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Technological Development and the U.S. Army

Posted by Ed Bard on


Army technology

Developing advanced technologies that increase levels of lethality, communications, and mobility are important to the Army for maintaining its global posture.  Thus, in 2017, the U.S. Army established eight cross-functional teams (CFTs) which were aligned with the Army’s six modernization priorities.  Led by warfighters, these CFTs aim to regain military advantage over competitors by updating program requirements and speeding decision-making. Each CFT includes a variety of skillsets such as finance, science and technology, program management, etc. 

 The eight CFTs are:

  1. Air and Missile Defense
  2. Army Network
  3. Assured Positioning, Navigation, and Timing
  4. Future Vertical Lift
  5. Long-Range Precision Fires
  6. Next Generation Combat Vehicle
  7. Soldier Lethality
  8. Synthetic Training Environment 

These CFTs align with the Army’s modernization priorities:

  • Long-range precision fires
  • Next generation combat vehicle
  • Future vertical lift; network
  • Air and missile defense
  • Soldier lethality

Army Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) 

The Army’s Small Business Innovation Research Program gives small U.S. businesses an opportunity to provide research and development (R&D) solutions to Army technological concerns.  The SBIR program was initiated in 1982 with the purpose of increasing small business participation in federal research and development and stimulating technological innovation. 

The program is split into three phases:

  • SBIR Phase I: The purpose of Phase I is to establish technical merit, feasibility, and commercial potential of any proposed R&D efforts.  Small businesses can receive a maximum of $100,000 of funding for six months in addition to a four-month $50,000 option at the government’s discretion. 
  • SBIR Phase II: Phase II is meant to evaluate scientific and technical merit and commercial potential with projects eventually producing a prototype.  Small businesses may receive a maximum of $1,000,000 over a two-year period. 
  • SBIR Phase III: Phase III involves the pursuit of commercialization opportunities.  Small businesses are eligible to receive non-SBIR funding for an unlimited time. 

To be eligible for the SBIR program, the small business must:

  • Be a U.S. for-profit business of no more than 500 employees.
  • All work must be performed in the U.S.
  • In Phase I, the proposing small business must perform a minimum of two-thirds of the effort.
  • In Phase II, the small business must perform a minimum of half of the effort.
  • The project’s Principal Investigator must spend more than half of their time employed by the proposing business. 

The SBIR program has specific technological areas of interest; this list including:

  • Advanced Materials and Manufacturing
  • Microelectronics and Photonics
  • Sensors and Information Processing
  • Simulation and Modeling for Acquisition, Requirements, and Training (SMART)
  • Engineering Sciences
  • Advanced Propulsion Technologies
  • Power and Directed Energy
  • Biological, Chemical, and Nuclear Defense
  • Life, Medical, and Behavioral Sciences

Every year, the SBIR program issues three Phase I solicitations which include topics describing current R&D needs.  The pre-release for 19.3 is August 23, 2019 with solicitations opening September 24, 2019 and closing October 23, 2019.  SBIR intends that each business receiving SBIR funds during the two first two phases be prepared to compete in the Phase III commercial marketplace.  To help, the Army has established formal transition assistance programs. 


Small Business Technology Transfer Research

The Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program was established in 1994 as a companion program to SBIR.  The STTR program is meant to allow small businesses to partner with research institutions to develop solutions to the technological needs of the Army.  However, although both programs work in conjunction, they have a few differences.  The STTR program requires the participation of universities or other federally funded research and development institutions.  Every STTR proposal must be submitted by a team of a prime contractor small business and a minimum of one research institution.  Additionally, the work must be divided in a way that the small business completes at least 40 percent of the work while the research institution completes at least 30 percent.

Phase I of the STTR program focuses on feasibility study and proof of concept.  The team may receive $150,000 in funding for a period of six months.  In Phase II, the focus is on a full R&D effort and the team may receive $1,000,000 in funding for up to two years.  Finally, for Phase III, the commercialization stage, the team may receive non-STTR funding for an unlimited time.

To be eligible for the STTR program, each proposer must be a small business at the time of the award of Phase I and Phase II.  According to the criteria in 13 C.F.R. § 121.701-705, a small business is at least 51 percent owned and controlled by one or more individuals who are citizens or permanent residents of the U.S. and the business has no more than 500 employees.  Additionally, the principal investigator must be employed with either the small business or the research institution.  The small business has to have at least one employee in a management position that is not also employed by the research institution.  All R&D work must be completed by the small business and its contractors for both Phases I and II.  Finally, the small business and the research institution must have a written agreement allocating intellectual property rights as well as rights to continue follow-on research, development, or commercialization.

The solicitation for the STTR program begins mid-May, with topics being released and proposals due by mid-June.  The selection process is typically completed by the end of September and the contracts are awarded in December.  In 2018, the Army’s STTR budget was around $35M with 25 topics offered.  220 Phase I proposals were received and 52 Phase I contracts were awarded.  43 Phase II proposals were received and 23 Phase II contracts were awarded.  Finally, there were nine participating Army components.

 U.S. Army Technology Transfer Engagement Pathways

Technology Transfer (T2) is considered an essential factor in the development of disruptive technologies for the warfighter.  Academic and industry partners help to accelerate the development and commercialization of military-related inventions.  On the commercialization side, the Army uses it in several ways including research, development, testing, and evaluation; and intellectual property agreements.

 Research, development, testing, and evaluation in the Army’s commercial sector mainly involves Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADA).  This is a tool that allows a Federal lab to collaborate R&D with academic, industrial, and other institutions.  The lab can provide access to facilities, expertise, materials, and so on to the CRADA partner.  However, the lab cannot provide money.  In return, the CRADA partner can provide materials, access to facilities, expertise, and funding to the federal lab.  Regarding rights, CRADA partners have the option to obtain an exclusive license to government rights in CRADA-subject inventions.

Research, development, testing, and evaluation also includes commercial test agreements (CTA), broad agency announcements, grants, contracts, cooperative agreements, partnership intermediary agreements, other transaction agreements (OTAs), rapid innovation funds (RIF), and prize competitions.  For commercial test agreements (CTA), Federal labs test technologies, computer software, and other materials on behalf of an outside party with the partner owning the technical data.  Broad agency announcements (BAAs) are open solicitations targeting the promotion and progression of technologies.  BAAs are continuously open and current opportunities include communications-electronics research, development, and engineering center night vision technologies and defense forensic science center for basic, applied, and advanced research.  Grants offer R&D federal funding by industry, academia, and nonprofits.  Contracts on the other hand, offer R&D federal funding by industry and the government retains government use rights for federally funded inventions.  The contractor may retain ownership and therefore commercialize any inventions created under the contract. 

Intellectual property agreements include non-disclosure agreement (NDAs) and license agreements.  NDAs are used for situations where an Army lab shares proprietary information with an outside party.  License agreements help with the transfer of intellectual property from a Federal lab to a commercial partner.  Patents, copyrights, and trademarks are licensed under exclusive, partially exclusive, or nonexclusive licenses.  License agreements are used in fields that can be geographical, topical, or involving how the invention will be used.  To sublicense, written approval of the Federal lab is needed.

Other Transaction Authority (OTA) permits certain research and prototype projects.  OTAs are leveraged with industry consortia, which are comprised of either large or small companies, nonprofits, and nontraditional defense contractors.

Army Laboratories and the Army Research Lab Open Campus Initiative

 Army laboratories strive to prepare technological solutions to warfighters and are open to collaborations with the private sector. The army laboratory network and core research focus areas includes the following:  Army Futures Command, Aviation and Missiles Center, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Coastal and Hydraulics Lab, Medical Research and Materiel Command, Institute for Surgical Research, Space and Missile Defense Technical Center, and Army Research Institute for Behavioral and Social Sciences.

 The Army Research Lab (ARL) Open Campus connects the global research community and government assets in order to accelerate discovery and innovation as well as execute basic and applied research programs.  The Open Campus model is based on three components: modern government workforce and management; shared facilities between government, the private sector, and academia; and enforcing a collaborative culture that stimulates both an innovative and entrepreneurial environment.

Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs) and Educational Partnership Agreements (EPAs) are the main agreements used to establish Open Campus collaborative partnerships.  While EPAs are established between academic institutions and ARL to foster joint research opportunities for STEM disciplines, CRADAs focus on R&D opportunities between the industry and the Army labs.  EPAs allow visiting students and professors to access ARL’s research facilities and collaborate on various and relevant subject matter.

 ARL Extended is an initiative created to foster strong science and technology (S&T) partnerships to find solutions to the Army’s current and future problems.  ARL Extended is meant to use regional facilities and expertise to expedite, develop, and transition science and technology.  The intention is to benefit soldiers and the nation’s future competitiveness in scientific engineering by collaborating with universities and local established companies.  ARL Extended sites, divided by region, are: ARL Central in Chicago, IL; ARL Northeast in Boston, MA; ARL South in Austin, TX; and ARL West in Playa Vista, CA.

Fifteen research centers have been established to enhance collaborative fundamental research and address National Security and Army research problems.  Examples of ARL Centers are: Atmospheric Science Center, Cyber Research Center, Center for UAS Propulsion, and Intelligent Systems Center.

xTechSearch Army Expeditionary Technology Search

The xTechSearch is a prize competition aimed to connect small businesses and other partners with the Army laboratory enterprise.  The goal is to decrease the barriers between the two parties and allow these nontraditional partners to connect with the Army.  The xTechSearch is focused on generating advanced technologies for the U.S. Army in alignment with the Army’s modernization priorities.  The competition consists of four phases: Phase I is for the collection of concept papers; Phase II involves the technology pitches; Phase III is for the Association of the U.S. Army Innovators’ Corner; and Phase IV is for the Capstone Demonstration.  While the current xTechSearch competition is well underway, information for the next competition will be released shortly.


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