Atlantic Council report: We Do Not Have an Innovation Problem, but an Innovation Adoption Problem

Along with former high-level defense officials, senior experts, and industry executives, President of Primer Federal Mark Brunner recently participated as commissioner on the Atlantic Council Commission on Defense Innovation Adoption that was convened to accelerate the adoption of cutting-edge technology from commercial and defense sectors. 

Co-chaired by the 26th Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and the 23rd Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James, the Commission discussed specific challenges to DoD innovation adoption and developed ten concrete policy actions for Congress and the Pentagon. 

Just this week, Breaking Defense reported that a coalition of 13 tech executives and venture capitalists, including Palantir, Anduril, Shield AI, Applied Intuition and VCs like Lux Capital and Kleiner Perkins seized on the Commission’s interim report recommendations and wrote an open letter to Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin, calling for urgent changes in the military’s procurement process for cutting-edge technology. 

Among the recommendations in the report are streamlining the Pentagon’s acquisition process for state-of-the-art military tech and strengthening the Defense Innovation Unit. The open letter incorporated these suggestions and insights, emphasizing the need for urgent action in modernizing the DoD’s procurement procedures.

The recurring theme amongst the challenges highlighted in the interim report and the letter, is the struggle with technological innovation adoption, and not a lack of innovation within the armed forces.

“Our Nation leads in many emerging technologies relevant to defense and security from artificial intelligence and directed energy to quantum information technology and beyond. But the DoD struggles to identify, adopt, integrate, and field these technologies into military applications,” the interim report said.

“We have found that the United States does not have an innovation problem, but rather an innovation adoption problem,” – Commission Interim Report. 

Politico reported today that Congress echoes the interim report’s sentiment, as Capital Hill is pressuring the Pentagon to accelerate U.S. military technological adoption, especially AI. According to Politico, the military has a slow tech procurement process which is hindering its capability to adopt new military technology. 

Breaking Defense reported Secretary Esper stressing that the Pentagon is facing self-imposed roadblocks in their efforts to adopt new technology.

“We are the envy of the world. We do not have an innovation problem in this country. However, the Pentagon’s ability to quickly adopt this advanced technology is woefully inadequate. That is where the problem resides,” Secretary Esper emphasized, according to Breaking Defense.

“Let’s face it they [DoD acquisitions and requirements processes] were built in a different era, they deliver systems to meet requirements that may have been defined over a decade earlier and yet the whole world has changed in the intervening time,” said James during a C-Span broadcast hosted by the Atlantic Council. 

In response to these challenges, the interim report recommends ten policy actions for Congress and the Pentagon to consider. The policies focus on three key areas: reforming acquisition, overcoming barriers to innovation, and revising specific planning, programming, budgeting, and execution structures.  

“The DoD should adapt the way it conducts its acquisition programs to provide additional flexibility in the year of execution, and Congress can authorize that flexibility,” the report said.

By prioritizing emerging technology procurement, the DOD will create a larger market for nontraditional defense firms, thus streamlining the overall procurement process for off-the-shelf military technology.

“Most of the innovation [in cutting-edge technologies] is being done in the private sector,” said Ellen Lord, Former Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment, according to USNI.

Brunner echoes Lord’s sentiments, “It’s prime time to update our legacy Defense Industrial Base into a modern Defense Industrial Network, where leading edge tech firms are incentivized to participate and the Pentagon can employ technology that produces game-changing capabilities.”   

The interim report recommended that the Secretary of Defense and the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) should assume leadership roles in aligning and harnessing stakeholders within the Pentagon and the defense industrial base. In addition, the DIU should increase its engagement of start-ups, nontraditional vendors, and capital market players. 

Brunner added, “We have to turbo charge DIU’s efforts and leverage the tools Congress has provided, including expedited contract vehicles to dramatically reduce the time to contract and truncate many of the more cumbersome aspects of the DoD bureaucracy.” 

Primer, a technology company specializing in AI and Natural Language Processing (NLP), delivers products that can dramatically enhance U.S. military capabilities. By enhancing the human in the loop with decision-quality information, Primer helps users make sense of massive amounts of data in situations where rapid information processing is mission-critical. 

“Primer is well positioned to quickly transform many of the DoD’s legacy systems, by leveraging LLMs and other advanced AI models at a fraction of the cost, delivering dramatically improved tech to our operators and enormous cost savings to the taxpayers,” said Brunner

Primer is building mission-ready AI to make the world a safer place. With Primer, analysts, operators, and decision-makers can understand and act on vast amounts of open source and proprietary data in real time to improve productivity and to reduce time to decision. Learn more about

Click here to read the Atlantic Council Commission on Defense Innovation Adoption Interim Report. To learn about how we can help you with your AI journey, please contact us.