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Reporter's Notebook: Carter Keeps Pressing for Silicon Valley Engagement
By Jon Harper



Defense Secretary Ashton Carter last week made his fourth trip to Silicon Valley since taking over as Pentagon chief in February 2015.

One of the goals of the trip was to send a message loud and clear to the technology industry that the Pentagon is determined to find ways to become a better and friendlier customer. He needed to take action to address rampant criticism of the Pentagon's outreach efforts there, led by a highly touted new outpost, the Defense Innovation Unit-Experimental.

DIUx was created last year to serve as a bridge between the Pentagon procurement bureaucracy and entrepreneurs in the nation’s leading tech hub. But just eight months after the new office opened its doors, Carter announced he was launching “DIUx 2.0.”

The next iteration “will be a test bed for new kinds of contracting with startup firms,” Carter said May 11 at DIUx headquarters in Mountain View, California. “They will work quickly to execute time-sensitive acquisition programs. And they will move at the speed of business. We know how fast companies run here and in other tech hubs around the country, and we expect DIUx 2.0 to run alongside of them.”

Under the new arrangement, the unit will report directly to Carter’s office. The intent is to speed up decision-making, the defense leader told reporters.

To facilitate the rapid uptake of promising technology, Carter has directed DIUx to work closely with the Defense Department’s rapid acquisition cells and research-and-development community.

The Pentagon chief also announced a major change in leadership at DIUx. Some of the old guard is being replaced by those who have both a military and high tech business background.

Raj Shah was named the new “managing partner” of DIUx. Shah, a National Guardsman and an F-16 pilot, co-founded and served as CEO of a technology startup.

Also joining the leadership team: Isaac Taylor, who served as the head of operations for Google X, the company’s R&D facility; Vishaal Hariprasad, an Air Force Reserve captain who co-founded a cybersecurity startup; and Chris Kirchhoff, who served as a civilian advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

The new leadership group will be joined by a team of reservists, who will serve at DIUx in a first-of-its-kind reserve unit, Carter said.  That team will be led by Navy Reserve Cmdr. Doug Beck, an Iraq and Afghanistan combat veteran who works in his civilian life as Apple’s vice president for the Americas and Northeast Asia, reporting directly to CEO Tim Cook.

The Pentagon wants to expand the DIUx model across the country. DIUx 2.0 will be “a nationwide release,” Carter said. The Pentagon plans to open a second DIUx office in Boston, another major innovation hub, and there is a possibility of opening more in other parts of the United States.

“We’re not just iterating, we’re scaling,” he said.

The Defense Department is also “upgrading this DIUx’s processing power,” Carter said. In fiscal year 2017, the Defense Department requested $30 million in new funding to direct toward non-traditional companies with emerging commercially based technologies that meet Pentagon needs.

“With co-investment from the military services, this number is really just a starting point,” Carter said. DIUx will exercise “all avenues” to fund promising technologies, including merit-based prize competitions, incubator partnerships and targeted R&D efforts, he added.

Before departing Silicon Valley, the Pentagon chief conferred with other government officials — most notably Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson — as well as members of the commercial technology industry during a meeting of the President’s National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee. The confab took place at Intel Corp.’s headquarters in Santa Clara, California.

A key theme was the need for further cooperation between the private and public sectors in high tech areas, Carter said.

“Looking ahead to the future, whether it be driverless cars or drones or any number of things, what are the opportunities, but also the challenges those things are going to pose? And how can we best as a society face them?” he said during a press conference with Pritzker and Johnson.

The trio discussed some of the challenges the nation is facing in the cyber realm. The Defense Department plans to spend $35 billion over the next five years on cyber capabilities. While the Pentagon represents “a big market” for cybersecurity firms, private sector demand is smaller than it should be, Carter said.

“Companies aren’t buying enough” encryption and other cyber defenses, he said. “You can have all the innovative companies in the world, but if nobody is buying their products that’s going to be a problem. … Globally, the market for cybersecurity that should exist doesn’t yet exist.”

Carter said encryption and other tools will be critical in thwarting adversaries that possess offensive cyber weapons similar to those being employed by the U.S. military against the Islamic State.

“These are capabilities that others have, and therefore one has to assume … that people can use cyber tools against our networks … including the networks that our military depends upon,” he said. “We’re not using anything that is unique or distinctive. And therein lies a lesson: we all have to have good cyber defenses as well.”

The focus on cybersecurity continued when Carter traveled to Colorado Springs, Colorado on May 12 to visit the Air Force Academy. He toured the school’s cyber laboratory and “Cyber City,” where cadets are taught how to conduct offensive and defensive operations.

“That's a relatively new thing in all of our military academies,” he told reporters. “Cyber is going to be an integral part of the curriculum. These folks are learning about all the ways that cyber can be used against American society — and how to participate in the defense of it and military systems as well.”

While in Colorado, Carter stopped by Schriever Air Force Base to see the new Joint Interagency Combined Space Operations Center, or JICSpOC. The outfit, which was Carter’s brainchild, became operational in October.

The purpose of JICSpOC is to more closely integrate space operations with other U.S. military operations, Carter told reporters on May 12 after touring the facility and receiving briefings from officials.

“It is now clear from the behavior of many actual and potential antagonists and enemies of the United States that space isn’t a sanctuary and … accordingly it has to be the province of warfighters and not just engineers,” he said.

Col. DeAnna Burt, commander of the Air Force’s 50th Space Wing, said the new joint operations center is positioned to play an important role in helping the U.S. military and the intelligence community coordinate and deal with threats and disruptions to satellite operations. Burt discussed the JICSpOC — as well as her unit’s activities — during a briefing with reporters at Schriever. The event marked the first time that media had been invited to the base to discuss the new organization, according to a military official.

The 50th Space Wing operates and supports about 175 spacecraft including critical systems such as GPS and the advanced extremely high frequency communications satellites. Meanwhile, JICSpoC officials are tasked with finding new tactics, techniques and procedures for space operations.

Reporters accompanying Carter on his trip were given a tour of the GPS operations center at Schriever, which controls all of the U.S military’s precision timing and navigation satellites.

“What the JICSpOC is doing is asking itself, how would we change the way that operated if the GPS constellation came under threat or … electromagnetic or physical attack?” Carter said. “This is something that we need to do, and I was extremely pleased with the progress made there.”

The joint operations center has been conducting wargames and simulations to test new concepts. But its work has not been confined to the theoretical realm. “They are doing real-world, minute-by-minute, no-kidding operations,” he said without providing details. “I can’t go into what they are.”

Carter also suggested that the U.S. military’s space components could soon be engaged in offensive operations against the Islamic State.

“I have instructed our space community to join the fight, to figure out what we can do to contribute,” he said. “I can’t explain what they can do but they can do some things.”

On the final stop, the Pentagon’s top official went to Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, May 13 to attend the change of command ceremony at U.S. Northern Command, where Air Force Gen. Lori Robinson became the first woman to lead a U.S. military combatant command. She also became the new leader of North American Aerospace Defense Command, a joint U.S.-Canada outfit.

Homeland defense is one of NORTHCOM’s primary responsibilities. During his speech, Carter detailed some of the technology being employed in the ongoing fight against the Islamic State and related efforts to protect the homeland.

In addition to the launching airstrikes and special operations raids, the U.S. military is using cyber weapons to: deny the ability of the group’s leadership to command and finance their forces; identify and locate Islamic State cyber actors; and undermine their ability to inspire or direct homegrown violent extremists.

When the Defense Department collects enemy fingerprints from the battlefield or other personal information about individual terrorists, that data is added to the Pentagon’s Biometrics Enabled Watchlist, which is then shared with relevant agencies across the U.S. government, Carter said.

The U.S. military is also beefing up force protection at bases and thousands of off-base installations, he noted. That includes putting in place stronger entry controls, better alarm systems, reinforced doors and additional ways to safely exit facilities that come under attack.

The Defense Department is introducing a mass warning and notification capability to broadcast and quickly notify personnel within a 20 mile radius of an existing threat. It is investing an additional $80 million in force protection this year, and plans to spend another $100 million over the next two years, Carter said.

“We are absolutely committed to strengthening and safeguarding our people and facilities from potential threats,” he said.

Photo: Secretary of Defense Ashton  Carter speaks with Defense Innovation Unit Experimental employees. (Defense Dept.)

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