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.