Building a DoD Outpost in Silicon Valley: DEF Innovation Competition

As part of our continuing Innovation Week (or two weeks – call it innovation), we will be posting the contestant pieces from the DEF Innovation Contest. Originally posted at the DEF Website.

On Sunday, 26 October, the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum hosted an innovation competition sponsored by the United States Naval Institute. $5,000 in prizes were awarded after the eight contestants made their pitches. We will feature the one-pagers from the competition over the next 8 days. The following contribution is from Josh Steinman, a US Naval Officer.

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Software is increasingly becoming the defining mechanism by which the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps achieve tactical, operational, and strategic decision dominance. Previously the Department of Defense had achieved this ability through industry.

As software takes on increasingly prominent roles in the Department of Defense, we will need to establish closer relations with the industry that builds it, much like the Department of Defense built long-standing ties to the industrial base during the pre-War, inter-War, and post-War periods of the early 20th century. These close links will ensure that the DoD retains the ability to rapidly integrate cutting edge digital technologies into our operations, as well as influence their development at all stages.

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One high-impact, low cost way to advance this goal is to establish a small joint detachment of hand-picked DoD personnel to operate primarily in Silicon Valley that would act as an intellectual “long-range reconnaissance squad”. This entity would consist of approximately 10 personnel nominated by a small group of senior officers and civilians (plus 1 support and 1 General or Flag Officer), stationed in the greater San Francisco Bay Area. Their mission would be to help integrate the defense and software industries by achieving the following tasks:

a. Ensure continuity of action before, during, and after senior officer and civilian visits with entities in the non-Defense technology sector. Achieve this by acting as travel agent for senior officials before they depart (coordinating visits with local technology companies), local guide upon arrival, note-taker and action officer while engaged on the ground, and execution agent upon the senior’s departure.

b. Identify early-stage ventures with potential DOD applicability and connect them with appropriate resources to utilize their technology for DOD purposes. Interface with DOD and service-centric early-stage and midstage venture capital firms, and liaison with entities such as DARPA, IARPA, US Army REF, CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell, and OSD RTTO.

c. Educate students, entrepreneurs, academics, and venture capitalists on DOD challenges and process with an eye towards changing attitudes towards the DOD. This would include conducting “presence missions” at regular events like SXSW, TECHCRUNCH DISRUPT, and even Burning Man.

My proposed first step is to send an exploratory detachment of 3-5 officers out to Silicon Valley for a one-month site survey mission that would result in a full proposal white-paper, to be submitted to the Joint Chiefs of Staff within 90 days of their return. Costs for such a survey are on the order of $6,000 per person, for one month.

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