Potomac Institute for Policy Studies is pleased to announce the July Issue of STEPS: Science, Technology, and Engineering Policy Studies. Please enjoy this featured article:


The US Department of Defense (DoD) is in the midst of an experiment to inject “innovation” into its procurements and processes. The Defense Innovation Initiative (DII) is now in its second year, and has multiple components, but one of its high profile efforts is the Defense Innovation Unit-Experimental (DIUx), which has opened an office in Silicon Valley. The authors contend that the purpose of DIUx is not just to locate and fund interesting companies, but also to educate organizations within the DoD as to the changed culture and funding model that drives innovation in the commercial marketplace. They offer some suggestions for ways that DIUx might operate in the future.




The US DoD believes that the best way to retain, or restore, American technological superiority is through the use of innovation, and they have recently turned to Silicon Valley for help. But when it comes to selecting sources that can help bring innovative technologies and innovative processes into the DoD, it is perhaps best that they select companies that would not want DoD as a client.

In November of 2014, Secretary Chuck Hagel announced a DoD-wide initiative to pursue innovative ways to advance US military superiority, the “Defense Innovation Initiative” (DII). In January of 2015, the Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work gave a talk titled “The Third U.S. Offset Strategy and its Implications for Partners and Allies,” and spoke of the need to maintain a technological edge though innovation. Then in April 2015, the new secretary Ash Carter visited Silicon Valley, and in a speech at Stanford University, announced the creation of the DIUx, with an initial office to be stood up in the Silicon Valley area. He stated that the office would “strengthen existing relationships and build new ones, help scout for new technologies, and help function as a local interface for the Department. Down the road, they could help startups find new work to do with DoD.” This is a great concept, but DIUx will need to find and convince companies to accept DoD as a client.

Behind the Defense Innovation Initiative is a worry that the US technological edge is eroding. Bob Work stated that this is “one of the greatest strategic challenges facing the department…that impacts America’s leadership around the globe.” Thus the Third Offset strategy, and the creation of a Defense Innovation Unit, is intended to “sustain and advance America’s military dominance” not only through technology, but also through innovative processes and strategies.

The key is this magic buzzword, “innovation.” It means doing things differently, and not just incrementally improving upon current systems, technologies, and strategies. It implies agility: fast adoption of ideas, and fast transition from the start-up and lab to operational use. And it means taking advantage of ideas generated for the commercial marketplace, to rapidly integrate those capabilities into defense needs. None of these come easy to the DoD.

But what does “innovation” really mean? And how do you create innovation? This is the dilemma that confronts the DoD as they attempt to harness the power of innovation. The Services, such as the Army, have been conducting “innovation summits,”1 and have laboratories and directorates intended to find innovative ways to fight and accomplish missions. The Navy has launched the “Navy Innovation Cell” to speed up acquisition of information technology.2 The Air Force has opened up its own Silicon Valley office,3 and has an “Airmen powered by innovation” initiative.4 Even the White House has “Presidential Innovation Fellows” and a “Strategy for American Innovation.” Clearly, in this new period after the drawdown of major operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, DoD has turned to the notion of “innovation” as a solution, but it is not yet clear how this will be achieved.

For DoD, the challenge is daunting: To use innovation to turn around the erosion in our technological edge and to thereby create military dominance, when adversaries are going to school on developing new and disruptive military capabilities based on observing decades of American operations. The technical areas where the United States is challenged range from ship defense, to air defense, to hypersonics, to electronic warfare, to materials science, to space assets. Analyses of the third offset strategy and the costs of military innovation warn of many challenges, from the vulnerabilities of our potential developments, to financial costs.5

How can the DoD create and sustain innovation, when most of its sources in the defense industrial base are those whose business model is to maintain the status quo through updates and refinements?

Ultimately, to innovate, you have to rapidly ingest and accept innovative ideas, and in the case of the DoD, from companies that might not want you as a client. The challenging job of the small and nascent Defense Innovation Unit is to address this dilemma for the DoD.

Find the full article here.


STEPS is the technical publication of the Potomac Institute that encourages articles that introduce a bold and innovative idea in technology development, or that discuss policy implications in response to technology developments. We encourage you to read this issue of STEPS—Science, Technology, and Engineering Policy Studies. Please take a look at our website —http://www.potomacinstitute.org/steps/ and download the pdf. If you are interested in publishing in STEPS or if you wish to discuss a topic before completing an article please contact us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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