The Defense Innovation Unit is poised to take on more responsibility for coordinating technology efforts within the Pentagon and is working more closely with combatant commands to make sure those capabilities are meeting their needs, according to its new strategy.
The 10-page document, released Feb. 7, outlines DIU’s expanding role and lays out steps the organization is taking to ensure that the department is taking full advantage of commercially derived capabilities to counter threats from China and Russia.
“Against a backdrop of international challenges and with the world’s most capable technology sector, we can and must do more to identify and adopt impactful commercial technologies at speed and scale,” DIU states in the strategy. “With recent changes from [Department of Defense] leadership and Congress, we are now poised to help our partners across the department, interagency, commercial tech sector and allied and partner nations meet these goals.”
The strategy comes as the organization transitions into a new phase of operation, dubbed DIU 3.0. Founded in 2015 to help create a bridge between Silicon Valley startups and the Pentagon, the DIU’s early work focused on building partnerships and proving the value of commercial technology for military needs.
As of 2022, due in part to its contracting speed, DIU had transitioned 52 projects to the battlefield backed by multiyear production contracts from the military services worth up to $4.9 billion. Those projects include maneuverable drones, AI systems and satellite remote sensing technologies.
Now, with backing from leaders in the Pentagon and in Congress, DIU is making a deliberate shift toward helping the Defense Department field the most military-relevant commercial technologies at a larger scale.
Last April, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin elevated the organization to report directly to his office and DIU Director Doug Beck is now a member of the influential Deputy’s Innovation Steering Group. The group oversees DoD efforts to quickly get high-need technology into the field, including the Replicator initiative — which aims to field thousands of autonomous systems on an 18-to-24-month time frame.
Beck also chairs the Defense Innovation Working Group, which directly supports the steering group by vetting capabilities for it to consider.
The strategy notes that these elevated roles will help DIU establish stronger partnerships with Pentagon leadership and service acquisition officials that ensure it is focusing on the right technology projects and scaling in the right areas.
DIU will also help coordinate among DoD’s many innovation entities, which largely reside within the military services. The strategy notes that while these organizations are delivering results, they lack synergy.
“Uncoordinated outreach has sometimes resulted in overlapping, unprioritized and competing demand signals that can make it hard for tech companies to engage, particularly small companies and startups,” DIU states. “Confused communication about the different pathways for working with DoD as a vendor leaders to mismatched expectations.”
To help address these problems, DIU will lead an organization called the Defense Innovation Community of Entities, or DICE. The group includes innovation hubs from across the department and DIU will work to find solutions for shared challenges.
DIU will also offer more direct, embedded support to combatant commands around the world. The organization is playing a key role in U.S. Indo-Pacific Command’s new Joint Mission Accelerator Directorate, which is designed to ensure the command’s top priority technology projects have a network of support within DoD and industry.
The organization has similar embedded partnerships with U.S. European Command and plans to replicate those efforts to other combatant commands.
“Those embeds will both help shape demand for technology and ensure that innovation efforts are unwaveringly focused on meeting it,” DIU states.
To support these expanded partnerships, the strategy notes that DIU needs more resources, including a larger staff. The Pentagon has approved some staffing increases, including the recent hire of two senior executive service-level deputies, a civilian level role that is equivalent to a military general or flag officer rank.
“DIU’s mission rests on the ability to attract, develop, deploy and retain that talent, both for the direct application to DIU’s own mission and for the development of a cadre of technology talent available to deploy throughout the department,” it said.
Courtney Albon is C4ISRNET’s space and emerging technology reporter. She has covered the U.S. military since 2012, with a focus on the Air Force and Space Force. She has reported on some of the Defense Department’s most significant acquisition, budget and policy challenges.