Silicon Valley Indian Raj Shah Heads Up Defense Innovation Unit

Raj Shah, the Managing Partner at Defense Innovation Unit Experimental, or DIUx, in Mountainview, California

Raj Shah, the Managing Partner at Defense Innovation Unit Experimental, or DIUx, in Mountainview, California

By Jawahar Malhotra

MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA: The latest row between the US and North Korea has only amplified the lack of real time imagery to monitor the missile activity in the North and the response time if a launch was being prepared. Apparently, only one-third of North Korea is covered by spy satellites at any given time and since the missile launchers can be mobile, the traditional satellites are not mobile enough to adjust their scanning areas fast to match changing conflict monitoring conditions.

Worried about such scenarios, the Pentagon is working on ways to improve its early-warning satellite ability, but these are all years away from completion and will cost multibillion dollars. Realizing this and other dilemmas, in May 2016 Ash Carter, then the Secretary of Defense under the Obama administration took over the direction of the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental, or DIUx, which was formed in August 2015.

Carter is a physicist and former Harvard University professor of Science and International Affairs and as Defense Secretary focused DIUx on accelerating commercial technologies to the U.S. military. It is staffed by 50 civilians and both active duty and reserve military personnel and is headquartered in Silicon Valley (Mountain View, CA), with offices in Boston, Austin, and the Pentagon in Washington, DC. The organization invests

As Managing Partner, Carter brought in Raj Shah a Wharton MBA graduate who flew F16s in Iraq as an Air National Guard reservist and with Vishaal Hariprasad cofounded Morta Security, which was later acquired by Palo Alto Networks, where he was the senior director of strategy. Other leaders include Isaac Taylor, Chris Kirchhoff and Hariprasad, an Iraq War vet who was awarded the Bronze Star and an Air Force cyberwarfare officer.

Shah has been a special assistant in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and began his business career as a consultant with McKinsey & Co. He is a member of the Council of Foreign Relations and an affiliate at Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation.

Shah has already invested in commercial innovation to solve national defense problems by facilitating pilot contracts between companies and DoD entities. After a successful pilot, any interested DoD entity can sole source purchase the solution. The focus areas of the DIUx are artificial intelligence, autonomy, human systems, information technology and space.

At DIUx, the innovative skills of Silicon Valley come into play. Shah made an investment to help Capella Space, a Silicon Valley start-up with its plans to send into orbit its first radar satellite by year’s end. Capella’s Iranian-born founder, Payam Banazadeh, hopes to have a fleet of 36 radar satellites that can continuously monitor targets. DIUx hopes that these small, lightweight civilian satellites will be able to monitor the air space over enemy territory at a fraction of the cost and delivery time of a regular spy satellite. Some inexpensive civilian satellites could even be the same as the ones which count cars in Target parking lots and monitor crops.

Among DIUx’s many portfolio companies are Tanium, Improbable, Saildrone, Shield AI, Qadium, Bromium, Quid, Sonitus Technologies, Halo Neuroscience, Orbital Insight, Yubico, Polyverse, and Lastwall. DIUx portfolio companies are backed by Andreessen Horowitz, Social Capital, Lux Capital, In-Q-Tel, Founders Fund and New Enterprise Associates.
Raj Shah of DIUx should not to be confused with his namesake who was as named in January 2017 by the then-incoming Trump Administration as a Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy Director of Communications for Research in the White House Communications Director’s office.