Through Ukraine, Tech Start-Ups Make Their Move Into the U.S. Defense Industry

Through Ukraine, Tech Start-Ups Make Their Move Into the U.S. Defense Industry

“You don’t get promoted by taking risks,” Mr Banazadeh said of the contract officials. “So now you have to go through this mysterious three-year budget planning process while the war fighter screams and screams and says, ‘I really want this stuff.'”

While awaiting a decision from the Pentagon, the company recently laid off some employees.

Mr. Roper, the former Air Force procurement chief, said another problem is the Department of Defense’s historic insistence on developing its own solutions to problems rather than buying new technology from commercial firms. He pointed out that artificial intelligence, for example, has not yet been integrated into the air force’s flight operations beyond a few basic experiments.

“The Pentagon is still in a ‘invention only’ mode that dates back to the Cold War when it now needs to be in a cooperative mode to accelerate private business,” Mr. Roper said. “And that’s where it fails.”

There are some success stories.

The Defense Innovation Unit has developed a program that evaluates various emerging surveillance drones and has set up a contract tool that allows Pentagon agencies to purchase them outright without a multi-year acquisition process. Mr. Austin, the Secretary of Defense, recently announced that the Defense Innovation Unit will report directly to him and be overseen by a new recruit from Apple.

Skydio, one of the companies approved under the program, is now selling an artificial intelligence drone that allows it to be flown remotely while avoiding crashes, even when operated by an inexperienced pilot. The AI-powered drone can fly indoors in tight spaces and, for example, take a look inside a building before deploying troops.

But for every success, there are plenty of other tech startups struggling to pay their bills while waiting for the Pentagon to make a purchasing decision.

“We’re definitely trying to address a lot of these issues with acquisitions,” said Ms. Shyu, the Pentagon’s undersecretary for research and technology and chief technology officer. “I am working to bridge the valley of death.”

Eric Lipton