Keeping the Technological Edge by Leveraging Outside Innovation

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Keeping the Technological Edge by Leveraging Outside Innovation
By: Ryan Crotty

One month ago, Defense Secretary Ash Carter officially launched his “new start-up” in Silicon Valley, the Defense Innovation Unit X, tasked with renewing the relationship between American entrepreneurs and technologists and the Pentagon. The imperative for this renewal is the changing global innovation environment in which the Department of Defense (DoD) now operates and competes, characterized by the diffusion of technology, lower barriers to entry, and wider access to information.

DoD’s current innovation and acquisition systems are optimized for a world where, given enough time and mass, the department can do anything. While DoD’s will and commitment to innovation remain, both time and mass are in increasingly short supply. Though the United States still holds the leading position in military technology innovation, the gap with the rest of the world is shrinking. Four key characteristics of the global innovation environment combine to threaten DoD’s future technology dominance: (1) globalization of manufacturing and research and development (R&D), (2) privatization of R&D as booming private-sector investments outpace government capital, (3) growing military applicability of commercial technology, and (4) acceleration of the pace of technology change, diffusion, and penetration.

The proliferating nature of this ecosystem challenges DoD’s capacity to keep up with the flood of technologies, both for its own adoption and to counter the technologies adopted by adversaries. In order to harness cutting-edge technology in a world where innovation is increasingly occurring beyond the scope of government investment, DoD must continue to look beyond traditional industrial and geographic boundaries, outside the jurisdiction of government investment and traditional government interfaces.

The new global innovation environment requires an expanded set of tools and processes to realize the gains of the global technology innovation revolution by leveraging this “outside innovation.” Ultimately to succeed, DoD must be a proactive participant in harnessing the power of the market and the “global brain.” CSIS has released a report exploring how to develop and tailor processes for leveraging this outside innovation by tackling the challenges of both awareness and access. The recommendations focus on how DoD can organize itself to enhance information flows both in and out and utilize its existing proprietary networks of scientists and suppliers to grow information pathways, as well as find new ways to tap into the open networks of problem solvers and technologists that are growing across the networked globe. Additionally, it provides tactical recommendations on breaking down barriers to access to these technologies, providing release valves for the friction that can arise in the requirements, acquisition, and funding processes.

Ryan Crotty is a fellow with the International Security Program and deputy director for defense budget analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). Other posts by .


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