BREAKING: Pentagon’s Defense Innovation Unit to Revamp, Boost Staffing

By Stew Magnuson
A Defense Dept. staff member participates in an interactive demonstration during a DIU capabilities brief.

Defense Dept. photo

The Defense Department agency charged with sweeping up commercially developed technology and applying it to military applications is honing its strategy so it can bring cutting-edge technology to warfighters more quickly.

“Against a backdrop of international challenges and with the world’s most capable technology sector, we can and must do more to identify and adopt impactful commercial technologies at speed and scale,” Defense Innovation Unit Director Douglas Beck said in a report released Feb. 7.

The Defense Innovation Unit-Experimental — as it was initially called — was established in 2015 by former Secretary of Defense Ash Carter to create a bridge between Silicon Valley companies and the Pentagon. It has since shortened its name and expanded by establishing offices in other hi-tech hubs. The Navy, Army and Air Force all followed suit with their own offices serving as technology bridges.

Nearly a decade later, Beck and co-author Richard Fontaine, chief executive officer of the Center for a New American Security, published through the think tank “DIU 3.0: Scaling Defense Innovation for Strategic Impact.”

“With recent changes and support from DoD leadership and Congress, we are now poised to help our partners across the department, interagency, commercial tech sector and allied and partner nations meet these goals,” the report said.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin recently elevated the DIU director to directly report as a senior advisor to both him and the deputy secretary to provide them “depth of insight” into the commercial tech sector, the report noted.

The secretary also recently approved an increase in DIU’s staffing levels, which the report said were previously “insufficient.”

“DIU’s historical personnel process … has been unable to execute at the speed and scale necessary. DIU’s mission rests on the ability to attract, develop, deploy and retain that talent, both for the direct application to DIU’s own mission and for the development of a cadre of technology talent available to deploy throughout the department,” the report said.

The staffing plan includes the addition of two senior executive deputy directors based in the Pentagon, whom are already in place, the report noted.

“The plan Secretary Austin approved for DIU 3.0 outlines the critical shift in focus, action and resourcing that DIU will undertake to deliver the rapid strategic effect demanded,” it said.

The 3.0 vision called for a renewed focus on delivering relevant technology to the field more quickly.

“DIU 3.0 will focus directly on those initiatives that are truly strategic and that the secretary’s national mission force for innovation is uniquely positioned to help deliver,” the report said.

Overall, DIU “must now be reoriented through a relentless focus on the most critical capability gaps that are central to the U.S. ability to deter and win wars, and to their scale adoption by the forces that will do so,” the authors said.

DIU will deepen its embedded support to European Command related to the war in Ukraine and expand deep partnerships with Indo-Pacific Command, the report stated.

DIU will also focus on how to scale up technologies so they can be delivered in numbers sufficient to make an impact, the report said. It singled out the new Replicator initiative as an example.

Replicator is a department-wide initiative announced by Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks to deliver attritable, autonomous systems at mass within 18 to 24 months in order to meet the challenge presented by China, and to develop and then employ a replicable process to attack other problems the same way.

“It is a moonshot — and will not be easy. But it is a perfect example of what we must do — leverage emerging technology to deliver operational capability, now, and work across the department to deliver scale, fast,” Beck and Fontaine wrote.

DIU wants to be a “catalyst for impact” and knock down barriers nontraditional vendors find when they want to work with the U.S. military, the report said.

“Confused communication about the different pathways for working with the DoD as a vendor leads to mismatched expectations, suboptimal prioritization of scarce resources and inefficient business operations,” the authors wrote.

“DIU will leverage its role at the heart of critical department processes to relentlessly help knock down barriers to success faced by commercial tech innovators, large and small,” the report said. DIU can clarify the department’s requirements to the commercial world, it added.

Meanwhile, DIU will continue to maintain relationships with defense innovation organizations in many partner countries such as the United Kingdom, Australia and India, and help other key partners establish their own versions of the Defense Innovation Unit, the report said.

Topics: Defense Department

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