Image - Raj Shah and Christopher Kirchhoff
Past Event

Raj Shah and Christopher Kirchhoff: How the Pentagon and Silicon Valley Are Transforming the Future of War

In an era when America’s chief rival, China, has ordered that all commercial firms within its borders make their research and technology available for military exploitation, strengthening the relationship between Washington and Silicon Valley is an urgent necessity, argue Raj Shah and Christopher Kirchhoff.

They come to Commonwealth Club World Affairs to offer an inside look at an elite unit within the Pentagon—the Defense Innovation Unit, also known as Unit X—whose mission is to bring Silicon Valley’s cutting-edge technology to America’s military. Shah is a technology entrepreneur, venture capitalist and former director of the Defense Innovation Unit; Kirchhoff is the former director of strategic planning for the National Security Council under President Obama and is the co-creator of the Defense Innovation Unit,

Until recently, the Pentagon was known for its uncomfortable relationship with Silicon Valley and for slow-moving processes that acted as a brake on innovation. Unit X was specifically designed as a bridge to Valley technologists that would accelerate bringing state of the art software and hardware to the battle space. Given authority to cut through red tape and function almost as a venture capital firm, Shah, Kirchhoff, and others in the Unit who came after were tasked particularly with meeting immediate military needs with technology from Valley startups rather than from so-called “primes”—behemoth companies like Lockheed, Raytheon, and Boeing.

A vast and largely unseen transformation of how war is fought as profound as the invention of gunpowder or advent of the nuclear age is occurring. Flying cars that can land like helicopters, artificial intelligence-powered drones that can fly into buildings and map their interiors, microsatellites that can see through clouds and monitor rogue missile sites—all these and more are becoming part of America’s DIU-fast-tracked arsenal.


Photo by Spencer Brown.

July 15, 2024

The Commonwealth Club of California
110 The Embarcadero
Taube Family Auditorium
San Francisco, CA 94105
United States

Image - Raj Shah

Raj Shah

Managing Partner, Shield Capital; Former Director, the Pentagon’s Defense Innovation Unit; Co-author, Unit X: How the Pentagon and Silicon Valley Are Transforming the Future of War

Image - Christopher Kirchhoff

Christopher Kirchhoff

 Former Director of Strategic Planning, National Security Council; Senior Civilian Adviser to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Co-author, Unit X: How the Pentagon and Silicon Valley Are Transforming the Future of War

Image - John Markoff

In Conversation with John Markoff

Technology Journalist