Carter opens second DOD innovation hub in Boston

DOD photograph

The secretary has championed Defense Innovation Unit Experimental, or DIUx, as one of the ways the Pentagon is investing in innovation and a model for outreach to the United States’ innovative technology communities. The two DIUx hubs strategically place the department in a position to access leading-edge technologies, scientists and other experts on behalf of the nation, DoD and its warfighters, he said.

“Over the last 11 months since we first opened the doors of the West Coast office in Silicon Valley, DIUx … has helped us connect with hundreds of entrepreneurs and firms, making great progress in putting commercially based innovation into the hands of America’s soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines,” Carter said today at the new hub in Boston’s Cambridge section.

DIUx 2.0
In May, Carter launched DIUx 2.0 with several new features.

“It now reports directly to my office. It has its own contracting capability and budget resources. It has a new, flatter, partnership-style leadership structure led by managing partner Raj Shah, an F-16 pilot and co-founder of a successful technology startup,” the secretary said, adding that with the opening of the Boston office, DIUx has gone nationwide.

Over the past 10 weeks, progress has included adding to the leadership team, Carter said. The new team now includes Chief Science Officer Bernadette Johnson, former chief technology officer at MIT Lincoln Laboratories, and Boston military lead Col. Mike McGinley, a lawyer specializing in cybersecurity issues who also is an Air Force Reserve cyberwarrior.

The DIUx operating structure consists of three teams, Carter said.

A Venture Team will identify emerging commercial technologies and explore their battlefield potential, a Foundry Team will identify technologies that require development or adaptation for military applications, and an Engagement Team will introduce innovators to national security challenges and the military to entrepreneurs.

An innovative engagement mechanism called the Commercial Solutions Opening will leverage new flexible authorities for prototyping provided by Congress. This uses processes similar to those used by the private sector and routes funding in as little as 60 days after a proposal is accepted, Carter said.

Biotechnology, biosciences
Carter said he also wants DOD to be part of the coming revolution in biotechnology and the biosciences, because both can have an impact on the health and welfare of the department’s men and women in uniform.

“That’s why I’m also announcing that DIUx is exploring ways to bring leading minds in the military and DoD who work on biodefense and biological technology together with world-class academic researchers, biotech companies, and entrepreneurs — including those right here in Boston, like [MIT mathematician and geneticist] Eric Lander and the Broad Institute and others,” the secretary added.

Like San Francisco, Austin, Seattle and other places, he said, Boston is an ecosystem of companies, universities and research institutions that exemplifies America’s innovative culture, especially in the union of biosciences, engineering and data, areas that together could yield new ways to fight infectious diseases or help develop new materials that can regenerate, respond to their environment or learn and evolve.

“The outcome of this will be just one of the many ways we’ll measure the success of DIUx,” he said, but the most important metric, he added, “will be how much new technology is delivered into the hands of our troops.”

A high return on investment will mean improved warfighter capability, with innovative technologies being demonstrated and incorporated into regular defense acquisition programs of record, the secretary said. “That will require more companies that might not look for defense business getting into our game, and also established defense companies having more access to talent,” Carter added.

Addressing strategic challenges
“This is a very exciting time,” Carter said. “For those interested in foreign policy and national security, there are lots of interesting challenges and problems to work on. That’s also true for those interested in technology. But the intersection of the two is an opportunity-rich environment.”

Right now, he said, men and women in uniform are working with partners from the U.S.-led worldwide coalition in more ways and with more power every day to accelerate the defeat of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, training with NATO allies in Europe to deter Russian aggression, sailing the waters of the Asia-Pacific to ensure that region’s stability, standing guard 24-7 on the Korean Peninsula, and countering Iran’s malign influence.

All the while, he said, they’re helping to protect the homeland.

“Whether it’s machine learning technology that can recognize and block ISIL’s barbaric attack plotting on social media, or algorithms that help a self-driving boat track submarines, or biotech research that could one day help our troops recover from injury faster,” Carter said, “technology is a critical part of everything we do. It’s critical to addressing every strategic challenge facing us today. That’s why DIUx matters.”