Pen­tagon turns to Sil­i­con Val­ley for com­bat up­grade

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Tony Ca­pac­cio

U.S. pi­lots fly­ing com­bat sor­ties against Is­lamic State and al-Qaeda off­shoots soon may be di­rected to hit “pop up” tar­gets — such as flee­ing ve­hi­cles, am­bushes and at­tempts to plant road­side bombs — through stream­lined plan­ning tools crafted in Sil­i­con Val­ley.

Start­ing this month, soft­ware spe­cial­ists from the Pen­tagon’s De­fense In­no­va­tion Unit Ex­per­i­men­tal, or DIUx, will spend weeks at the Air Force’s war-plan­ning head­quar­ters at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar. They’ll work with air­men on a beta ver­sion of a tool to re­place a hodge­podge of chat, Mi­crosoft Ex­cel and Word and other ap­pli­ca­tions now used to co­or­di­nate “dy­namic strikes” against “pop up” tar­gets that can’t be an­tic­i­pated days in ad­vance.

The air op­er­a­tions up­grade is the most am­bi­tious task yet for DIUx, the De­fense Depart­ment’s 2-year-old out­post in Moun­tain View, Calif. Set up un­der for­mer De­fense Sec­re­tary Ash Carter to tap the cre­ative ideas of small, in­no­va­tive non-de­fense com­pa­nies, the unit’s role in the air-plan­ning soft­ware is a sign it’s be­ing em­braced by James Mat­tis, Carter’s suc­ces­sor.

Mat­tis is also sched­uled to show his sup­port with a visit to DIUx on Thurs­day, dur­ing a West Coast trip. “The sec­re­tary sees a lot of value in us hav­ing this re­la­tion­ship” in Sil­i­con Val­ley, Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pen­tagon spokesman, told re­porters this week.

The unit had a rocky first year, prompt­ing Carter to re­boot DIUx, re­plac­ing its first di­rec­tor with Raj Shah, a for­mer F-16 pi­lot and com­bat vet­eran who headed a tech­nol­ogy startup. While there was spec­u­la­tion that DIUx would be axed as an Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion pet project, it has sur­vived with strong sup­port from Air Force Gen. Paul Selva, vice chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

DIUX, for ex­am­ple, has de­vel­oped a stream­lined con­tract­ing process that cut the time needed for small tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies to do busi­ness with the Pen­tagon.

Next, the goal is for the stream­lined sys­tem for “pop up” tar­gets to be run­ning ac­tual com­bat mis­sions by year-end, with stan­dard­ized nine-line dig­i­tal mes­sages di­rect­ing pi­lots to new tar­gets dur­ing hours-long sor­ties.

“Mi­crosoft Word and Mi­crosoft Ex­cel are great, but they were not de­signed for de­con­flic­tion in com­bat,” Air Force Lt. Col. En­rique Oti said. “All that de­con­flic­tion is oc­cur­ring right now, but it’s oc­cur­ring over phone calls,” chat and Ex­cel. So “we are build­ing a sys­tem where ev­ery­body op­er­ates in­side a sin­gle ap­pli­ca­tion.”

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