By Andrea Shalal
SIMI VALLEY, Calif., Nov 16 (Reuters) - Short of funds, and awash in global challenges, the U.S. military-industrial complex is betting on robotics and other new technologies to stay ahead of rapid advances in weapons development by China, Russia and other potential foes.
But with budgets already under pressure and deeper cuts looming in fiscal 2016, it remains uncertain if the Pentagon can win support in Congress to speed up the acquisition process and turn the new technologies into game-changing weapons.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel unveiled a new "Defense Innovation Initiative" at a conference at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library on Saturday, an effort to secure and expand the U.S. military's competitive edge.
Hagel cited robotics, autonomous systems, miniaturization, big data and three-dimensional printing as key areas, but gave none of the funding details that industry executives say they need to guide their own investments.
They are also urging Pentagon officials to keep slashing back bureaucracy, ease barriers for arms exports, and streamline rules for commercial products.
Mike Petters, chief executive of Huntington Ingalls Industries, said government officials were stepping up their dialogue with industry, but many factors constrained their efforts, including the short-term focus of capital markets.
"You're seeing the right dialogue, but it's not concluded," Petters told Reuters at the conference.
The Pentagon plans to work closely with traditional weapons makers like Lockheed Martin Corp and Boeing Co, but it is also looking for inspiration from commercial companies like Google that are more agile and less bureaucratic.
The initiative will help coordinate efforts already under way to reform acquisition and encourage innovation, far earlier attention to affordability and possible exports.
"Innovation is absolutely required," said Gwynne Shotwell, chief executive of Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, a privately held firm that builds rockets for NASA, and is seeking certification by the Air Force for military launches as well.
Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert told Reuters the Navy was studying weapons built by U.S. allies, using existing technologies in different ways, and learning from rapid acquisition processes that helped deliver thousands of armored vehicles to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Greenert said the Navy was also consulting with companies to weed out unnecessary cost-drivers, an approach that helped trim the projected cost of a new nuclear-armed submarine by over $1 billion and is now being used for work on a new amphibious ship.
(Additional reporting by David Alexander; Editing by Eric Walsh)