Defense Secretary Ash Carter plans to announce an expansion of the Pentagon’s public-private partnership with Silicon Valley Friday in what is being described as a “major economic initiative.”
The visit to the nation’s technology center of gravity is being billed by the Pentagon as a followup to Carter’s trip in April, when he released a broad new cyber strategy for the department and announced the formation of a new Silicon Valley-based innovation unit, among other initiatives. His visit to the Valley in April was one of the first by a sitting Secretary of Defense in more than 20 years.
Carter is expected to speak at the newly-established Defense Innovation Unit-Experimental (DIUx), a small Pentagon office located at Moffett Airfield in Mountainview, Calif., that has been assigned the mission of being the Pentagon’s “point of presence” for collaborating with Silicon Valley companies on new technological innovations. San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo and California Democratic Representatives Zoe Lofgren and Mike Honda will join Carter.
The 12-person DIUx formally stood up on July 9. It is headed by George Duchak, the former director of the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Information Directorate, and Navy Rear Admiral Daniel B. Hendrickson, who’s spent most of his military career as a Navy SEAL. The Pentagon has earmarked $6.75 million to fund the unit through 2019.
The Pentagon, however, is asking for $5.5 billion for cyber activities in its fiscal 2016 budget request. That amount is in addition to the nearly $37 billion it plans to spend on general information technology programs.
Defense officials have been tight-lipped about the details of the economic initiative Carter is scheduled to announce. But a spokesperson did confirm that Carter will meet with executives from LinkedIn and announce plans to establish an official Defense Department page on the professional networking sight.
One clue to the nature of the economic initiative may come from the Pentagon’s desire to tap into startup businesses to tackle immediate operational or security needs. Through the so-called Rapid Innovation Fund, the Pentagon plans to invest up to $225 million in small businesses that propose technological solutions to specific Defense Department requirements that can be rapidly prototyped and cost less than $3 million.
On his way to Mountainview, Carter stopped at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, where he received classified briefings on cybersecurity and space operations. His troop tour and visit with technology industry leaders comes just weeks after suspected Russian hackers penetrated the unclassified email system used by the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the Pentagon. The intrusion was reportedly discovered in July and forced officials to shutdown the network for several weeks while cybersecurity experts removed the intruders and patched security gaps. It was the second intrusion into unclassified Pentagon systems by Russian hackers in six months.
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