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Unit X

How the Pentagon and Silicon Valley Are Transforming the Future of War



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About The Book

A riveting 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: from the two men who launched the unit.

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.

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.

Taking us inside AI labs, drone workshops, and battle command centers—and, also, overseas to Ukraine’s frontlines—Shah and Kirchhoff paint a fascinating picture of what it takes to stay dominant in a fast-changing and often precarious geopolitical landscape.

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 was always advisable. Today, it is an urgent necessity.

About The Authors

Photograph by Spencer Brown

Raj M. Shah is a serial technology entrepreneur, venture capitalist, and former director of the Pentagon’s Defense Innovation Unit. He is currently the managing partner of Shield Capital, an investment firm focused on technologies at the nexus of commercial and national security applications. He started his career as an F-16 pilot in the Air National Guard and continues to serve part time. He obtained an AB degree from Princeton University and an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania.

Photograph by Spencer Brown

Christopher Kirchhoff, an expert in emerging technology, helped create the Defense Innovation Unit, which he continues to advise. During the Obama administration, he was the director of strategic planning for the National Security Council and senior civilian adviser to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Chris obtained an AB degree from Harvard College and a PhD in social and political sciences from Cambridge University.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Scribner (July 9, 2024)
  • Length: 336 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781668031384

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Raves and Reviews

“Inspiring. A riveting reminder of how hard protecting our nation’s security can be, and how much depends on the ingenuity of a select few. A must-read.”
—Walter Isaacson, author of the New York Times bestselling biographies Steve Jobs and Elon Musk

“This book offers a window into how dinosaurs learn to innovate. With rich experience and vivid storytelling, Raj Shah and Christopher Kirchhoff show how it’s possible to coax creativity out of bureaucracies and fight for change in institutions designed to sustain the status quo.”
—Adam Grant, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Hidden Potential and Think Again, and host of the podcast Re:Thinking

“Riveting. Essential reading for understanding how technology will change the future of warfare—and the risks America faces if China's military innovates faster than ours.”
—Chris Miller, New York Times bestselling author of Chip War: The Fight for the World’s Most Critical Technology

“Rouses more curiosity about what happens next than anything I might have binge-watched. Unit X is terrifying but also hopeful.”
—Reid Hoffman, cofounder of both LinkedIn and Inflection AI and coauthor of the #1 New York Times bestseller The Startup of You

“Unit X pulls no punches. Fortunately, it also shows what's possible once you get out of the old-think box. While this is the story of the Pentagon's epiphany, it can apply just as well to businesses mired in habit and in need of resuscitation. And it's a fun read, too.”
—Vint Cerf, Winner of the A.M. Turing Award and cofounder of the Internet

“An illuminating, behind-the-scenes examination of the numerous, critical, and sometimes competing efforts inside the Pentagon to change the way it does business. An exceedingly important book!”
—General David Petraeus, US Army (Ret.), former Director of the CIA; and author of the New York Times bestseller, Conflict: The Evolution of Warfare from 1945 to Ukraine

“An unnerving tour de force. Unit X always feels high stakes, the ongoing tug of war it chronicles central to whether the nation prevails in the contests to come.”
—Admiral James Stavridis, (US Navy, Ret.); 16th Supreme Allied Commander of NATO; and author of 2054: A Novel

“Compelling. Those who put themselves in harm’s way to preserve freedom should consider Chris Kirchhoff and Raj Shah American heroes.”
—Rear Admiral Hugh Wyman Howard III, former Commander of DEVGRU (SEAL Team Six) and Naval Special Warfare

“Engaging and important. This is the story of a trailblazing Pentagon unit designed to harness American intellect, spur innovation, and maximize entrepreneurship so that peace will be preserved and the free world defended.”
—Lieut. General H.R. McMaster, U.S. Army (Ret.), former National Security Adviser, and New York Times bestselling author of Battlegrounds: The Fight to Defend the Free World

“Extraordinary. A gripping, firsthand account of the authors’ role in building and leading the innovation unit within the Department of Defense that is helping to get America ready for the future of warfare."
—Christian Brose, Chief Strategy Officer of Anduril Industries, Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution, and author of The Kill Chain: Defending America in the Future of High-Tech Warfare

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