At the Defense Department’s highest levels, the search is on for advanced tech. After attracting and keeping the men and women who make up the best fighting force on earth, innovation and technology are the next best ways to unnerve the adversary.
Driving the search are a range of enemies old and new, commercial technologies that anyone can use with good intent or bad, and a push by Defense Secretary Ash Carter to make it easier for private-sector smart people to work at the Pentagon for a year or two to share great ideas with the defense enterprise.
Back in April 2015, Carter traveled to Silicon Valley to speak at Stanford University about rewiring the Pentagon. He also visited Facebook in Menlo Park and met with tech executives at the $4 billon venture-capital firm Andreessen Horowitz.
On that trip Carter announced the launch of something called the Defense Innovation Unit-Experimental, or DIUx, a tech-seeking hub right there in Silicon Valley where staffers could help technology creators connect with potential defense users.
Six months later DIUx opened its doors outside the gate at nearby Moffett Field, led by Dr. George Duchak, a former program manager for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA.
Today, DIUx is in the initial stages of its mission to strengthen relationships between the Pentagon and the commercial tech sector and build new ones, and scout for breakthrough and emerging technologies in Silicon Valley and wherever else they can be found.
On Jan. 8, another Silicon Valley meeting took place between top government officials and tech firm execs, this time to discuss something President Barack Obama was interested in — getting the feds and tech leaders to collaborate to make it harder for terrorists or criminals to find refuge in cyberspace, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said last week.
Executives from Apple, Twitter, Facebook, Microsoft and Google, according to media reports, met with senior White House and other government officials, including the president’s top counterterrorism advisor Lisa Monaco, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, and National Security Agency Director and U.S. Cyber Command Commander Navy Adm. Mike Rogers.
Earnest said a good precedent for collaboration is that federal law enforcement officials have been able to work with tech companies to combat child porn.
“Technology leaders are patriotic Americans,” Earnest said. “They don’t have any desire for child pornographers or would-be terrorists to be using their tools and their technology to harm innocent people.”
Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work too has spent time in Silicon Valley discussing innovation and defense needs, both of which are important to offset strategies, or ways the department historically has found to get around adversary strengths.
The first U.S. offset was in the 1950s when the nation built up its nuclear deterrent to make up for the Soviet Union’s superiority in conventional weapons.
Beginning in the 1970s, the second offset came from developing revolutionary systems like extended-range precision-guided munitions, stealth aircraft and new intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms, then combining them with new operational concepts. The multi-element system was abruptly put to the test in 1991 during the wildly successful Desert Storm.
A third offset strategy is needed now because adversaries are building up their military capabilities using that commercial tech anyone can buy. Work says this offset will be based on advanced-tech learning systems, human-machine collaboration, human-machine combat teaming, assisted human operations and network-enabled cyber-hardened weapons.
Some of those technologies may even come from Silicon Valley, but this week, 7,400 miles east, Work visited top Israeli officials in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. They discussed, among other things, how both countries can use technology to confront threats, and how to deepen cooperation on defense technology and infrastructure.
Work thinks a lot about advanced capabilities and how to make the current offset an enduring success over the next several presidential administrations.
Work’s spokeswoman Navy Lt. Cmdr. Courtney Hillson said the third offset strategy focuses on increasing the competitive advantage of American and allied forces over the coming decades.
“We want to partner with businesses,” Carter said back in April, “on everything from autonomy to robotics to biomedical engineering; from power, energy, and propulsion to distributed systems, data science and the Internet of things.”
He added, “If we’re going to leverage these technologies to defend our country and help make a better world, the Department of Defense cannot do everything in all these areas alone.”
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