Innovation needs to go more than skin-deep at the Pentagon, advisory board says – DNyuz

Innovation needs to go more than skin-deep at the Pentagon, advisory board says

Defense program managers and other lower-level leaders must make innovation a bigger priority, according to a new report from a top Pentagon advisory group that also says the department is getting in its own way in acquiring dual-use technologies.

The Defense Innovation Board (DIB) met Friday to make a number of recommendations. It is important that all officials in the Department are responsible for innovation and not only leaders.

DOD’s leaders must “reinforce that all leaders are responsible and accountable for innovation across the Department,” said the report, which was released when the board met on Friday. “The status quo will persist unless there is a shift towards a culture of innovation and risk-taking, driven by empowered senior leadership.”

Read that to mean that while top Pentagon leaders may be saying the right things about taking more and better risks to accelerate the development of new weapons and capabilities, the system isn’t set up to properly reward middle-tier for risk and innovation officials in their own fields.

“All leaders must transform processes and procedures under their command to make them faster, easier, more useful, and more inclusive of the entire ecosystem,” the report states.

Board member Sue Gordon, a former principal deputy director of national intelligenc, told Defense One in an interview, “It is a philosophical belief of the members of the panel you have to start making line managers responsive to the outcome, not just the thing.”

But that will require the Defense Department to take a new approach to risk and failure. For the past decade or so, the Pentagon has instead created work-arounds that enable it to access outside innovation without having to change much internally. These include grants for Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) to bypass the clunky contracting process and the Defense Innovation Unit created to connect consumer technology startups to potential customers within the Department.

But Gordon argued that while these workarounds are a good indication of the direction in which the Pentagon is heading, they cannot replace real reform. Defense Department needs to do more than just buy prototypes, but also get new technologies into the field.

“Hacking the system is not a good strategy,” she said. “Things like SBIRs are a great idea to get things in. But if there’s no way to pull it all the way through….Even if it’s a great hack, it still has a limitation if you haven’t figured out how to get it into the routine battle rhythm.”

When Defense Department leaders talk to lawmakers and at public event, they routinely point to the need to bring dual-use technologies into the military. But here, too, the Pentagon is getting in its own way, the report warns.

“For instance, a start-up that develops AI for swarm drones could ultimately contract with the Department, but not before spending copious amounts of resources and time to succeed in the commercial space first. This adds risk to the Department by allowing market forces to be the gatekeeper of potentially mission-critical systems, rather than the Department making this determination on the front end to ensure such a system is not overlooked,” it said.

The report states that due to size restrictions of the Defense Industrial Base and the burdensome filing process for requests for information, the Pentagon still has a tendency to vendor lock-in ,.

“I don’t think it’s maleficent. Gordon said that he believes we are unable to escape the belief of what is necessary, whether it means we don’t have new ways to assess risk or make it difficult for those who’ve never done something before to get it right.

The board, currently chaired by Michael Bloomberg, also features Reid Hoffman, who co-founded LinkedIn, and Mike Mullen. Over the course of its 8 year history, Defense Innovation Board recommendations have gone on to inform Defense Department approaches to enterprise cloud computing and artificial intelligence ethics.

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