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A common theme at one of the nation’s most important defense forums, held this weekend at the Ronald Reagan Library and Museum, was what the United States can do to strengthen its protections against emerging threats from countries with similar capabilities, such as China and Russia. .

The Ronald Reagan National Defense Forum, held in Simi Valley on Friday and Saturday, December 3 and 4, included an opening address by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III.

The forum drew senior military leaders, defense industry leaders, and lawmakers responsible for military and national defense to the Reagan Library for a series of panels. Topics discussed included how the national defense strategy should cope with China and its position in the Indo-Pacific region, the importance of a strong space force – one if its key new commands were located in California from South this summer – and how the Defense Department is evolving to attract help from private companies with cutting-edge innovations and technologies.

Over 700 people attended the forum, which is now in its eighth year at the library.

US Space Force vice chief of space operations Gen. David Thompson speaks during a panel on Space Force and the New Space Economy at the Reagan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley. (Photo courtesy of the Reagan National Defense Forum)

Austin – speaking at the defense forum after returning from his third trip to South Korea – referred to China’s recent show of force in the South Pacific. And, he discussed the importance of the Pacific region to the security of the United States.

“Everyone who lives in California understands that America is a powerhouse in the Pacific. And we always will be, ”he said. “The Indo-Pacific is a region of great opportunity – and real challenges.”

“We have witnessed two decades of meteoric modernization of the People’s Liberation Army,” Austin warned. “And the Chinese military is set to become a competitor of the United States in Asia – and, eventually, the world. The Chinese leadership is expanding their ability to project force and establish a global network of military bases.

In order to maintain a competitive advantage over China, Austin said the Pentagon will focus on working with private companies – large and small – to maintain its dominance in areas such as cybersecurity and space defense.

Among those who weighed in was General David Thompson, the US Space Force’s vice chief of space operations, who, along with several others, spoke at a panel on cybersecurity and space.

“If we don’t start ramping up our development and delivery capabilities, they will overtake us,” Thompson said, adding that China may be on track to do so by 2030.

The panel also included Representative Jim Cooper, D-Tennessee, who chairs the House Armed Services Committee’s Strategic Forces Subcommittee. Cooper called himself the biggest advocate and critic of the Space Force, saying the services industry isn’t growing as quickly as private companies.

“To be truly superior, we have to go beyond Elon Musk’s imagination, beyond Jeff Bezos’ imagination, beyond their wallets,” he said. “It’s a lot of money, but given the importance of space, are we doing enough? We need to make sure that our Space Force is at the cutting edge of technology. I just hope we get there soon enough.

In April, the Space Force opened its Space Systems Command – responsible for developing and purchasing space technology – at the Space and Missile Systems Center at Los Angeles Air Base in El Segundo. Southern California is one of the largest aerospace centers in the country, and the command’s location in the Los Angeles area opens up opportunities for many businesses large and small.

Austin on Saturday promoted mastery of space racing with the help of private companies, speaking directly to Southern California defense business executives in attendance.

Calling the strategy of “integrated deterrence,” he said, along with the US military’s work and training with US government allies and partners, private companies can play an important role in strengthening national defense.

“For far too long, it has been far too difficult for innovators and entrepreneurs to work with (the Department of Defense),” he said.

There must be more opportunities, he said, like the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency which connects top research teams with business leaders, the Small Business Innovation Research Program which helps US companies to continue research and development adapted to the needs of the DOD and the Rapid Defense Experimentation. Reserve that examines how promising technology and prototypes can help military services.

“When we maintain our technological lead,” he said, “we maintain our military advantage. “