WASHINGTON — The Pentagon's Silicon Valley office expects to transition prototype projects to the military services for use sometime in the next two months — an important milestone for a group with a somewhat uncertain future.
Raj Shah, the head of the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental, or DIUx, said that some of the 25 projects, which are on contract through his office, will be transitioning shortly for use, although he did not go into details about how many or which ones.
"Some of the earlier [projects] are getting closer to validation of the prototypes, and we'll have a lot more to say about that in the next two months when they transition," Shah told reporters April 20.
As of the end of March, DIUx has awarded 25 agreements for a total of $48.4 million; an increase of 13 projects and $12.3 million since the forth quarter of 2016. Of those 25 agreements, 22 have come from nontraditional defense firms. Overall, 356 companies from 36 states have competed for DIUx funding.
Asked to define what those agreements included, Shah said those were projects "that we contracted with vendors, so that involves working with our customers, doing a source-selection competitive process, and outlining the milestones required."
Among those 25 agreements are an anti-drone weapon, designed by a company called Sensofusion for the U.S. Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory and the Joint Improvised-Threat Defeat Organization; an agreement with Shield AI to prototype mapping software onto a current Navy unmanned system on behalf of U.S. Naval Air Systems Command; and a project from California-based Orbital Insight to develop advanced analytics from synthetic aperture radar data for the Department of Defense.
Notably, tech firms have invested more than $1.5 billion in companies that are working with DIUx. Once DIUx money helped get those companies up and running or helped them fund tests to prove their concepts, the tech community took notice, Shah said, creating funding that his office would not have been able to match on its own.
In essence, the tech sector is now investing in DoD product development, with the agency to sit back and enjoy the benefits.
DIUx was originally set up as part of the normal acquisition system, but following a slow start it was relaunched last year under Shah's direction — and with a direct report to then-Secretary of Defense Ash Carter. At the time analysts warned that tying the office directly to Carter may backfire should a less-interested secretary succeed him.
Shah confirmed that he has met with Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis about his office and has been given the signal to proceed as planned, saying that "from a DIUx standpoint, the guidance we've been given is to continue at the full speed that we had and continue to deliver value."
Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.