Applying Lessons from the Commercial Innovation System to the National Security Innovation Base

Applying Lessons from the Commercial Innovation System to the National Security Innovation Base

inovationSlideJohn Wilson


Senior Fellow, Potomac Institute for Policy Studies


Over the past few decades, an ecosystem of companies and structures has emerged that encourages and supports innovations and their transition into viable products. Venture capital (VC) markets and VC firms are prime examples of such support structures. These and other structures first developed in the commercial marketplace, which we might call the “commercial innovation system.” Similar structures are increasingly being adopted, sometimes in different forms, in government and national security environments.

Recent policy discussions of the US Department of Defense and congressional oversight committees have used the term “National Security Innovation Base” (the NSIB) to describe those elements that support national goals. These elements can be categorized, and best practices from the commercial system can be applied to foster innovation in national defense. Inevitably, however, we must confront the complex notion of “innovation” given current components and participants, and how innovation in the traditional commercial sector is being transformed for applications across the NSIB.

An overarching issue in support of innovation is the attribute of time, as required for the development of an idea, to change course, and overall time to market. Commercial technology markets have developed platforms and methods that accelerate the time scale to rapidly grow startups into unicorns to lead the contemporary world’s largest and most advanced economy. Speed is a primary goal of commercial innovation systems in all aspects of development. 

The issue is how to develop analogous platforms in the national security sector that can bring similar value to the NSIB and, therefore, US national security. The structures needed to support the rapid development of capabilities are in place. However, the arduous process of innovation demands patience as these platforms emerge and disrupt the status quo of research and development (R&D) and procurement within government contracting systems of national security. 


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