and he really cares about the needs of those in the field. He
might embrace DIUx.
Even before the election, there was nail-biting in Mountain
View. In 2016, the House Armed Services and Appropriations
Committees eliminated the program’s budget for the next fiscal year. Secretary Carter urged them to restore funding. The
Senate committees have approved full funding, but the House-Senate conference committees will make the final decision.
Some observers are optimistic. The House panels made their
cuts after learning of the unit’s initial failures, and justifying its
existence was why DIUx rushed out its report on the 12 contracts in October: it wanted to show Congress that the program was succeeding.
But some members of the committees, especially those
from the House, prefer the old way of doing things. So do the
big defense corporations that molded their structures and procedures to fit the regulations of the Pentagon’s procurement
The perception that DIUx might disrupt the Department
of Defense’s settled ways is not entirely unreasonable. Frank
Kendall, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, who
culture of innovation.” To some people, that’s not a hope but
Small, still-nascent programs that haven’t built up sizable
constituencies often need support at the top to survive. DIUx
has been Ash Carter’s pet. It’s hard to say whether the next secretary of defense will give it the same attention. But the inadequacy of the present system is clear. Raj Shah recently traveled
to the Middle East to talk with U.S. commanders about DIUx
projects. He made a point of talking with some F16 pilots who
are flying combat missions over Iraq, just as he did 10 years
ago. Their jets had been upgraded with moving maps. But not
long before, they had still been strapping iPads to their laps,
after loading them with commercial aviation map apps, so that
they knew exactly where they were flying.
Fred Kaplan is the “War Stories” columnist for Slate and the
author of Dark Territory: The Secret History of Cyber War.
No one knows whether the new
Congress will continue to fund DIUx.
once was unimpressed with the outfit in the Valley, now touts
its strengths. On November 21, he sent an “all-hands” e-mail
headed “New Rapid Contracting Tool.” The message encouraged “all acquisition professionals to familiarize themselves”
with the OTA contracting approach, praised DIUx for using
the method “to rapidly meet warfighter requirements,” and
announced that the Department of Defense had asked Congress to approve “an expansion of this authority” to cover
emerging “state-of-the-art” technologies, not just those stemming from commercial projects.
The communiqué was not a memo or a directive. The sort
of contracting it champions does have its limits. Ash Carter
emphasizes that OTA isn’t suitable for every weapons program. “We’re not going to use DIUx to procure aircraft carriers or the F- 35,” he says. But he adds that he does hope DIUx
has “a transformative impact” on the Pentagon’s procurement
practices broadly, encouraging its bureaucrats “to embrace a
No one has said, ‘No, thanks,
I’m doing fine.’ They all
say ... ‘We’ll take all the
help we can get.’”