DIUx-Austin Now Open for Innovation

By Marine Corps Cpl. Cedric R. Haller II

When it comes to adopting new technology in the Defense Department, the process can often times be a lengthy one. Sometimes it can even take so long, that by the time we finally incorporate this new technology, something better is already on its way out.

Today, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced that the Defense Department is expanding its technology startup DIUx, or Defense Innovation Unit-Experimental to Austin, Texas. DIUx was created to get new tech into the hands of our troops faster by changing the entire way DoD approaches innovation.

“Given this city’s and region’s deep commitment to innovation, and this state’s deep connections to those who serve our country, we couldn’t have picked a better place than Austin, Texas,” Carter said.

Mission

DoD relies on innovation to maintain our nation’s ability to deter, and if need be, prevail in conflict.

With outposts in the heart of Silicon Valley, Boston and now in Austin, DIUx serves as a bridge between those in the U.S. military working on some of our nation’s toughest security challenges and companies operating at the cutting edge of technology.

As the name implies, DIUx is an “experiment.” They continuously review how best to identify, contract, and prototype novel innovations through sources traditionally unavailable to DoD, with the ultimate goal of accelerating the rate at which new technology gets into the hands of service members. But, as Secretary Carter said at the announcement of the Austin presence today, “The “x” in DIUx is well past proving itself as an experiment, but it will not stop experimenting.”

How has DIUx accelerated innovation to the warfighter?

“A lot of people think the focus of DIUx is hacking technology or gaining access to all of the great technology [in Silicon Valley] and the companies that are starting them,” said Lauren Schmidt, pathways director for DIUx. “What people don’t realize is in order to hack the technology; you have to hack the bureaucracy. That’s what our mission is and what we have to do.”

“In order for the DoD to move at the speed of business and work with the companies out here we have to be faster, more flexible, and collaborative in the way that we write our contracts, send money and design projects with these companies,” Schmidt continued. “We set up a commercial solutions opening, which is essentially a faster, more flexible and collaborative way for the DoD to work with startups that aren’t used to working with us.”

From a service member standpoint, what kind of challenges does DIUx directly address?

“I’ve been in the security world for quite a while. As a teenager I considered myself a hacker, so I always knew what the latest techniques and tools were on the market,” said Army Capt. Brent Chapman, cyber operations officer and program manager for DIUx. “I thought it was super important, regarding my own education, just being smart about what’s available and the things I should be concerned about from a security point-of-view. When I joined the Army I knew that it was important to our mission and that we had to maintain our edge over our adversaries.”

“I was disappointed in seeing some of the tools and techniques that we were actually using, so knowing what I knew from the outside and seeing what the reality was on the inside was frustrating to me,” he said. “I knew that if I could get that one piece of software that I use at home and utilize that on a government network then I could be more effective in my operations. I think being a project manager for DIUx and being the lead on identifying some of these technologies, getting them on board for DoD customers who are willing to take a small risk in seeing what these new software and processes are, has been very empowering.”

What does success look like for DIUx?

“Success at DIUx would be for the department, broadly, to adopt some of the approaches that we’re pioneering,” said Raj Shah, managing partner for DIUx. “Several years down the road our need to exist will actually go away, because the department as a whole would be moving at the speed of business.”

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