By Cheryl Pellerin
DoD News, Defense Media Activity
On Sept. 14 Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced that the Pentagon is opening a third location for its tech start-up Defense Innovation Unit-Experimental, called DIUx, this time extending the department’s outreach to the U.S. technology community to Austin, Texas.
“I know many of you in this city take pride in keeping Austin weird,” Carter said, referring to a slogan the Austin Independent Business Alliance uses to promote small businesses there.
“So let me assure you — I not only want to keep Austin weird, I’m counting on it,” he added, “because the creative thinking that happens in places like Austin is part of what makes our country so innovative and our economy so vibrant and strong.”
Having DIUx in Austin will help the U.S. military stay the best in the world because when it comes to America’s national security no one can afford to be complacent, Carter said.
“Our competitors are trying to out-innovate us,” he said, “which means we have to be willing to think a little differently.”
In April 2015, Carter created DIUx in Mountain View, Calif., the first technology outpost for defense outreach to innovative U.S. technology companies. In July he opened another DIUx office in Boston — part of the secretary’s plan to invest aggressively in innovation of all kinds — in defense technology, operations, organizations and the talent management of the all-volunteer force.
At the Capital Factory, a business incubator in downtown Austin, Carter told an audience of city officials and entrepreneurs, “Given this city’s and this region’s deep commitment to innovation and … this state’s deep connections to those who serve, we couldn’t have picked a better place.”
Staying Ahead of Challenges
Investing in innovation is one of the ways the department is staying ahead of the global challenges it faces, Carter said, “developing new partnerships with the private sector across America’s many great innovation hubs, unrivaled in the world — places like Boston, Seattle, Silicon Valley and or course, here in Austin. That’s why we and DIUx have come here today.”
Over the past 12 months DIUx has been a signature part of the department’s outreach to the tech community and it’s been enormously productive, the secretary said.
“We’ve already iterated launching DIUx 2.0, as we call it, in May under the leadership of Raj Shah and his fellow partners. We’ve expanded to Boston, where I opened the DIUx east coast office in July. And Raj and his team are already bringing in game-changing technologies that are going to benefit America’s warfighters,” Carter said.
They’ve closed five deals just in the last three months, he noted, and another 22 projects are in the pipeline in areas like network defense, autonomous seafaring drones and virtual war-gaming.
And now in Austin, “the silicon hills of central Texas have long been a hotbed of scientific and technological innovation, from the garage inventors and dorm-room entrepreneurs who follow in Michael Dell’s footsteps, to the startups nurtured in incubators like Capital Factory right here, to the researchers and grad students breaking new ground … at the University of Texas” systems’ 14 institutions, Carter said.
Expanding Guard, Reserve Elements
The Pentagon’s outlying presence in Austin will help expand DIUx’s national reserve element, led in Mountain View, Calif., by Navy Reserve Cmdr. Doug Beck, a decorated combat veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Doug’s a very busy guy, especially right now,” Carter explained. ”In his civilian life he’s vice president for Apple [and] reports directly to Tim Cook. But I’m grateful he could join us here today and for his continued leadership in the DIUx West Coast office.”
There, Carter said, Beck leads a team of citizen-soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, many of whom offer unique value to DIUx as tech-industry leaders and entrepreneurs when they’re not on duty for DoD.
“We’re looking to benefit from such talent even more in Austin, because here DIUx will build its ranks by recruiting proven local innovators who already serve our country in the National Guard and the Reserves,” the secretary said.
“Once they come on board they’ll serve part-time — that is, in their regular reserve capacity — to help connect the broader DIUx enterprise with local and nearby companies that are developing promising technologies with potential customers across our Department of Defense,” Carter added.
They’ll also work in close coordination with DIUx partners in Silicon Valley and Boston, he added, and if that model continues to succeed, the department will replicate it in other innovation hubs around the country while continuing to experiment.
Building the Team
Carter said he’s handpicked Christine Abizaid, former deputy assistant secretary of defense for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia, to spearhead the DIUx effort in Austin.
Local reservists will join Abizaid’s team, beginning with Air Force 1st Lt. Samantha Snabes. She is an intelligence officer in the Mississippi Air National Guard and in civilian life is co-founder and CEO of re:3D, a business she started in Austin to support affordable, industrial 3-D printing innovations, Carter added.
“Before you know it, Christy and her team will be reaching out to all of you here. They’ll want you to help them understand the technologies you’re working on. They’ll want you to help you understand how those technologies can support our men and women in uniform and contribute to defending our country. You tell us what you’re doing [and] we’ll tell you how it can help,” the secretary said.
Whether it’s machine-learning technology that can recognize and block the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’s barbaric ideology on social media, or algorithms to help a self-driving boat track submarines, or biotech research that could one day help U.S. troops recover faster from injury, Carter said, “technology’s a critical part of everything we do and it’s critical to addressing every challenge we face today.”
(Follow Cheryl Pellerin on Twitter @PellerinDoDNews)