First Pentagon software chief resigns, claims U.S. has already lost cyber battle to China

The Pentagon’s first chief software officer has resigned over the Defense Department’s lagging efforts to shore up cyber defenses and technology development, saying he believes the U.S. has already lost out to China in the realm.

Nicolas Chaillan said he believes the U.S. will have “no competing chance against China” within a few decades because the DoD and Congress, in general, have been too slow in developing cyber technologies that protect critical infrastructure from attack.

“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,” he told the Financial Times in his first interview with a media outlet since he resigned, adding there’s “good reason to be angry” about it.

In addition to a lack of effort and investment by the Pentagon, Chaillan also blamed federal overregulation and the refusal of top U.S. tech companies to assist the federal government in technology research and development in the cyber sector, leaving America lagging behind Chinese advances.

“Whether it takes a war or not is kind of anecdotal,” he told the Financial Times, adding that he sees China positioning itself for global domination so it can control all geopolitical events as well as the media narratives. He also noted that U.S. cyber-defenses for several government agencies were at “kindergarten level.”

The former cyber chief also cited Google for being too reluctant to work with the Defense Department on artificial intelligence, as well as “extensive debates over AI ethics for slowing the U.S. down,” the outlet noted.

By comparison, Chinese firms are tied to the state and are obligated to work on behalf of, and with, the Communist government in China, and as such were making a “massive investment” into AI without any regard to ethical concerns.

Chaillan laid out his concerns along with his reasons for resigning in a letter posted to LinkedIn on Sept. 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,” he wrote.

“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 claim that during his employment at the Pentagon he was “underutilized and poorly leveraged.” Chaillan also blasted the Pentagon’s leadership for understaffing information technology (IT) departments within 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 noted.

“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,” he added.

“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,” Chaillan continued. “We don’t need different stacks just for the sake of egos.

“There are 100,000 software developers in the DoD. We are the largest software organization on the planet, and we have almost no shared repositories and little to no collaboration across DoD Services,” he noted. “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.”

Jon Dougherty


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