabling off-network targeting through commercial components that are small enough to hold in your hand."
Carter said the Pentagon is also working to turn "one of our oldest aircraft platforms" – reportedly the B-52 bomber – into "a flying launch pad for all sorts of different conventional payloads."