Defense

Army Futures Command to set up DIU-like innovation lab

innovation (PopTika/Shutterstock.com) 

The Army's newest modernization command is planning to launch its own innovation unit, similar to the Defense Department's Defense Innovation Unit.

The Army Applications Lab would likely sit with the Capital Factory, the Austin-based startup for entrepreneurs and venture capitalists, to help facilitate "a constant presence" of innovation for the command, Army Futures Commander Gen. John Murray told reporters following a House Armed Services Committee hearing Sept. 13.

Murray said there was some legal work left to get the unit started, but a leader has been chosen and the construct would be very similar to DIU. Once launched, he said, the lab would start leveraging the local tech community and focusing on artificial intelligence.

Army Futures Command is also looking for a chief technology officer, who could be named in the upcoming days, according to Army Undersecretary Ryan McCarthy.

"We're in this process of looking at what's the type of technical leader you want to put embedded in the command," McCarthy told reporters following the HASC Readiness Subcommittee hearing to evaluate the Army's decision to launch its first new command in nearly half a century.

"Obviously, Dr. [Bruce] Jette is the chief scientist of the entire department of the Army, but we wanted to have an organic capability at Gen. Murray's disposal to help him look at the maturities of technologies" and help prevent a repeat of past "catastrophic failures" due to bets on technologies that were "way too out of our reach."

McCarthy said the CTO would advise Murray, who functions as the Army's chief investment officer, on the best investments for the service. Futures Command is in talks with several candidates, with close eyes on one, and is "very close" to bringing them on in the coming weeks and definitely by the end of 2018.

The Army's track record of large-scale acquisition failures, however, was the main topic at the hearing with lawmakers repeatedly inquiring whether the Army standing up a modernization command would solve its bureaucratic and culture problems.

In his opening remarks, HASC Readiness Subcommittee Chairman Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) said he was "not persuaded a new command is the right answer."

Rep. Madeleine Bordallo (D-Guam), the subcommittee ranking member, questioned whether the Army was just "creating more overhead that would slow down an already cumbersome process" and possibly duplicate responsibilities that reside in other Army commands.

McCarthy and Murray seemed to temporarily quell Congress' concerns by emphasizing the meticulous evaluation and hand-off of certain responsibilities as the command focuses on structure and staffing.

Army Futures Command's structure is still in flux -- the command is expected to reach full operating capability in 2019 -- but Murray said he's focused on hiring slowly and establishing relationships and accountability with existing Army personnel.

"I'm being very deliberate about making sure I'm hiring the right people because you only get a chance to stand an organization up once," Murray told reporters.

"I want to deliberately hire slow because once you hire somebody, once you set a structure, it's very very hard to change."

About the Author

Lauren C. Williams is a staff writer at FCW covering defense and cybersecurity.

Prior to joining FCW, Williams was the tech reporter for ThinkProgress, where she covered everything from internet culture to national security issues. In past positions, Williams covered health care, politics and crime for various publications, including The Seattle Times.

Williams graduated with a master's in journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park and a bachelor's in dietetics from the University of Delaware. She can be contacted at lwilliams@fcw.com, or follow her on Twitter @lalaurenista.

Click here for previous articles by Wiliams.


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