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Remarks Announcing a DIUx Outpost in Austin, Texas

Terrific, well, thank you both, Joe, and Bill, for being here, for that introduction, for your friendship, and for your enduring commitment to public service – first, over nearly four decades in uniform, culminating in your leadership of our Special Operations Command, and now as chancellor of the University of Texas and also a member of DoD’s, I’m pleased to say, new Defense Innovation Board.  Thanks, Bill.

And thanks to everyone here at Capital Factory.  This morning, Josh – where’s Josh? There you are – Josh, thanks for being part of the inspiration of this day, appreciate it. 

Representatives from this community’s bright constellation of innovative businesses, universities, and government institutions: thank all of you for joining us here today.

It’s great to be back here in Austin to formally announce that our technology start-up, DIUx, Defense Innovation Unit-Experimental, is expanding yet again and extending the Department of Defense’s outreach to America’s technology community.  Given this city and this region’s deep commitment to innovation, and also, I should say, this state’s deep connections to those who serve, we couldn’t have picked a better place than Austin, Texas.

I created DIUx last year because one of my core goals as Secretary of Defense has been to build, and in some cases to rebuild, bridges between our national security endeavor at the Pentagon and America’s wonderfully innovative and open technology community. 

That’s important, because we’ve had a long history of partnership – working together to develop and advance technologies like the Internet, GPS, and in the years before that, satellite communications and the jet engine.  What we’ve done together has not only benefited both our security and our society, but it’s fair to say the entire world, and that cooperation between industry, the academy, and government helped make our military what it is today: the finest fighting force the world has ever known.  There’s no one stronger, there’s no one more capable, there’s no one more innovative than we.  That’s a fact, and it’s one that every American ought to be proud of.

But it’s also a fact that our military’s excellence isn’t a birthright.  It’s not guaranteed.  We can’t take it for granted in the 21st century; we have to earn it again and again.  And today, it’s imperative we do so, because we live in a changing and fiercely competitive world.

Technology itself is an example of that change.  When I began my own career in physics decades ago, most technology of consequence originated in America, and much of that was sponsored by the government, particularly the Department of Defense.  And today, we’re still major sponsors, but much more technology is commercial.  The technology base is global.  And other countries have been trying to catch up with the breakthroughs that for the last several decades made our military more advanced than any other. 

Nations like Russia and China are modernizing their militaries to try to close the technology gap.  And meanwhile, technologies once possessed only by the most advanced militaries have gotten into the hands of previously less-capable forces, and even non-state actors.  And at the same time, our own reliance on things like satellites and the Internet can lead to vulnerabilities that our adversaries are eager to exploit.

So to stay ahead of all these challenges, to stay the best, I’ve been pushing the Pentagon to think outside of our five-sided box – to invest aggressively in innovation of all kinds:  in our technology, in our operations, in our organizations, and in the talent management of our all-volunteer force.

One way we’re doing that is by pushing the envelope with research and development in new technologies like data science, biotech, cyber defense, electronic warfare, undersea drones – much, much more.  We’re making some serious investments here.  Just to remind you, the latest budget I’ve proposed will invest $72 billion in research and development next year alone.  And that’s more than double what Intel, Apple, and Google spent on R&D last year, combined.  So it’s a big investment.

Another way we’re investing in innovation is through people, to ensure that we continue to attract and retain the most talented young Americans for our force of the future.  As part of that, we’re building what I call on-ramps and off-ramps for technical talent to flow in both directions.  This will let more of America’s brightest minds contribute to our mission of national defense, even if only for a time or for a project.  It will also allow more of DoD’s and the defense industry’s innovative military and civilian technologists – and I should remind you that there are many of them – to engage in new ways with our country’s larger innovation ecosystem, especially the parts that may have no experience with, or even have hesitations about working with defense.

Now, innovative technologies and people are necessary, and that’s why we’re building bridges to them.  But technology and people also need innovative practices and organizational structures, so we’re investing in them, too.  The world we live in demands it.  While the Cold War was characterized by the slow and steady accumulation of strength, with the leaders simply having more, bigger, and better weapons, today’s era of technological competition is characterized by the additional variables of speed and agility, such that leading the race now frequently depends on who can innovate faster than anyone else.  And it’s no longer just a matter of the level of the technology we buy.  More than ever, what also matters is how we buy things, how quickly we buy things, who we buy them from, how rapidly and creatively we can adapt and use them in different and innovative ways – all this to stay ahead of future threats and future enemies.

And to ensure that we keep adopting more innovative practices in the future, I recently created the Defense Innovation Board to advise me and future defense secretaries on how we can keep growing more competitive.  It’s chaired by Google Alphabet’s Eric Schmidt, and the board members we’re recruiting represent a cross-section of America’s most innovative industries, organizations, and people – people like Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, LinkedIn’s Reid Hoffman, Code for America’s Jennifer Pahlka, astrophysicist Neil Degrasse Tyson, and also, as I mentioned earlier, Austin’s very own Bill McRaven.  I’ve charged Bill and the rest of the Defense Innovation Board to keep DoD imbued with a culture of innovation in people and organizations and operations and technology – to support innovators themselves, the people in DoD and the strong companies that already work with us who are willing to try new things, who are willing to fail, fail fast, and to iterate – and to make sure we’re always doing everything we can to stay ahead in this changing and competitive world.

At the outset, I’ve given them the very specific task of identifying innovative private-sector practices that might be of use to us in the Department of Defense, not unlike our recent Hack the Pentagon pilot program, which you may have heard of, which invited white-hat hackers to help us find vulnerabilities in our networks and report them to us, similar to the bug bounties that several of America’s major companies already conduct.  So while this approach to crowdsourcing cybersecurity is fairly widespread in the private sector, our use of it in the Pentagon was the first in the entire federal government.  And it was so successful we’re expanding it to other parts of DoD.  It’s the perfect example of the kind of recommendations I’m looking for from the Defense Innovation Board – things that are out there that we might be able to use.

Now, of course, not everything in the private sector is going to make sense for us, because we’re always mindful that the military isn’t a company – it’s the profession of arms.  And so for important reasons, we’re not always going to be able to do everything the same way that others do.  But that doesn’t mean we can’t look ourselves in the mirror.  It doesn’t mean we can’t look around the country for new ideas and lessons we can learn for ways we can operate more effectively.  So the board will recommend a first slate of innovative practices in the fall, in time for me to review and determine which ones make sense for us to adopt.  And I have no doubt that we will.

Finally, one more way we’re investing in innovation is by developing new partnerships with the private sector across America’s many great innovation hubs, unrivaled in the world – places like Boston, Seattle, Silicon Valley, and of course, here in Austin. 

And that’s why we, and DIUx, have come here today.

Over the last 12 months, since we first opened the doors of the west coast office in Silicon Valley, DIUx has been a signature part of our outreach to the tech community.  And it’s been enormously productive. 

We’ve already iterated – launching DIUx 2.0, as we call it, in May, under the leadership of Raj Shah and his fellow partners.  We’ve expanded to Boston, where I opened the DIUx east coast office in July.  And Raj and his team are already bringing in game-changing technologies that are going to benefit America’s warfighters.  They’ve closed five deals just in the last three months.  It took an average of just over 50 days after they first interacted with a company to award these funds.  That’s fast, especially for the Department of Defense, and appropriately so.  And they have another 22 more projects already in the pipeline for an additional $65 million, in areas like network defense, autonomous seafaring drones, and virtual war-gaming.

Today, we’re building on that progress with a new DIUx presence here in Austin, to join and complement our east and west coast operations. 

Coming here made perfect sense.  The “Silicon Hills” of central Texas have long been a hotbed of scientific and technological innovation – from the garage inventors and dorm room entrepreneurs who follow in Michael Dell’s footsteps, to the startups nurtured in incubators like Capital Factory right here, to the researchers and grad students breaking new ground on campus at U.T.

But this is also a state with deep connections to the Department of Defense and to our mission of defending our country and our people.  Texas is home to over a dozen military bases, including some of our largest and most populous, like Fort Bliss and Fort Hood.  Texas is also where some of our longstanding and highly innovative defense companies are located – manufacturing key platforms like the Marine Corps’ most modern attack and utility helicopters, the AH-1 Zulu, and the UH-1 Yankee – Venom, so-called – as well as our most advanced stealth fighter, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, and the Army’s High-Mobility Artillery Rocket System, or HIMARS, which I’ll remind you we’re using more and more in our coalition campaign to deliver ISIL a lasting defeat in Syria and Iraq, which we surely will do.  Texas is also the home of many service members, military families, and veterans.  In fact, Texas has one of the highest numbers of veteran-owned businesses in the country, including dozens of start-ups right here in Austin. 

So bringing DIUx to central Texas and to Austin was a logical step for us.  And we’re fortunate there are two important organizations here – institutions, really – that can help us get established in the area.  One is right here, Capital Factory, where DIUx personnel will start off by working part-time from the co-working spaces here – hopefully benefiting from the close proximity to Austin’s “center of gravity” for innovators.  And the other institution is the University of Texas, which of course has given rise to generations of inventors and innovations in advanced computing, data visualization, robotics, energy, engineering and design, and more.

One thing that’s unique about our presence in Austin is that it will help expand DIUx’s national reserve element, which is led by Navy Reserve Commander Doug Beck, a decorated combat veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Doug’s a very busy guy, especially right now – in his civilian life, he’s a vice president for Apple, reports directly to Tim Cook – but I’m grateful he could join us here today, and for his continued leadership in the DIUx west coast office. 

From there, Doug’s been leading a great team of citizen-soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, all of whom provide unique value to DIUx since many of these patriots are tech industry leaders and entrepreneurs when they’re not on duty for us – for DoD.

We’re looking to benefit from such talent even more in Austin, because here, DIUx will build its ranks by recruiting proven local innovators who already serve our country in the National Guard and the Reserves.  Once they come on board, they’ll serve part-time – that is, in their regular Reserve capacity – to help connect the broader DIUx enterprise with local and nearby companies that are developing promising technologies with potential customers across our Department of Defense.  They’ll work in close coordination with the DIUx partners based in Silicon Valley and in Boston.  And if this model continues to succeed, we are going to look to replicate it in other innovation hubs around the country.  The “x” in DIUx is well past proving itself as an experiment, but it won’t stop experimenting.

Now, to help us get this new DIUx outpost up and running, I’ve hand-picked a leader who was recently one of DoD’s most creative and talented senior civilians – Christine Abizaid.  Christy Abizaid, right over there.  I asked Christy to be our point-person here not only because of her proud legacy of service to our country, but because she has proven to be an innovative thinker and innovative leader everywhere she goes.  In the Pentagon, at the White House, and on battlefields halfway around the world, Christy has always been looking for better, smarter, faster ways to get things done.  Until just recently, Christy was our Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Central Asia – lovely places – serving as one of my most trusted policy advisers for what you’ll all recognize as a critically important region.  And I know she’ll do a great job spearheading DIUx’s presence in Austin.

And joining Christy will be local Reserve members, starting with First Lieutenant Samantha Snabes, right there.  Before joining DIUx, Samantha’s been serving in uniform as an intelligence officer in the Mississippi Air National Guard.  In civilian life, she’s co-founder and CEO of re:3D, a business she started here in Austin to support affordable, industrial 3-D printing innovations.  Lieutenant Snabes has also worked at NASA and with DARPA – a great example of the innovative people we already have in our military’s ranks.  And I’m sure more Austin-based reservists like her will be joining DIUx soon.

And before you know, Christy and her team will be reaching out to all of you here.  They’ll want you to help them understand the technologies you’re working on.  They’ll want to help you understand how those technologies can support our men and women in uniform and contribute to defending our country.  You tell us what you’re doing, we’ll tell you how it can help.  They’ll be our ambassadors to you and a way for you to connect back to us.  So I hope you take the time to get to know them, and even better, to work with them.

This is a very exciting and portentous time.  For those interested in foreign policy and national security, there are lots of interesting challenges and problems to work on with us, and that’s also true for those interested in technology.  But the intersection of those two – what matters and what’s new – is an opportunity-rich environment.

Let me explain what I mean by that, because there are opportunities for partnership in every challenge we face. 

Right now – right now, as we sit here in this room – our men and women in uniform are working with partners from our world-wide coalition in more ways and with more and more power every day to accelerate a lasting defeat of ISIL, which we will surely do and we want to do soon.  They’re training with our NATO allies in Europe to deter Russian aggression.  They’re also sailing the waters of the Asia-Pacific as part of a principled and inclusive network of nations – ensuring that the most consequential region for America’s future remains stable, secure, and prosperous for all nations.  They’re standing guard 24/7 on the Korean Peninsula, countering Iran’s malign influence against our friends and allies in the Middle East, and all the while, they’re helping protect our people here at home and helping to make a better world for our children.

In each of these missions, you and technologists like you can make a difference, too.  Because whether it’s machine-learning technology that might be able to recognize and block ISIL’s barbaric ideology on social media, or algorithms to help a self-driving boat track submarines, or biotech research that could one day help our troops recover from injury faster, technology’s a critical part of everything we do – and it’s critical to addressing every challenge we face today.

I want to close by saying that I know many of you in this city take pride in keeping Austin weird.  So let me assure you, I not only want to keep Austin weird; I’m counting on it.  Because the creative thinking that happens in places like Austin is part of what makes our country so innovative and our economy so vibrant and strong.  And I know that with DIUx in town, it’ll also help our military remain the best in the world. 

Because when it comes to America’s national security, we can’t afford to be complacent.  Our competitors are trying to out-innovate us, which means we have to be willing to think a little differently.  That’s how we’ve succeeded in the past – thinking differently put us in space, it put us on the moon, it put computers in our pockets and information at our fingertips – and it’s how we’ll succeed and prevail in the future, too: ensuring the safety of our country and our fellow citizens for generations to come. 

That’s why DIUx matters.  It has to do with our protection and our security, and creating a world where people can live their lives, dream their dreams, and give their children a better future.

Contributing to that mission – helping to defend this great country and to make a better world – is one of the noblest things that a business leader, or a technologist, or an entrepreneur, or a young person can do.  And we’re grateful to all of you here for your interest in doing that with us.

Thank you.