Across Ukraine, tech start-ups are entering the US defense industry
“They don’t get promoted by taking risks,” Banazadeh said of procurement officers. “So now you have to go through this murky three-year process of budget planning while the fighter is screaming and screaming and saying, ‘I really want this stuff. ”
Pending a decision from the Pentagon, the company recently decided to lay off some employees.
Mr. Roper, the former Air Force procurement officer, said another problem is the Department of Defense’s historic insistence on creating its own solutions to problems instead of buying new technology from commercial companies. He noted that artificial intelligence, for example, still hasn’t been integrated into Air Force flight operations beyond some basic experiments.
“The Pentagon is still in an ‘invention only’ mode that dates back to the Cold War when it now needs to be in a collaborative mode to accelerate private industry,” Roper said. “And it fails at that.”
There are successes.
The Defense Innovation Unit created a program that evaluated various surveillance drones coming to market and implemented a contracting tool allowing Pentagon agencies to purchase them directly, without a multi-year procurement process. Mr. Austin, the Secretary of Defense, recently announced that the Defense Innovation Unit would report directly to him, overseen by a new Apple recruit.
Skydio, one of the companies approved under the program, is now selling a drone that uses artificial intelligence that allows it to be piloted remotely while avoiding crashes even if piloted by a novice pilot. The AI-enhanced drone can fly indoors in very tight spaces, allowing it to look inside a building, for example, before troops are dispatched.
But for every success, many other tech start-ups are struggling to pay their bills while they wait for the Pentagon to make a purchase decision.
“We are absolutely trying to resolve a lot of these acquisition issues,” said Ms. Shyu, the Pentagon’s undersecretary for research and engineering and chief technology officer. “I work to fill the valley of death.”