Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced in the 23 of April, new partnership initiatives today on the first day of a two-day visit to California’s Silicon Valley to learn from experts who run some of the highest-tech companies in one of the nation’s innovation hotspots.
At Stanford University, where he recently served as a distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution and a lecturer at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, Carter delivered the annual Drell Lecture, titled “Rewiring the Pentagon: Charting a New Path on Innovation and Cybersecurity.”
The lecture, sponsored by the Stanford Center for International Security and Cooperation, is named for Dr. Sidney Drell, a theoretical physicist and arms-control expert who cofounded the center.
When Carter became defense secretary, he told the audience, one of his top commitments was to the future — to stay ahead of a changing world, to remain competitive, to attract new generations to the mission of serving the country, and to stay abreast of technology.
Commercially Driven Technology
To begin leveraging commercially driven technology, he said, the Defense Department wants “to partner with businesses on everything from autonomy to robotics to biomedical engineering and 3-D printing; power, energy, propulsion to distributed systems, data science [and] the Internet of things.”
Over the years, Carter said, products developed in Silicon Valley and across the tech community have enabled transformation, progress, opportunity and prosperity across all economic and social sectors, including national defense.
“It’s made many things easier, cheaper and safer,” he added.
“But in recent years it’s become clear that these same advances and technologies also present a degree of risk to the businesses, governments, militaries and individual[s] who rely on them every day … making it easier, cheaper and safer to threaten them,” the secretary said.
The same technologies DoD uses to target cruise missiles and jam enemy air defenses can be used against U.S. and allied forces, and they’re available to the highest bidders, he noted, asking, “How do we mitigate the risk that comes with technology while simultaneously unleashing its promise and potential?”
The answer, he said, is partnership.
Investments by DoD and government agencies have historically played a role in helping to spur ground-up technological innovation in Silicon Valley and on the Stanford campus, Carter said. Vint Cerf, father of the Internet, did that work and more while he was a Stanford assistant professor and a researcher at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the secretary said.
The Global Positioning System began as a defense-driven project, work on Google’s search algorithm was funded by a National Science Foundation grant, and most technologies used throughout Silicon Valley can be traced back to government or DoD research and expenditures, Carter said. “Developers of multitouch [interaction] worked together through a fellowship funded by the National Science Foundation and the CIA,” he added.
“iOS’s Siri grew out of … decades of DARPA-driven research on artificial intelligence and voice recognition, [and] a specific DARPA project funded through [SRI International, formerly the Stanford Research Institute] to help develop a virtual assistant for military personnel,” the secretary said. “And Google’s self-driving cars grew out of a DARPA Grand Challenge.”
DoD, other federal agencies and tech companies helped to ignite the spark, Carter said, but Silicon Valley companies nurtured the flame and created unimaginable applications.
But the Defense Department still makes up half of federal research and development — about $72 billion this year, he said. And $12 billion in R&D funds support breakthrough science and technology research at universities, companies and DoD labs across the tech community.
For example, he said, several Stanford scientists have worked with DARPA, and over the past three years, DARPA has partnered with nearly 50 different public- and private-sector research entities in Silicon Valley.
“These relationships are really valuable to us,” Carter added, “and I intend to continue to nurture them.”
In June, the results of such partnerships will come together during the DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals in Pomona, California.
At the competition, work on smaller sensors, pattern-recognition technology, big-data analysis and autonomous systems with human decision support will fuel a competition of 25 robots from around the world. Each human-robot team will try to navigate a simulated disaster area so that during future disasters such technology may be ready to help without putting people at risk.
But to stay competitive and stay ahead of threats, DoD must do even more, Carter said, “and that starts with our people, who are our most important asset both in Silicon Valley and in the military.”
Who they are and where they are affects the department’s ability to innovate, the secretary said, and that’s the rationale behind some initial steps he’s taking starting today to help the department attract new people with talent and expertise “and who want to contribute to the Force of the Future, even if only for a time or a project.”
In one such effort, the department is establishing a DoD branch of the U.S. Digital Service, an outgrowth of the tech team that helped to rescue healthcare.gov, the secretary said.
The team will help to solve some of DoD’s most intractable IT and data problems, Carter said, noting that “we have our very first team … already in the Pentagon working on transferring electronic health records from DoD to the [Department of Veterans Affairs].”
U.S. Digital Service
Calling the U.S. Digital Service “a wonderful opportunity to try out public service,” Carter told the audience they can go to http://whitehouse.gov/usds to learn more.
Another initiative Carter announced today takes advantage of the elements that make Silicon Valley “a nexus for innovation” — an experimental Silicon Valley partnership called the Defense Innovation Unit-X, or DIUX. The unit will scout emerging and breakthrough technologies and build direct relationships to DoD.
This is “first-of-a-kind [partnership] for us, staffed by some of our best active-duty and military personnel, plus key people from the reserves who live here, who are some our best technical talent,” Carter said.
Building New Relationships
The team will strengthen existing relationships and build new ones while functioning as a local interface node for the rest of the department, the secretary said. Down the road, he added, “they can help startups find new work to do with DoD.”
Next, Carter said, the department will open a door in the other direction, from our best government technologies to industry and then back.
An existing program called Secretary of Defense Corporate Fellows sends about 15 DoD people a year out to commercial companies such as Oracle, Cisco, FedEx and others, he said.
“Right now we don’t effectively harness what they’ve learned when they come back, … so we’re going to try expanding that fellows program into a two-year gig -– one year in a company and one year in a part of DoD with comparable business practices,” the secretary said. “That way, we have a better chance to bring the private sector’s best practices back into the department.”
To invest in the most promising emerging technologies, Carter said, the department needs the creativity and innovation that comes from startups and small businesses.
“This is particularly important, because startups are the leading edge of commercial innovation,” he said, “and right now, DoD researchers don’t have enough promising ways to transition technologies that they come up with to application. I want to fix that too.”
Borrowing on the success of an intelligence community partnership with the independent nonprofit startup-backer In-Q-Tel, Carter said the department has proposed and In-Q-Tel has accepted a pilot project to provide innovative solutions to DoD’s most challenging problems.
The department will make a small investment with In-Q-Tel to leverage the nonprofit’s proven relationships and apply its approach to DoD, he added.
The Best Partners
“As secretary of defense, my mission is to make sure our military can defend our country … and we’re at our best when we have the best partners,” Carter said. “Knowing how we’ve worked together in the past and how critical your work is to our country, strengthening this partnership is very important to me.
“We have a unique opportunity to build bridges and rebuild bridges [in the commercial tech sector] and renew trust,” he continued. “That’s why I’m visiting some other companies here this afternoon and meeting with a group of tech leaders tomorrow. I want to learn how in the years to come a new level of partnership can lead to great things. That’s what’s possible through partnership.”