WASHINGTON – The Pentagon’s chief technology officer this week pledged strong support for the Defense Innovation Division’s mission to use commercial technology for military use, pledging to increase its budget in fiscal 2024 following the resignation of its director.
Michael Brown, who has been the director of DIU since 2018, announced in late April that he would resign when his four-year term expires in September, despite the possibility to extend his service for another year. Brown told colleagues he was leaving because of a “clear weakness in modernizing DoD” and a lack of support from senior management, according to Politico.
The Innovation Center was created to partner with companies to transfer relevant technologies from the commercial world to military consumers.
This week, lawmakers questioned Heidi Shu, deputy secretary of defense for research and engineering, about the alleged lack of support for the DIU at a time when Pentagon leaders are calling for greater use of commercial technology.
“The department has repeatedly emphasized the better use of commercial technology,” said Seth Moulton, D-Mass., During a hearing on the House of Representatives’ subcommittee on cyber, innovation and information systems on May 12. “It is the Congress, not the department, that has repeatedly pushed for investment in DIU and innovation.”
Shu said DIU has “very strong support” in the department and is “very pleased” with what the organization has achieved. She acknowledged DIU’s frustration with funding levels – citing a $ 7 million cut from fiscal 2021 to fiscal 2022 – and noted a $ 16 million increase for DIUs in fiscal 2023, with a total bid of 43 million. , $ 9 million.
When lawmakers pointed out that the increase from fiscal 2021 to fiscal 2023 did not cover inflation, Shu agreed that the department should give better priority to funding. She said she expects a “much stronger demand” in fiscal 2024.
Moulton cited a report by the House of Representatives’ Task Force on Future Defense for 2020, published by the House Armed Services Committee, which called for a 10-fold increase in funding for the DIU.
“Obviously we need to spend a lot more on innovation – not gradually more, not 10% more, but about 10 times more,” he said.
As for Brown’s successor, Shu said there was no timeline to identify a deputy, but a search was under way. She noted that DIU Deputy Director Mike Madson had extended his term by one year, giving the organization some continuity during the transition.
“I will be looking for candidates who have experience in the commercial sector and, preferably, some experience in the world of risk – or at least knowledge in the world of risk,” she said.
Shu said one of the biggest challenges for DIU was generating what she called “attracting” new technology from service acquisition offices.
“A lot of small companies have great ideas, they make a lot of prototypes, and this funnel is coming down to production,” she said. “It’s attracting the acquisition community we need, so I think that’s what I want to focus on.”
To help address this issue, Shu said the Department of Defense will launch a new initiative over the next few months called Strategic Capital to help small companies secure capital investment and work directly with service-level program offices. to generate demand for their technology.
“It really helps small businesses get a lot more funding to keep developing prototypes and maturing to the stage they can get to,” she said.
Courtney Alban is a C4ISRNET reporter for space and new technologies. Previously, it covered the US Air Force and the US Space Force.