Exiting DIU director urges Pentagon to refresh how it adopts commercial tech for future wars

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Brandi Vincent

In the months leading up to his exit as director of the Pentagon’s Protection Innovation Device (DIU), Mike Brown and his workforce are assisting get commercial technologies into the arms of Ukrainians on the frontlines, who are skillfully deploying drones, artificial intelligence and other off-the-shelf methods from American businesses to beat Russian invaders.

This conflict is spotlighting in true-time how quickly deployable professional abilities will be critical to winning wars going ahead, according to Brown, and the U.S. requirements to shake-up some of its technological know-how adoption procedures to proficiently put together. 

“We’re observing the modify in front of our eyes in Ukraine — business technological know-how is heading to be additional essential and applied in some new and unique ways,” Brown informed FedScoop in a latest job interview. “I believe it is underscoring how crucial the mission of DIU is. As we consider about warfare evolving above the following few of decades, there is going to be much more and far more of these professional systems that are going to be utilized in warfare.” 

Launched in 2015, DIU was developed as a mechanism to assistance the Protection Section team with the commercial sector and field reducing-edge capabilities to the armed forces much more speedily and a lot less pricey than regular governing administration purchasing solutions permit. It now has outposts in various of the nation’s tech hubs which include Silicon Valley, Boston, Austin, Chicago and Washington. Brown has led the device for just about four many years and lately announced programs to depart in September when his term finishes, inspite of an choice to stay on.

He just lately briefed FedScoop on a couple of of the troubles and actions that are shaping his final days steering DIU.

‘Game-changing’ tech for Ukraine

Due to the fact Russia invaded its neighbor in February, tech-savvy Ukranians have been leveraging many business systems that DIU supported and worked on as portion of its portfolio, together with safe communications equipment, drones and satellite imagery.

“As soon as we saw the activities unfold and we saw the invasion was happening — with the U.S. finding concerned to assistance NATO allies — we immediately highlighted the industrial technologies that we thought could be valuable so that they would be capable to be put on the security assistance lists that are offered to Ukraine and make absolutely sure that European Command, the force that is working most closely with NATO, would have access to people,” Brown discussed. Ukraine is not aspect of NATO but it is remaining equipped by users of the transatlantic alliance.

A single of the considerably less obvious of all those DIU-supported capabilities that has enabled Ukraine to unleash “some rather harmful effects” on the Russian military, in Brown’s view, is connected with synthetic aperture radar (SAR). This sort of radar relies on different area-based sensors to offer satellite imagery of particular sites of curiosity. 

“We’re made use of to satellite visuals that are optical, in which you are wanting at photographs with quite higher-tech cameras,” Brown stated. “But now it’s possible to get a radar graphic. That way, you can see through cloud, and you can see at evening — and this has been a sport-changer in Ukraine.”

Mainly because the technological innovation is commercially produced, Brown claimed the U.S. could swiftly share it with partners and Ukranians on the floor to assistance them attain a tactical gain very early in the conflict. 

“But also believe about how the war unfolded, wherever the U.S. intelligence community was ready to predict what was likely to occur, frankly, traveling in the encounter of what some thought, to say ‘No, [Russia’s Vladimir] Putin is amassing forces and he’s heading to invade.’ And we have been able to not only make that prediction, but share the images with the globe,” Brown claimed. 

That technological innovation is nonetheless getting applied to deliver intelligence about the movements and steps of Russian forces.

“And we have put together that with some artificial intelligence to essentially do battlefield assessments,” Brown included. 

When DIU in the beginning started focusing on SAR technologies a number of many years back, officials’ initial intent was to establish algorithms that would tell them of infrastructure destruction resulting from natural disasters.

“I live in California. So in California, wildfires are normally on my brain. And we could give initially responders a watch of which roads ended up damaged or impassable, or what are the constructions that now are gone,” Brown pointed out. 

Now, the know-how is encouraging to analyze how fight zones — this kind of as Ukrainian metropolitan areas and infrastructure — are afflicted by warfighting.

“They can do battlefield injury assessments, as soon as missiles are traveling in the air. So, the Ukrainians can get a color-coded check out using industrial technological innovation of what is the damage that’s just transpired due to the fact these missiles have flown. That is an illustration of variety of a match-shifting engineering, in phrases of nearer to actual-time situational consciousness, that we’re ready to give Ukrainians and something that DIU has worked on,” Brown mentioned. 

DIU introduced in a range of the suppliers that are now contracted by the U.S. military to provide that imagery, Brown famous. Mainly because it is business technologies, there had been no classification issues to form by way of and it could all be prolonged broadly devoid of significantly lag time.

“We ended up capable to scale up with a variety of distributors that we’ve experienced so they could deliver support in a great deal increased quantities and substantially faster than you could possibly have with some of the more specialized gear,” he stated.

Concepts for advancement

Commercial capabilities like SAR “are likely to be required on an ongoing basis and on an rising basis” as warfare evolves to incorporate far more and more digital property, according to Brown. 

Although he prepares for his departure from DIU, the director and his staff have been urgent Pentagon leaders to reimagine legacy acquisition approaches, budgeting processes and fielding ways for professional systems, which create on substantially more rapidly cycles. 

Brown mentioned that his boss, Undersecretary of Defense for Analysis and Engineering Heidi Shyu just lately posted a listing of 14 systems that she sights as critical for countrywide stability. 

“Eleven of people 14 are currently being led by the business sector,” Brown pointed out. “So for these technologies, the armed service truly demands a way to obtain what is going on exterior, which is why DIU was established up.” 

Further than gaining much more awareness about rising and applicable commercial solutions, the Pentagon also needs a revamped way to consider and adopt them a lot a lot more commonly — mainly because, in accordance to Brown, new technologies in these crucial spots are becoming introduced each individual 12 to 18 months.

“We’ve advocated for some thing we contact a ‘fast follower strategy’ wherever the army is not primary in the improvement of a know-how … We will need to be speedy adhering to what the commercial sector is carrying out in regions like drones or industrial satellite imagery — and really have an option method that we’ve outlined, that would allow for the military services to more immediately assess and area those technologies,” he stated.

Brown instructed the DOD create a new thought of “capabilities of record” that could parallel military services budgeting for “programs of history.” The latter, section of a conventional acquisition set up that’s been made use of to procure fighter aircraft between other weapons and methods, focuses on unique specifications and generally just take many years to completely appear to fruition. 

“With business technology, we have to have a distinct system,” Brown mentioned, adding that a new strategy would do the job in a extremely rapid cycle where answers can be fielded to the armed forces as quickly as providers make them offered — in that 12-18 thirty day period timeframe. 

There also needs to be a faster way for government officers to form out what DOD components may well at some point be fascinated in buying the technologies. 

“That’s a person of the keys with commercial satellite imagery and other professional technologies — we have to know where by that’s going to be bought. These technologies were not produced for a distinct support. It was not like, ‘Okay, new ship, that’s heading to the Navy,’” Brown mentioned.

DIU’s spending budget is a further concern. 

The agency saw a $7 million reduction in funding from fiscal 2021 to fiscal 2022. The director reported that dip was partly a perform of how the firm is “so smaller,” and did not in the beginning have the new administration’s sharp emphasis.

In the forthcoming fiscal decades, nevertheless, Brown thinks that pattern will very likely be “corrected.”

“I think we have offered some visibility to the fact that the finances has long gone down in a time when business technological innovation is ever much more essential — and, frankly, the combatant commanders and warfighters are inquiring for much more industrial technology since it can be deployed so a lot more swiftly,” he pointed out.

Through his remaining months at DIU, the CEO-turned-federal director is also pushing the Pentagon to build a “hedge” for America’s traditional, substantial weapons platforms, with industrial tech.

“Why? Due to the fact our adversaries — in some cases, China — have stolen some of the patterns for our main weapons platforms. I’m specially considering about aircraft. And definitely all our adversaries have had a chance to review our warfighting concepts [… and] how we go to war with the machines that we have, because the U.S. has been so concerned globally in quite a handful of conflicts,” Brown explained. “So, I sense like we require a hedge to be equipped to bring an factor of shock that’s introduced by industrial capabilities.”

He additional: “The mixture of that hedging of the large platforms with industrial abilities, experimenting and bringing new concepts to warfighters, and then currently being in a position to ingest that capacity swiftly utilizing pace as an element of competition is going to be one thing that we require to make improvements to upon — and these are the strategies that we place forward.”