WASHINGTON — In the early days of the Pentagon’s Defense Innovation Unit Experimental, then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter stressed that the “experimental” part of the unit was vital, a sign that the Silicon Valley outreach hub could remain flexible.
“DIUx is, after all, an experiment, as well as a pathfinder,” Carter said in 2016, following a relaunch of the group after a frustrating first year. “We created it so we could try new approaches, learn what works and what doesn’t, and iterate until we get it right. And we’ll keep iterating together and learning from each other as we go forward.”
Now, three years after its founding, it appears the experiment is over.
Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan on Thursday announced that the office will now be known only as the Defense Innovation Unit, formally dropping the “experimental” part of the title.
In a memo, Shanahan called the group a “proven, valuable asset” for the department and said the name change is a testament to my commitment to the importance of its mission.”
“Removing ‘experimental’ reflects DIU’s permanence within the DoD. Though DIU will continue to experiment with new ways of delivering capability to the warfighter, the organization itself is no longer an experiment,” Shanahan wrote. “DIU remains vital to fostering innovation across the Department and transforming the way DoD builds a more lethal force.”
It’s a vote of confidence that will be welcomed by the now-DIU team and its supporters, after a year where many wondered about the future of the office.
Since its creation, DIUx reported directly to the defense secretary — until February of this year, when it was rolled under the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering. Raj Shah, who led the group for the last two years, stepped down earlier this year as the office’s leader; a search for his full-time replacement is ongoing. And three years after the office was formed, some have questioned what exactly the group has accomplished.
To help make sure DIUx thrives in the new ecosystem, the office recently hired Michael Madsen to take over its D.C. operations, with the stated goal of increasing its influence and outreach in the Pentagon and on the Hill. Shanahan’s vote of confidence may make his job easier.
“DIU has provided meaningful solutions to some of the toughest challenges by successfully accelerating commercial technology into the Department," Madsen said in a statement to Defense News. "We appreciate senior department leaders’ commitment to our mission and the opportunity to expand our lessons learned throughout the DoD to benefit the men and women in uniform.”
Updated at 3:18 PM EST with comment from Madsen.
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.