Tuesday July 17th, 2018 9:30AM

Experimental defense unit funds new tech but faces skeptics

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) — President Donald Trump's administration is throwing its support to a Barack Obama-era effort enlisting startup companies to come up with solutions to the military's toughest technological challenges.

Secretary of Defense James Mattis made his first visit Thursday to the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental, a two-year old effort that's investing in private companies building experimental drones, new cybersecurity technology and advanced communications systems for soldiers.

Mattis said he expects the initiative, known as DIUx, will "grow in its influence and its impact" under the Republican administration. In recent weeks, his office has taken steps to secure DIUx's place in the agency, including granting it greater authority to hire staff, negotiate contracts and promote its efforts.

"Big admirer of what they do out there, about the way they germinate ideas, the way they harvest ideas, from one breakthrough, rapidly, to another," Mattis said before meeting with staff and local industry leaders at DIUx's office in Mountain View, California, the hometown of Google.

The program also has offices in Cambridge; Austin, Texas, and at the Pentagon.

But DIUx continues to face questions from Republican leaders in Congress and others who view it as a still-unproven and possibly unnecessary venture.

U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry, a Texas Republican who chairs the House Armed Services Committee, which oversees defense spending, agrees the military needs to better keep abreast of the innovation happening in the commercial sector. But he's unconvinced DIUx is the long-term solution and won't overlap with other advanced technology offices, like the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Project Agency, which dates to the 1950s and the space race.

"This question is: What is this office doing that's different from what others are doing?" Thornberry said this month.

The proof that DIUx is working is the significant number of projects it has undertaken in a relatively short amount of time and with minimal taxpayer investment, said Col. Michael McGinley, who heads DIUx's office in Cambridge, near the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Since opening its first office in California's Silicon Valley, DIUx has awarded $100 million in government contracts to 45 pilot projects.

The investments are modest since much of the heavy lifting has come from private investors, who have collectively pumped roughly $2 billion into the companies DIUx is working with, according to McGinley.

Most of the contracts have gone to startups and smaller firms that aren't among the big, traditional military suppliers, such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing or Raytheon. That's a major objective of the initiative, which McGinley described as "complementary" to other military research organizations but with a distinctly different mission.

And, under the military's traditional purchasing process, the contracts likely would have taken years longer to reach the point they're at now, by which time the technology would have become obsolete, he added. DIUx, by drastically simplifying the bidding process, is awarding contracts within four months.

"This is changing the game in the way (the Department of Defense) operates and acquires new technology to support the warfighter," McGinley said. "We're not vaporware. We're producing tangible results."

The office, with roughly 45 civilian and military staffers, focuses on five general areas: artificial intelligence, information technology, drones and other unmanned vehicles, and space and life sciences.

Of the 45 projects being piloted, three account for about a third of all spending.

Tanium, in Emeryville, California, has been awarded $12.7 million to help the military better manage its information technology and cybersecurity operations.

Composite Engineering, in Roseville, California, in partnership with three other companies, has been given $12.6 million to develop high-speed drones.

And London-based online game developer Improbable was awarded $5.8 million for a simulation program.

Among the DIUx technologies already in use is software helping the Air Force make jet refueling more efficient, a $2.7 million contract that went to Pivotal Labs in San Francisco.

While DIUx may not be going away anytime soon, Congress has been reluctant to go all-in on in the effort.

After receiving $20 million to launch in 2016, DIUx was given just $10 million for the current budget year, which ends Sept. 30, according to a DIUx spokeswoman.

The Trump administration has sought roughly $30 million for it next year, but a key House committee has proposed slashing that request in half.

DIUx deserves more time and resources, considering it's made "substantial progress" after initial confusion over its mission and pushback from traditional defense contractors prompted an overhaul less than a year in, said Andrew Hunter, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a research organization.

But Thornberry, the House Armed Services chairman, said he'll be looking for DIUx to make more compelling arguments.

"The question is how much does this advance our capability," he said. "What are you getting for it? That's what we've got to get our arms around."


Follow Philip Marcelo at His work can be found at

  • Associated Categories: U.S. News, Associated Press (AP), AP National News, Top U.S. News short headlines, AP Online Headlines - Washington, AP Online Congress News, AP Business, AP Business - Corporate News, AP Technology News
© Copyright 2018
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Experimental defense unit funds new tech but faces skeptics
President Donald Trump's administration is endorsing a Barack Obama-era effort enlisting startup companies to develop solutions for the military's toughest technology challenges
10:04PM ( 3 minutes ago )
CNN fires commentator Jeffrey Lord over Nazi salute tweet
CNN fires conservative commentator Jeffrey Lord after he tweeted a Nazi salute at a critic; Lord says he was mocking the critic and respects the network
9:58PM ( 9 minutes ago )
Venezuela's Maduro: 'Mr. Donald Trump, here is my hand'
Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro says he wants a meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump - the same man he routinely ridicules as a crass imperial magnate.
9:52PM ( 15 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
Trump suggests Senate GOP leader must deliver or step aside
President Donald Trump is suggesting that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell might have to think about stepping aside if he doesn't deliver on the president's agenda of health care, taxes and infrastructure
8:30PM ( 1 hour ago )
Trump says he was surprised by FBI's search of Manafort home
President Donald Trump says he was surprised by an FBI raid on his former campaign chairman's home, calling the move "pretty tough stuff"
8:13PM ( 1 hour ago )
The Latest: Trump escalates feud against Senate leader
President Donald Trump is escalating his feud against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell
8:07PM ( 2 hours ago )
AP Online Headlines - Washington
Frustrated with Trump, McCain promotes his own Afghan plan
Senate Armed Services Committee chairman John McCain says "America is adrift in Afghanistan"
3:56PM ( 6 hours ago )
Trump questions if McConnell should remain majority leader
President Donald Trump has raised the possibility that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell should step down if he can't muscle health care and other legislation through the Senate
3:54PM ( 6 hours ago )
US budget deficit narrowed to $42.9 billion in July
US budget deficit narrowed to $42.9 billion in July, partly because of calendar quirks
2:30PM ( 7 hours ago )
AP Online Congress News
Taylor Swift doesn't sugar-coat testimony in groping case
A defiant and occasionally exasperated Taylor insisted during a whirlwind hour of testimony that a Denver DJ grabbed her bare backside and held on for a long time during a meet-and-greet before a concert
7:23PM ( 2 hours ago )
Department stores _ except Nordstrom _ see sales metric drop
Macy's, which is trying to turn its business around, said Thursday that an important sales figure fell again in the latest quarter, its tenth straight quarter of sales declines.
6:08PM ( 4 hours ago )
Tech companies lead worst day for US stock market since May
Brewing tensions between the U.S. and North Korea put investors in a selling mood again Thursday, dragging U.S. stocks lower for the third day in a row
5:04PM ( 5 hours ago )
AP Business
Tech companies lead a broad slide in US stocks; oil slumps
Technology companies are leading a broad slide in U.S. stocks, a decline that has the market on pace for its biggest loss in two months
3:38PM ( 6 hours ago )
Department store chains see key sales figures fall again
Macy's, which is trying to turn its business around, said Thursday that an important sales figure fell again in the latest quarter, its tenth straight quarter of sales declines.
3:10PM ( 6 hours ago )
Snapchat's not-growing pains are a boom for Instagram
Snap Inc. should be very worried about Facebook's Instagram Stories, which now has more users than Snapchat itself
2:44PM ( 7 hours ago )
AP Business - Corporate News
Consumers Reports pulls Microsoft laptop recommendation
Consumer Reports is pulling its recommendation of four Microsoft laptops after a survey found that users were complaining about problems with the devices
8:27AM ( 13 hours ago )
Kentucky man, transgender wife sue Amazon for workplace bias
A Kentucky man and his transgender wife file federal lawsuit against Amazon, alleging that they endured sustained discrimination and harassment during a year as co-workers at an Amazon warehouse in Kentucky
4:23PM ( 1 day ago )
Disney to launch streaming services for movies, live sports
Disney is launching a new streaming service for its movies, and an ESPN service for some - but not all - sports
9:42PM ( 2 days ago )
AP Technology News
Mayweather promoter tired of talk about ticket sales
Leonard Ellerbe, the CEO of Mayweather Promotions, addressed the media Thursday regarding the ongoing inquiry about ticket sales for the upcoming Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor bout on Aug. 26
9:47PM ( 21 minutes ago )
Kisner, Olesen open with 67s on fast greens at PGA
Kisner, Olesen share lead in PGA Championship as Spieth tries to hang around in quest for Grand Slam
9:37PM ( 31 minutes ago )
More video shows Penn State pledge stumbling before death
Additional video from a Penn State fraternity shows a pledge stumbling and unsteady about 3 hours before he was found unconscious in the basement
9:31PM ( 37 minutes ago )
LEADING OFF: Garcia joins Yankees-Red Sox rivalry, Votto run
LEADING OFF: Garcia joins Yankees-Red Sox rivalry, Votto run
9:26PM ( 41 minutes ago )
Canadian diplomat in Cuba also suffered hearing loss
The Canadian government says at least one Canadian diplomat in Cuba also has been treated for hearing loss following disclosures that a group of American diplomats in Havana suffered severe hearing loss
9:24PM ( 44 minutes ago )