Defense Secretary Jim Mattis affirmed his support for the innovation and tech hub founded by his predecessor, calling for continued investment in new technological capabilities a top-level priority ahead of a two-day trip to Silicon Valley.

Mattis visited the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx) office in Mountain View, Calif., on Aug. 10, and predicted increasing influence and impact for the office charged with exploring artificial intelligence, robotics and augmented reality projects.

Defense Secretary James Mattis.
Defense Secretary James Mattis.

DIUx was established by Mattis’ predecessor Ash Carter in 2015.

“[I’m a] big admirer of what they do out there, about the way they germinate ideas, the way they harvest ideas, from one breakthrough, rapidly, to another,” Mattis told reporters before his visit to Silicon Valley. So I’m going out to see what we can pick up in DIUx. I don’t embrace it; I enthusiastically embrace it, and I’m grateful that Secretary Carter had the — had the foresight to put something in place to anchor the Department of Defense out there.”

Mattis met with DIUx staff to discuss how the Defense Department is expanding initiatives meant to proliferate development of new capabilities and is embracing innovation discussions with Silicon Valley industry leaders.

DIUx leaders will continue to report directly to the DoD’s senior staff, including direct access to both the deputy secretary, himself n and future sectretaries, Mattis said.

During his West Coast trip, Mattis met with Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos in Seattle and spent time at Google’s Palo Alto headquarters.

“I deal with a military that’s engaged in current active operations,” Mattis said. “It’s an equal obligation for me not just to maintain the current readiness, but to make certain that the secretary of defense after next has the same advantages — competitive edge, to put it in particular words — the same competitive edge that — that I enjoyed growing up in this country. So I rate it as a top-level priority.”

Since June 2016, DIUx has awarded $100 million in contracts to fund 45 projects with startups and commercial technology companies, including potential autonomous drone and satellite development.

“There is no doubt in my mind that DIUx will not only continue to exist,” Mattis said. “It will grow in its influence and its impact on the Department of Defense.”