WASHINGTON — The Defense Innovation Unit is about to enter its technology scaling era.
Founded in 2015 to help create a bridge between Silicon Valley startups and the Pentagon, the organization’s early work has focused on building partnerships and proving the value of commercial technology for military needs.
Now, according to DIU’s new directo, Doug Beck, it’s time to make a deliberate shift toward fielding the most military-relevant commercial technologies at a large scale.
That means moving away from a model where DIU fosters these capabilities, tees them up for military units and hopes that they’ll embrace them toward a posture in which the organization is embedded within the services and combatant commands to ensure that the technology they need is making it to the field.
“What we have to do now is take that capability that has been built and employ it for a strategic effect,” Beck told reporters July 20 during a virtual media briefing. “That is what this next phase of DIU is about.”
A former Apple executive, Beck took the helm of the organization in April. His comments come as leaders in the Pentagon and in Congress move to elevate the role DIU plays in pushing commercial technology to military users.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced in the spring that Beck would be a direct report to his office, shifting that responsibility away from Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Heidi Shyu.
“The DIU director shall serve as a leader inside the Department to catalyze engagement with and investment into private sector communities where commercial technology can be adapted and applied to meet our warfighters’ requirements,” Austin said in an April 4 memo revealing the change.
Congress also sees a role for the organization in helping drive innovative technology to military users. In the House Appropriations Committee’s fiscal 2022 defense spending bill, which the panel approved June 22, lawmakers propose allocating $1 billion toward a DIU-managed “hedge portfolio” made of commercially available systems like low-cost drones and satellites and agile communication nodes.
“If properly executed, this hedge has the potential to reduce the taxpayer’s burden by leveraging private capital, expand America’s economic advantage by accelerating emerging technology, and broaden the pool of talent supporting national defense,” the committee said in a report accompanying the bill.
Beck said those steps are signs that the Defense Department is at a “tipping point” toward expanding its adoption of commercial technology.
“I’m extremely optimistic about where we are headed in terms of putting real energy behind making that tipping point real,” he said.
As for the details of how DIU will work with companies and DoD organizations to field capabilities in larger quantities, Beck said he’s still refining those. He plans to deliver a report to Austin later this summer laying out his near-term action plan.
Courtney Albon is C4ISRNET’s space and emerging technology reporter. She has covered the U.S. military since 2012, with a focus on the Air Force and Space Force. She has reported on some of the Defense Department’s most significant acquisition, budget and policy challenges.