One theme of Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s term in office has been ensuring the department gets war fighters what they need when they need it — now and in the future.
Carter told the Defense One Tech Summit at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., June 10 that he is looking at the intersection between technology and defense as the logical place for this emphasis as he continues to put in place programs and organizations to meet the needs of warfighters faster and more efficiently in an increasingly competitive world.
One example is the Defense Innovation Board, which the secretary announced in March. Alphabet executive chairman Eric Schmidt chairs the board, and Carter announced other members at the summit. The board will include Reid Hoffman, the head of LinkedIn; former U.S. Special Operations Command chief retired Navy Adm. William McRaven; and noted innovation historian Walter Isaacson, he said.
“And we’ve got some additional amazing innovators lined up, so stay tuned for who else will be joining them,” he added.
At the Defense One Tech Summit at the Newseum June 10, 2016, Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced members of the new Defense Innovation Board to advise him and future defense secretaries on how to continue building bridges and adapting to change to be more competitive.
Carter said he has asked the board to keep DOD “imbued with a culture of innovation in people, organizations, operations, and technology.” He wants the board to champion people who aren’t afraid to try new things, fail, regroup and try again, he said.
The secretary also said he wants to ensure the department is “doing everything we can to stay ahead of potential adversaries.”
Strategic Capabilities Office
But the board does not act alone. DOD’s Strategic Capabilities Office also is coming into its own, Carter said. The office, which the secretary established in 2012 when he was deputy secretary, re-imagines existing DOD systems and gives them new roles and game-changing capabilities to confound enemies.
“We’re building fast, resilient microdrones that can be kicked out the back of a fighter jet moving at Mach .9 and fly through heavy winds,” Carter said. “We’re developing an arsenal plane, which will function as a very large airborne magazine with different conventional payloads, networked to fifth-generation aircraft that act as forward sensors and targeting nodes.”
The secretary also pointed to his Silicon Valley start-up, the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental, or DIUx. He has since announced a second DIUx in Boston. These efforts are bridges between DOD and tech companies that might not normally consider doing business with the department, Carter said.
All of these efforts are based around people, the secretary said. “They’re the key reason why our military is the finest fighting force the world has ever known,” he added. “And in the future, we must continue to recruit and retain the very best talent for our all-volunteer force.”
The secretary segued into a discussion of the Force of the Future and its implications for his signature initiative. The Force of the Future will “ensure that amid changes in generations, technologies, and labor markets, we’re always postured to bring in, develop, and retain the best young men and women that America has to offer,” he said.
The force initiative covers the personnel aspects of the department, he noted. “As part of that, we’re implementing several new initiatives to give some of our own people, military and civilian, the opportunity to get out and to learn how the rest of the world works outside of our walls,” he said.
Fellowship programs and a career intermission program are just two examples of the vistas now open to military personnel, Carter said. “We’re also looking for ways to allow more of America’s brightest minds to contribute to our mission of national defense,” he added. “We’re bringing in resident entrepreneurs, who will work with senior leaders on challenging projects for a year or two.”
He also is hiring a chief recruiting officer to bring in top executives for stints in civilian leadership roles.
The new Defense Digital Service is bringing in coders from companies such as Google, Palantir, and Shopify for a “tour of duty” with the department. “We’re also nearing completion of our pilot program called “Hack the Pentagon,” where we invited vetted hackers to test our cybersecurity,” the secretary said. The program exceeded expectations, said he told the summit audience, with more than 1,400 hackers testing the security of DOD’s networks and finding more than 100 bugs so far.
More needs to be done, Carter said, and he promised to continue his emphasis in this area until the day he leaves office.