Over the past 16 years, the United States military has maintained an extremely high operational tempo in multiple war zones, as well as countless regions that rely on the stabilizing effect of an American presence. Unfortunately, Congress under the Obama administration began wringing money out of the Department of Defense before sufficiently reducing its obligations – leaving our warfighters continuously expected to do more with less money to equip and maintain the assets we rely on.
Secretary of Defense James Mattis took the top seat in the Pentagon with a strong understanding of the value in maintenance and innovation – two things the U.S. government has devoted less and less attention to in recent years. Soon after his appointment, Mattis began working to find ways to bring the U.S. military’s readiness back up to acceptable levels, and recently, he’s begun making public moves to support the idea of developing a military capable of fighting the wars of tomorrow, rather than today.
During a brief trip to the West Coast last week, the Defense Secretary made sure to visit Silicone Valley, and in particular, America’s Defense Innovation Unit Experimental, where the best and brightest of the U.S. government work alongside with the private sector to find new solutions to the types of problems America’s war fighters may face on the 21st Century battlefield.
It’s an equal obligation for me not just to maintain the current readiness, but to make certain that the secretary of defense after next has the same advantages … the same competitive edge that I enjoyed growing up in this country,” Mattis told reporters. “So, I rate [DoD’s innovation initiative] as a top-level priority.”
The Defense Innovation Unit Experimental, or DIUx, was established in Mountain View, California specifically for the purposes of seeking commercial innovation to aid resolving mission-critical problems. Not only do they seek private companies for defense contracts, but they work to establish relationships with the commercial world – where technological advances made for other applications can often be brought to bear in a Soldier, Sailor, or Marine’s loadout.
Mattis, who lived in Silicon Valley for three years after he retired, credited the tech industry for their “energy, intellectual rigor and unregimented but disciplined problem-solving.”
“There is no doubt in my mind that DIUx will not only continue to exist, it will grow in its influence and its impact on the Department of Defense,” he added.
Thanks to “Other Transaction,” or OT, authority granted by Congress, the Pentagon has the opportunity to push their pilot contracts into production. By doing so, they are able to rapidly, and flexibly, purchase commercially produced innovations and immediately begin vetting them for military applications. The DIUx’s Commercial Solutions Opening, or CSO, was launched in June 2016 to this end, and makes them the first organization to make full use of the OT authority. They are expected to doll out an estimated $100 million worth of contracts to the 45 pilot projects currently under development.
A satellite office was opened in Boston in July of last year, followed by another in Austin, Texas. These “technology outposts” are intended to further strengthen ties between the military and commercial world, in order to help ensure the latest tech solutions make their way to the warfighter faster than ever before.
The U.S. military, “made up of 100 percent volunteers — young patriots, men and women who look past the hot political rhetoric — bring us skills and they bring us a diversity of background that opens us to the kind of thinking [found] here,” Mattis said while in Silicon Valley. “So when I send the military folks out here, they’re already attuned to take advantage and harvest from this,” he added.
“So we’re going to use this teamwork here … to make our military more lethal and more capable of defending the experiment that we call the United States of America.”
Image courtesy of the Department of Defense