Working to bring technologies to warfighters

The Defense Innovation Unit Experimental, or DIUx, is working “at the speed of business” to attract innovators and bring cutting edge technologies to the warfighter, according to the unit’s managing partner.

“It’s been a very fast-paced sprint since DIUx 2.0 was launched this past May,” Raj Shah explained in a conference call with reporters today.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced the creation of DIUx in April 2015, as part of the Defense Department’s outreach to America’s innovative technology companies.

In May 2016, Carter announced enhancements to DIUx that included a consolidated reporting structure, with DIUx reporting directly to the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and a leadership team comprised of partners with experience in technology, strategy, business and management.

In addition to a Silicon Valley office, DIUx opened an office in Boston, and has a presence in Austin, Texas, Shah said, noting innovation doesn’t just occur in California’s tech corridor.

“This allows us to more effectively identify new technologies by working within these key geographical ecosystems and networking with companies in those regions,” he said.

$36 Million in Contracts

In the last quarter of fiscal year 2016, DIUx awarded 12 agreements for a total of $36 million, Shah said. For every dollar of DIUx funding, DoD customers — including services, component organizations and combatant commands — provided three dollars, he explained.

Those contracts encompass technologies on drones, wireless communications and cyber defense, as well as a simulation sandbox for real-world event modeling and planning, he said.

Projects in the pipeline, he said, include technologies on multifactor authentication, cyber security and micro-satellites.

‘Vital to National Security’

DIUx’s mission, Shah explained in an interview last month, is to leverage commercial technology investment to assist warfighters. That mission is “vital to national security,” he said.

“We look at certain types of software, automation, [and artificial intelligence, or] AI — we need to get these types of capabilities to our men and women as fast and as safely as we can,” he said.

Quicker Contracts

DIUx is using a “reliable and transparent” contracting mechanism, the Commercial Solutions Opening, which is based on language from the fiscal year 2016 National Defense Authorization Act and available to all entities within the DoD, Shah said.

“This enables us and DIUx to work at the speed of business,” he said.

Under CSO, the average time for awarding a contract is 59 days, he said. That includes the time a company responds to a solicitation to the final contract, Shah said.

“Core to our value and our approach here at DIUx is to help nontraditional vendors work with the department, so we get access to their technology earlier and more directly than we normally would,” he said.

A longer and more complicated and rigid contracting process could be a hindrance to startups, Shah pointed out.

“The CSO facilitates fast, flexible and collaborative work between DoD and technology companies that traditionally have not done business with the department,” he said.

Attracting Best Innovators

In an interview last month, Lauren Schmidt, the pathways director for DIUx, said DoD needed to speed up the way it did contracting in order to attract the best innovators.

The CSO has changed the way the department does business, she said.

The process is much faster, as a typical contract cycle time could be six months or even a year, Schmidt said. The CSO is also flexible and collaborative, she pointed out.

“Rather than coming to them with very rigid conditions they have to accept and comply with to do business with us, we actually can sit across the table from one another and actually hash out and negotiate all of the terms and conditions of the contract,” she said.

Under the CSO, warfighters are in the room with engineers to work out the details of the project, Schmidt explained. The process is flexible and fast, a motivating factor for tech companies to do business with the department, Schmidt said.

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