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Defense Department to Open Innovation Office in Chicago

The Department of Defense’s innovation unit will open a new regional office to be located in Chicago as the Pentagon looks for the most recent tools to fend off cyber attacks and related threats.

(TNS) — The Department of Defense’s innovation unit will open a regional office in Chicago as the Pentagon looks for the newest tools to fend off cyberattacks and related threats.

The opening of the Defense Innovation Unit or DIU office in Chicago next year allows the Pentagon to tap into what officials call a “growing innovation ecosystem” in Illinois and 11 other Midwestern states. The idea is to link the military with a startup that has created the latest in secure software, for example.

Less than a decade old, the DIU was created to fast-track the acquisition of technology in a Defense Department that was built to buy planes and satellites, said Ryan Whelan, a U.S. Army Reserve major who is heading the Midwest effort.

“What we’re really trying to do is identify highest potential technologies to meet and answer ... defense problems,” he said, pointing to the “tech race with adversaries like Russia and China.”

“And so the process that we’re going after here is how do we more rapidly acquire new and innovative technology so that we can, we can innovate, so we can solve these problems really ahead of adversaries and position ourselves to be more resilient, you know, and to be better off from a national security perspective.”

Nicolas Chaillan, the Pentagon’s chief software officer, recently resigned in protest over the sluggish pace of technological transformation in the U.S. military. He told the Financial Times that the U.S. failure to respond to China’s cyberattacks is putting the United States at risk. What’s more, China’s big strides in artificial intelligence, synthetic biology and genetics are putting the globe’s second largest economy on a path to dominate everything from media narratives to geopolitics.

“We need our current and future partners from commercial industry to play a major role in the department’s efforts to modernize our forces,” Heidi Shyu, the Pentagon’s director of research and engineering, said in a statement touting the 2022 opening of the DIU office in Chicago. “I am particularly excited about the newest DIU office in Chicago representing the incredible technology and private investment occurring across the Midwest region to help ensure that we deliver superior capabilities to our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and guardians today and tomorrow.”

Even in the age of Zoom, defense officials say a local hub will give the DoD connections to regional labs, military bases, accelerators, academic partners, and investors necessary for collaboration and quick action. The DIU has similar operations in Mountain View, California, Boston, Austin, Texas and Washington, D.C.

Chicago will be the fifth office, offering the DIU team not only access to Chicago’s tech community but proximity to other emerging tech cities including St. Louis, St. Paul, Minnesota, Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Columbus, Ohio.

The Defense Department hasn’t figured out precisely where the office will open, but in a statement said it will staff the operation with a full-time and part-time reservist team. They’ll work with other government partners, some of whom already have offices in the region, including the National Security Innovation Network, the Army Applications Laboratory, AFWERx, the Army’s 75th Innovation Command, and NavalX.

In a statement, Mayor Lori Lightfoot pointed to the new office as proof Chicago is “a leading hub for 21st-century innovation. DIU’s expansion further demonstrates our city’s advantages and strengths, as well as its ability to attract the next big names in this ever-growing industry.”

© 2021 Chicago Tribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.