Pentagon Seeks Innovation from Private Start-Ups Since “They’ve Realized that the Old Model Wasn’t Working Anymore”

(p. A3) SAN FRANCISCO — A small group of high-ranking Pentagon officials made a quiet visit to Silicon Valley in December to solicit national security ideas from start-up firms with little or no history of working with the military.
The visit was made as part of an effort to find new ways to maintain a military advantage in an increasingly uncertain world.
In announcing its Defense Innovation Initiative in a speech in California in November, Chuck Hagel, then the defense secretary, mentioned examples of technologies like robotics, unmanned systems, miniaturization and 3-D printing as places to look for “game changing” technologies that would maintain military superiority.
“They’ve realized that the old model wasn’t working anymore,” said James Lewis, director of the Strategic Technologies Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “They’re really worried about America’s capacity to innovate.”
There is a precedent for the initiative. Startled by the Soviet launch of the Sputnik satellite in 1957, President Dwight D. Eisenhower created the Advanced Research Projects Agency, or ARPA, at the Pentagon to ensure that the United States would not be blindsided by technological advances.
Now, the Pentagon has decided that the nation needs more than ARPA, renamed the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or Darpa, if it is to find new technologies to maintain American military superiority.
. . .
The Pentagon focused on smaller companies during its December visit; it did not, for example, visit Google. Mr. Welby acknowledged that Silicon Valley start-ups were not likely to be focused on the Pentagon as a customer. The military has captive suppliers and a long and complex sales cycle, and it is perceived as being a small market compared with the hundreds of millions of customers for consumer electronics products.
Mr. Welby has worked for three different Darpa directors, but he said that Pentagon officials now believed they had to look beyond their own advanced technology offices.
“The Darpa culture is about trying to understand high-risk technology,” he said. “It’s about big leaps.” Today, however, the Pentagon needs to break out of what can be seen as a “not invented here” culture, he said.
“We’re thinking about what the world is going to look like in 2030 and what tools the department will need in 20 or 30 years,” he added.

For the full story, see:
JOHN MARKOFF. “Pentagon Shops in Silicon Valley for Game Changers.” The New York Times (Fri., FEB. 27, 2015): A3.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date FEB. 26, 2015.)

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