Over the past several years, the Department of Defense (DoD) has initiated several new strategies and initiatives focusing on innovation. In 2014, then-Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, introduced the “Third Offset” strategy to provide targeted investments in enabling technologies in support of new operational concepts to stay ahead of adversaries. The strategy is homage back to the first offset employed by President Eisenhower following the Korean War to use nuclear deterrence as a counter to numerical strength of adversaries military forces, and the second offset of the 1970s and 1980s which emphasized stealth technology and space-based intelligence, communications, and navigation platforms, enabling precision strike and other capabilities. These “offset” periods have often corresponded with post-war periods of defense budget decline in growth.
Secretary Carter has also been heavily devoted to increasing the Department's access to new entrants into the defense marketplace, as evidenced by the establishment of Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx) outposts in Silicon Valley, Boston, and Austin, and the creation of a Defense Innovation Board. Further, acquisition reform efforts, such as Better Buying Power and the Air Force’s Bending the Cost Curve intend to support efforts to maintain technological superiority. In addition, defense-wide offices, such as the Strategic Capabilities Office and Joint Rapid Acquisition Cell, and Service-specific offices, such as the Navy’s Innovation Cell or the Army and Air Force’s respective Rapid Capabilities Offices target specific types of acquisitions for various purposes.
While these initiatives vary greatly in their focus and scope, generally speaking, they rely heavily on top-level support, seek to emulate the agility of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Intelligence Advanced Research Project Activity (IARPA), and the Special Operations Command Research, Development, and Acquisition Center (SORDAC), and rely upon special authorities to circumvent the traditional acquisition system in order to do business with new entrants. NDIA has supported DoD’s outreach efforts to bring new firms to the defense marketplace, however, we are concerned about possible negative impacts of creating more acquisition systems and the lack of specific intended outcomes for certain efforts, namely DIUx.
Over the long term, DoD is best suited to articulate clear goals for each of its innovation initiatives and how these goals interact with one another. Additionally DoD should consider sharing its Long Range Research and Development Plan, that is guiding 3rd Offset Strategy investments so that industry can invest accordingly. Ultimately, DoD’s ability to acquire the innovations its desires and do business with new firms relies upon its acquisition system and oversight practices. Without committed and sustained efforts to remove barriers to entry and the high costs to play for both traditional and nontraditional firms, the success of these efforts will be in jeopardy.