The Defense Innovation Unit Experimental — the Pentagon’s signature effort to engage commercial technology startups ― is primed to go global. In fact, DIUx could become a key platform by which the United States and its allies and partners come together to address shared military challenges ― if its next managing director and supporters in the Pentagon and Congress are prepared to seize the moment.
Launched in 2015, DIUx reflected a growing realization that the U.S. military needs to more effectively leverage innovations developed in the commercial technology sector. Intended as a workaround to a sclerotic defense acquisitions process, DIUx came to rely on an obscure contracting authority to rapidly award prototype projects to innovative companies ― a welcome change to the Pentagon business models that never managed to align with the technology industry’s far faster pace.
By the end of the Obama administration, DIUx had expanded beyond Silicon Valley to two other U.S. innovation hubs — Boston and Austin.
Growth gave way to uncertainty following the 2016 presidential election, with observers questioning whether the new team would support DIUx, and Congress moving to restrict its access to funding. Since then, however, DIUx has won the support of key stakeholders. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis visited DIUx in mid-2017 and offered an unequivocal endorsement of its mission to “accelerate commercial innovation to the war fighter.” Michael Griffin, the new undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, has also expressed backing for DIUx, which falls within his portfolio.
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