Defense Innovation Unit marks 5 years of experimentation, growth

The Defense Innovation Unit issued 56 prototype other transaction agreements in 2020, according to a recent report, bringing the total number of OTAs issued to 208 since its inception in 2015.

Other transaction agreements are proving to be the catalyst the Defense Department needed to develop and field prototypes to solve warfighter problems, according to a recent acquisitions report.

The Defense Innovation Unit issued 56 prototype OTAs in 2020, according to a recent report, bringing the total number of OTAs issued to 208 since its inception in 2015. DIU also reported that about 40% of its contracts yielded at least one prototype that made it to production.

DIU's portfolios can't compare to the vast number of Defense Department programs, but the innovation arm that started off as an experiment has been working to carve out new ways for DOD to inject innovation into its acquisition process.

The report, which commemorates five years since DIU stood up, looks at how the agency has worked to expand its footprint and influence from the amount of proposals it gets from companies -- 944 for 23 solicitations in 2020 -- to launching a new portfolio for advanced energy and materials in October.

Through the COVID-19 pandemic, the agency also started 23 new projects and transitioned 11 to DOD partners, including a mobile endpoint security prototype tool by Zimperium for the Defense Information Systems Agency that allows IT administrators to track, secure, and manage up to 205,000 government-owned mobile endpoints.

Contract awards, however, were delayed last year 149 days passing between a solicitation closing and a contract award compared to 127 days in 2019, according to the report. DIU attributed the delay to an increased number of projects and number of company solicitations, but said it plans to work to reduce that timeframe to 60 to 90 days.

However, DIU's most notable effort was parlaying five new small unmanned aerial systems as part of its Blue sUAS program into a product now available government-wide on the General Services Administration's schedule, answering increased calls for secure and ideally domestic production of small drones to combat cybersecurity and data-siphoning concerns from Chinese drone manufacturers.

The DIU is also still interested in other emerging technology areas, such as space systems and platforms, robotics, artificial intelligence, and data analytics.

This article first appeared on FCW, a Defense Systems partner site.