April 03, 2024

Innovation Adoption for All: Scaling across Department of Defense

This article was originally published in War on the Rocks.

Across the Department of Defense, today’s watchword is innovation. In 2018, Eric Schmidt, the former CEO of Google and the first chairman of the Pentagon’s Defense Innovation Board, aptly declared that “the [Department of Defense] does not have an innovation problem; it has an innovation adoption problem.” Unlike the fundamental technologies behind nuclear-powered submarines, intercontinental ballistic missiles, and stealth aircraft, an increasing percentage of the technological breakthroughs that provide a real combat edge for U.S. warfighters are coming from commercial firms outside the traditional defense industrial base. Through the endeavors of organizations like the Defense Innovation Unit, AFWERX, and Army Futures Command, myriad opportunities exist to build prototypes to solve military problems.

The Department of Defense does act quickly when properly motivated and catalyzed by effective leadership.

Leaders from the secretary of defense on down argue that the department must move faster when it comes to delivering capabilities to warfighters that can offset increasingly urgent and sophisticated threats. The challenge is not incubating innovation, it is moving it from laboratories and testing grounds to the field. We believe that six factors — built on a foundation of talent and not requiring any new authorities — can scale innovation adoption across the Department of Defense. These factors include a clear problem definition, an empowered program team, an identified transition partner, a contracting vehicle, steady funding, and senior-leader support. These cannot be achieved in a piecemeal fashion. To work, they should become business-as-usual for the department rather than six consecutive miracles of defense innovation and acquisition.

Read the full article from War on the Rocks.

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