U.S. Army Cyber Command and the Defense Digital Service are operating a de facto tech start-up inside the Department of Defense, Wired reported in early July.
Spearheaded by Nicole Camarillo, executive director of talent strategy at Army Cyber, the initiative was dubbed Jyn Erso after a Star Wars character appearing in Rogue One.
Originally, the aim was to merge Army technology experts with Silicon Valley gurus, but the focus soon changed to include only existing government personnel. As DDS director Chris Lynch recounted, “I thought, ‘My team is the best the country has to offer, and that type of talent wouldn’t exist in uniform today.’ That’s the thing that was wrong.”
In Spring 2017, Camarillo and Lynch met with Gen. Paul Nakasone, previously the commander of Army Cyber and now director of the National Security Agency. Their goal was to convince Nakasone to allow a small number of Army cyber soldiers to work with the DDS. At first Nakasone was reluctant, the article divulges, but he eventually agreed to the request.
The team’s first task was to disable enemy drones, a project known as Jyn 1. Their challenge was keeping pace with the off-the-shelf drones ISIS used, as the commercial platforms continually updated their software.
After developing a new tool for this, in August 2017 the team set out to field test it – all but impossible in the usual acquisitions process. During the tests, the group realized the product’s design needed to be overhauled and went back to the Pentagon for the redesign. In January, the team conducted its final field test and have since moved onto the Jyn 2 project, which is developing new means to track enemies using DoD networks.
The DDS says Jyn 1’s costs were kept under $100,000, significant given the hundreds of millions of dollars the Pentagon had expended on contractors to devise a solution. Besides its cost-effectiveness, Camarillo and Lynch expressed optimism that this model could develop technical capabilities more responsive to what soldiers need.