The US Defense Department is expanding its efforts with tech startups

The DOD project will get new leaders and a new office in Boston, the Secretary of Defense said

The U.S. Department of Defense is expanding its work with tech startups, bringing tech executives to work at its Silicon Valley lab and planning a new office in Boston to tap into research happening in that area.

The expansion follows the early success of the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx) office, an 8-month old Silicon Valley incubator that is a key part of Secretary of Defense Ash Carter's push to rebuild ties between the military and tech industry.

Those ties weakened in recent years as a new breed of Internet startup began innovating more quickly and effectively than companies the DOD has worked with for decades.

Carter opened DIUx, in Mountain View, California, to gain early access to new technology, and in the hope that Silicon Valley's unique way of thinking would rub off on the Pentagon.

One of the first ideas has been a bug bounty program that asks computer security experts to probe DOD computers and networks to help find holes. So far, 1,400 hackers have registered for the program and found more than 80 bugs that qualified for monetary prizes, Carter said Wednesday during a visit to DIUx.

2584482 Alun Thomas/DOD

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter arrives at the Sgt. James Witkowski Armed Forces Reserve Center in Mountain View on May 11, 2016.

The center has hosted over 500 entrepreneurs and staged several events, and is now being expanded, he said Wednesday.

"We’re taking a page straight from the Silicon Valley playbook, we’re iterating to make DIUx better," he said.

The effort will now be bi-coastal, with a second office in Boston. That will plug into the innovation happening around the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University and other New England tech startups.

The center will also get an additional $30 million budget that will be put towards funding "non-traditional companies with emerging commercial technologies that meet our needs," he said, and other efforts like targeted investments.

Carter also announced a new leadership team which, in a change, will report directly to him.

DIUx will be led by Raj Shah, a former F-16 combat pilot, director of security at Palo Alto Networks and now a tech entrepreneur. Other members of the team include Isaac Taylor, who ran Google X and has worked on Google's Glass and VR efforts, and Douglas Beck, Apple's vice president for Americas and Northeast Asia.

Shah provided an example of the kind of tech block that the DIUx hopes to solve.

As an F-16 pilot, he flew combat missions in Iraq but his aircraft didn't have a GPS system that provided a moving map. That is particularly important when flying near borders, because U.S. aircraft did not want to inadvertently stray into Iranian airspace.

The solution for some pilots was to strap an iPad to their knees, because commercial GPS apps could do something it would take the DOD millions of dollars and months to accomplish, he said.

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Martyn Williams

IDG News Service
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