WASHINGTON, Aug. 11, 2017 —
The impact of innovation from high-tech companies will continue to grow at the Defense Department, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said yesterday during a briefing at DoD’s first innovation outpost in California’s Silicon Valley.
At the Defense Innovation Unit-Experimental, or DIUx, where he stopped during a two-day trip to Washington state and California, the secretary said that living in Silicon Valley for three years after his active-duty service in the Marine Corps made him keenly aware of the energy, intellectual rigor and unregimented but disciplined problem-solving that was going into harnessing new technology there.
“There is no doubt in my mind that DIUx will not only continue to exist, it will grow in its influence and its impact on the Department of Defense,” he added.
The department established DIUx in Mountain View, California, as a first effort to seek commercial innovation to solve mission-critical problems facing warfighters.
By July 2016 another DoD technology outpost opened in Boston -- part of the plan to invest aggressively in innovation for defense technology, operations, organizations and the talent management of the all-volunteer force.
And in September 2016 DoD opened another innovation hub in Austin, Texas.
In that time, more than 450 companies from 39 states have competed for DIUx contracts, and since June 2016 DIUx has awarded $100 million in contracts for 45 pilot projects in the key areas of autonomy, artificial intelligence, human systems, information technology and space.
By the end of fiscal year 2017, DIUx expects to transition its first pilot contracts into follow-on production, marking the first time DoD has transitioned under the Other Transaction, or OT, authority, according to a DoD fact sheet.
Through OT authority, Congress has granted the DoD the ability to rapidly and flexibly purchase commercial innovation and vet its applicability to military missions. DIUx is the first DoD entity to make full use of the authority with its Commercial Solutions Opening, or CSO, launched in June 2016.
The work sheet explains that the CSO lets DIUx work directly with the services, components and combatant commands to identify, evaluate and buy commercial innovation for warfighters. The contract mechanism takes weeks and months rather than years.
The DIUx teams include experts on solving mission-critical DoD problems -- warfighters who live the problem are paired with technology, commercial experts who understand the art of the possible, and reservists and guardsmen who are tech professionals in their civilian lives, the fact sheet says.
Since they’ve been operational, DIUx team members have launched and sold companies backed by tier-1 venture capital firms; led teams at the Joint Staff, the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the White House; served with the military around the world; and helped build some of Silicon Valley's most iconic companies.
Organizing for Success
Raj Shah is the DIUx managing partner. He’s a former Air Force F-16 fighter pilot and technology businessman who has degrees from Princeton and the Wharton School.
“Raj was in Washington yesterday meeting with [Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan],” Mattis said during his briefing at DIUx.
Responding to a question about how DIUx will side step DoD bureaucracy, the secretary said that one way to make certain bad processes don’t eat up good peoples' ideas is to remove the bad processes and organize for success.
“Raj will be talking directly to my deputy secretary,” Mattis added, “and I've got other contacts very high in my Pentagon staff who will be working directly on a routine basis. And he will also have direct access to me.”
Another question involved artificial intelligence and whether the nation has a plan for using the fast-growing technology in defense.
“The short answer is yes,” Mattis said, noting that the department must better integrate AI into defense applications, as he has seen private industry do with commercial applications.
“Earlier today I was in Seattle talking with people and companies [whose names] you would all recognize. I'm down here today … and the bottom line is, we will get better at integrating the advances in AI that are being taken here in the Valley into the U.S. military.”
Enhancing U.S. Defenses
Mattis explained how investing in innovation with industry will help the nation.
“We've always [been willing to] roll up our sleeves in our local communities and work to help people who are less fortunate. We find ways to put together public-private ventures, very often, to solve problems,” he said.
The U.S. military, “made up of 100 percent volunteers -- young patriots, men and women who look past the hot political rhetoric -- bring us skills and they bring us a diversity of background that opens us to the kind of thinking [found] here,” the secretary said, referring to Silicon Valley.
“So when I send the military folks out here, they're already attuned to take advantage and harvest from this,” he added. “So we're going to use this teamwork here … to make our military more lethal and more capable of defending the experiment that we call the United States of America.”
(Follow Cheryl Pellerin on Twitter: @PellerinDoDNews)