Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter said Friday that the retired Navy SEAL who oversaw the U.S. raid that killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, the executive chairman of LinkedIn, and a historian who leads a Washington think tank are joining a new board the Pentagon has created to press for innovation.
Retired Adm. Bill McRaven, LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, and Aspen Institute CEO Walter Isaacson are the first members named to the Defense Innovation Board since Carter created it in March and announced that it would be led by Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Alphabet Inc., the Silicon Valley parent company of Google. It was formed as Carter pushes for closer alliances with Silicon Valley and other sectors of the business world that the Pentagon wants to work with to develop new military technologies.
Carter said the board members will begin their work this summer, and will deliver their first set of recommendations to him by the fall. He announced their additions at a “tech summit” in Washington sponsored by the media organization Defense One. There could eventually be as many as 12 members on the board, he has said previously.
Carter said the board members do not need to understand the military, but to get the Pentagon to consider new ways to do its business. He did not suggest any specific projects they may work on, or who else may join.
“Among other things, I’ve charged them with keeping [the Defense Department] imbued with a culture of innovation in people, organizations, operations, and technology, to support people who innovate, to support those creative figures in the department who are willing to try new things, fail fast, and iterate, and to ensure we’re always doing everything we can to stay ahead of potential adversaries,” Carter said.
The naming of the board’s first members continues Carter’s effort to reinvigorate the Pentagon in a way that can effectively incorporate cutting-edge technologies that range from micro-drones, to 3-D printing, to flexible textiles that combine fibers with electronics. As part of that, Carter launched an office in Silicon Valley last year, and then overhauled it last month to be led by Silicon Valley insiders that also have military experience. A similar office will eventually open in Boston.
Carter said Friday that the United States has “always been able to out-innovate our enemies” because of the people it had backing the effort. They include “the builders, the operators, the innovators” from the military, Carter said, but also its civilian force and the nation’s contractors and defense base.
“In order for our people to continue accelerating the breakthroughs and progress that ensure our continued dominance, we must back them up with the freedom to innovate and take risks, and with a stable and secure funding environment,” he said.
Since retiring from the military in 2014, McRaven has become the chancellor of the University of Texas system. It includes 14 institutions and has more than 210,000 students. As the chief of Special Operations Command, he pressed for ways to better integrate technology in order to get rank-and-file special operators intelligence they could use on the battlefield more quickly. He also launched a program to build a powered, armored “Iron Man” suit for Special Operations troops that would use robotics and sophisticated sensors.
Hoffman has made his fortune building one of the largest social networks in the world — perhaps key as the Pentagon seeks new ways to build a workforce experienced with cyber-security and pursue alternative methods of recruiting new talent out of college. That falls in line with an effort Carter is pushing known as Force of the Future, which has expanded military benefits such as maternity leave and includes other proposals like eliminating the military’s “up or out” promotion system, which forces those not promoted to eventually retire.
Isaacson is an author, historian and journalist who has served as chairman of CNN and managing editor of Time magazine. A former Rhodes scholar, he published in 2014 a book called “The Innovators: How a Group of Inventors, Hackers, Geniuses and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution,” and also wrote an authorized biography in 2011 of Apple Computer’s Steve Jobs.