Science and Technology News

Saturday, October 31, 2015

DoD’s Silicon Valley Innovation Experiment Begins

By Cheryl Pellerin DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, October 29, 2015 — Two months after Defense Secretary Ash Carter officially opened the doors of the Defense Innovation Unit-Experimental in California’s Silicon Valley, the new director and his early team members already are engaging with potential innovators.

During a one-on-one interview before giving a presentation at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International “Unmanned Systems: Defense 2015” meeting in Arlington, Virginia, DIUx Director Dr. George Duchak, formerly director of the Air Force Research Laboratory’s information directorate and a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency program manager, told DoD News the new unit is in full startup mode.

“We have a building right outside the gate at Moffett Field … called the Army Reserve Support Center, and we have an agreement with them for 12,000 square feet of space. Currently, we occupy 3,000 square feet,” Duchak said.

When the office is complete, the space will be open and collegial, the director added, and, like a business incubator, people will work together in a collaborative environment where all can coordinate and share ideas and opportunities.

“We’re opening up that space so we can get a lot of cross-pollination and cross-collaboration among the services,” Duchak said, as well as among the Silicon Valley companies.

Working on Basics

The DIUx team is authorized to hire a director and a deputy, a lawyer and four highly qualified experts, or HQEs. To date they’ve filled one of the HQE billets, Duchak said, and the team is working on basics, such as getting the office space built out and furnished and crafting the DIUx governance and engagement models and its concept of operations.

The final DIUx team will consist of six to 10 people -- civilians, active-duty military, and Guard and Reserve service members -- augmented by contractor support in areas where they need expertise, the director said.

Under the government team will be personnel from each service and from defense agencies, and potentially from the combatant commands, he said.

“Right now, we have an Air Force element, a U.S. Cyber Command element, and Army and Navy elements that are on their way, but not yet officially stood up there,” Duchak said.

Service Elements

Each element, depending on the service’s requirements, will have six to 10 people who will be there specifically, the director said, to address the needs of their services. Companies seeking opportunities with the Defense Department also will be able to work directly with the services, he added.

Carter announced the creation of DIUx in April at Stanford University during a speech titled "Rewiring the Pentagon: Charting a New Path on Innovation and Cybersecurity."

The DIUx mission is to strengthen relationships and build new ones, scout for breakthrough and emerging technologies, and serve as a local presence for the department in Silicon Valley.

Tech Matchmakers

“Our instruction is to be matchmakers,” Duchak explained, adding that DIUx will be a hub for increasing DoD’s access to leading-edge technologies from high-tech and startup companies and entrepreneurs.

“[DIUx will] find an interesting technology and connect that with the warfighter. And by the warfighter, I broadly mean the science and technology community, the acquisition community or the combatant commands -- the warfighters themselves,” he said.

“DIUx has no funds to see interesting technology, Duchak noted. Rather, it will make the connection with the lab or program executive office, and it's up to that organization to seek more information about a technology. DIUx’s job, essentially, is to help Silicon Valley companies navigate through DoD acquisition rules and regulations, he added.

Innovation Targets

During an Aug. 5 visit to Silicon Valley, Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work said the department is interested in innovation in areas such as big data analytics, autonomy and robotics.

“I wouldn't necessarily go to Silicon Valley to find new materials for jet engines or stealth technologies, … but the whole world is going in the direction of doing big data analytics. The whole world is moving in the direction of autonomy,” Duchak said.

The department also is looking at novel technologies in the extremes: such as underwater capabilities and small satellites.

“We have spoken with a company that does underwater mapping primarily for the oil and gas industry, but the capability also aligns with DoD missions,” Duchak said.

The department also is looking at the half-dozen or so companies that are putting into orbit small, but capable, satellites to serve commercial needs, Duchak said.

“They’re doing things that I think caught DoD by surprise -- launching tens if not hundreds of small satellites that can shoot video from space, … networking the satellites and then selling them to commercial industry,” the director added.

“They’re really living on the edge and … making advances not just in the technology but in the concept of operations, the business model, all things that are very synergistic with DoD,” he said.

Duchak said the Silicon Valley DIUx team works not only with local companies, but also with companies from all over the country. And once the local unit has determined the best ways to engage the innovation community, he said, DIUx-like units could open in other major tech innovation hubs such as Boston, Austin, Cincinnati, Seattle and others.

X is for Experiment

The DIUx team isn’t looking only at small tech companies for innovation, the director said.

DIUx  and its efforts do not  replace the large system integrators, he added, referring to companies such as Northrop, Boeing, L3 or Raytheon, for example, which already make up the defense industrial base, but will accentuate and complement their efforts and serve as a connector for the industrial base as well. “We're agnostic,” Duchak said.

“If the warfighter benefits, I don't think we care if the technology's adopted by the system integrator and incorporated into their offering for the government, or if it goes direct through a program executive officer and then to a system integrator, or from lab to market,” he said.

About the experimental nature of the DIUx effort, Duchak said building and operating the unit will be a long journey. “We've got to constantly be refining our business model,” he said, “and we've got to constantly be refining what our value is to both DoD and the innovation community.”

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