DoD Innovation: Landscape of Emerging Practices

DoD Innovation: Landscape of Emerging Practices

For my whole career, I’ve been intrigued by this idea of defense acquisitions. I discussed this to a replacement friend of mine, a search scientist at the Koch Institute for Brain Research. She said that was the nerdiest thing she had ever heard.

But here’s the thing: after even only one tour during a combat zone - my first was Afghanistan - you learn the criticality of getting the technology you would like right once you need it. Warfighters juggle tons of priorities, many of which could increase the prospect of casualties. When there’s a technical solution that creates managing those life-saving responsibilities easier, warfighters deserve it fast and right.

But our US-based defense acquisitions process is shrouded within the legacy priority of fraud prevention. Between the Department of Defense (DoD) Instruction 5000.02, the Defense Acquisitions Regulation System and therefore the case law accompanying seventy years of competitive contracting, the whole national security innovation base features a tough nut to crack when stakeholder goals are foundational to assist warfighters to survive.

At the MIT Innovation Initiative, we develop the idea and practice of mission-driven innovation. The Department of Defense is perfectly aligned during this way – where the proper innovation leads to peace and security - not a bottom line. Specifically, I study how the Department of Defense innovates to urge the proper technology to the warfighter at the proper time. The last 20 years have highlighted this challenge. within the last decade, especially, we see several prevailing practices making great strides during this fight.

A favorite example is the Air Force program with Kessel Run. The Air Force teamed up with Kessel Run to supply software at commercial speed. Airmen who code add the Boston office in civilian clothes during a horizontal organizational structure using modern methodologies like lean development, user-centered design, and extreme programming.

The Air Force has also partnered with accelerator Techstars. Each year, Techstars selects startups focused on dual-use technology that specializes in a key area of technical interest for the military. Startups actively participate within the accelerator for four months, where the program culminates during a demo day with an outsized audience of potential buyers.

A few years ago, AFWERX worked with the SBIR Program Office to advance a two-week agenda from pitch to contract.

I consider the DoD the correspondent of the elephant in John Godfrey Saxe’s poem. Only we all work together, can we have a transparent understanding 

I consider the DoD the correspondent of the elephant in John Godfrey Saxe’s poem. Only we all work together, can we have a transparent understanding,

In March Air Force Program Offices heavily put this into action by offering 51 SBIR contracts at the “Air Force Pitch Day” in NY City.

The Army lab (ARL) offers three-year sabbaticals with seed funding and two-year return rights. Now ARL can attract talent supported technical interest as against risk aversion - an incredibly important quality when performing on projects with high technical risk.

The Army is foundationally changing its organizational structure with the establishment and style of Army Futures Command. Very similar to AFWERX and Techstars, the organization is devoted to opening the breach of what it considers partners, expanding the national security innovation base beyond large defense contractors to companies that haven’t historically worked with the DoD.

Program Executive Office (PEO) Soldier, the Army’s program office for soldier uniforms and equipment, unrolled the Soldier Enhancement Program (SEP) a few years ago. Soldiers can make suggestions on the PEO. and that they have - over 40% of the PEO Soldier portfolio is from warfighter suggestions via the SEP website. 

The Navy recently established its NavalX Agility Cell, committed to connecting end-users with ideas to organizations that will make the ideas a reality. While the NavalX Agility Cell designs its value proposition, it appears to be one among the rare programs committed to connecting warfighters to the method.

Across the services, several programs are helping the method of getting warfighters what they have fast. The Defense Digital Service (DDS) arose from the US Digital Service, the digital savior to healthcare.gov. DDS, still a young organization, spreads those software development methodologies to hastily deliver great digital products. Rather than fighting the DFARS (and its mother document, the Federal Acquisition Regulation), leaders at DDS can work within streamlined acquisitions and OTAs.

The Defense Innovation Unit (DIU), now in its fourth year, calls different innovation hubs home: Silicon Valley, Boston, Austin, and DC. It contracts with commercial companies relatively quickly supported an outsized technical portfolio, as against a really specific technical portfolio that will be solicited by a warfare center or research, development, and engineering center. 

Under DIU is that the National Security Innovation Network (NSIN). NSIN, formerly MD5, works to interact with a wider audience into the national security innovation base. It attracts startups, engineers curious about defense technology, students et al. to interact in a number of the toughest problems within the globe - those of defense and security. NSIN fills a good gap - connecting the non-defense innovation base with a number of the toughest problems, and, the other way around, i.e. connecting the DoD, a corporation that has a number of the toughest technical challenges, with an untapped population of bright engineers and scientists.

While I consider all of those programs important samples of emerging practices in defense innovation, it doesn’t mean all programs should be trying to find such transformative procedural changes. The managers of major defense acquisition programs that represent the equipment of the past, present and future have the important incremental innovation they plan to a day. Some programs are too complex to shortchange long-term rigor.

I consider the DoD the identical of the elephant in John Godfrey Saxe’s poem. only we all work together, can we have a transparent understanding.

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