Small businesses reshaping future Army tech

The U.S. Army is aggressively seeking next-generation technologies by reaching out to the heart of the American economy: Small businesses. To that end, officials kicked off the second Expeditionary Technology Search 2.0 (XTechSearch 2.0) at the beginning of 2019; the program aims to be a catalyst in changing the way the Department of Defense (DoD) acquisition process occurs in the small-business sector.

XTechSearch 2.0 enables companies not as familiar to the defense procurement process to get past the traditional barriers of entry to compete for contract wins by getting in front of DoD. Entering the second year of the competition, officials are seeking solutions in the areas of Long-Range Precision Fires, Next Generation Combat Vehicle (NGCV), Future Vertical Lift (FVL), the Army Network, Air and Missile Defense, Increasing Soldier Lethality, Medical Technologies, and Military Engineering Technologies.

“xTechSearch was designed as a vehicle to deliberately engage with non-traditional companies that typically look at the government as a customer and see red tape and a limited return on investment,” explains Matt Willis, Director for Laboratory Management, Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army, Research and Technology, ASA(ALT). “Our goal is to get the innovation community cognizant about Army research and development problems and apply their unique technologies to modernize the Army.”

The competition’s format echoes entrepreneurial pitch competitions, Army officials report. During the first phase, white papers were submitted, then Army subject-matter experts chose the winning entries based on the potential for impact and scientific engineering viability.

Phase II selectees were asked to appear in Boston, Massa­chusetts; Playa Vista, California; Chicago, Illinois; and Austin, Texas – all are Army Research Laboratory (ARL) regional locations – communities that live and breathe technology innovation. These regional sites are just part of the Army’s Open Campus Business Model, which builds partnerships with the tech community to drive cutting-edge technologies to the warfighter.

At each of these locations, Phase II selectees pitched their ideas in hopes to enter the next phase of the competition. In Playa Vista, California, five companies were selected out of 11 to move on to Phase III of the competition, where xTechSearch finalists had the opportunity to exhibit alongside the U.S. Army at the 2019 Association of the United States Army (AUSA) Global Force Symposium & Exposition (held in March in Huntsville, Alabama).

California selectees include: Cogitari, NAVSYS Corp., SIGINT Systems, NOVI, and Vidrovr, Inc. “It was great to see the dialogue between Army subject-matter experts and these innovative companies trying to reshape the world as we know it,” says Joshua Israel, the xTechSearch lead for Playa Vista.

The Armaments Research Co. (ARC), AUV Flight Services, LLC, Lumineye, and Spark Thermionics, Inc., were chosen out of the Boston ARL location. In the Chicago group were four selectees – Advanced Hydrogen Technologies, Great Lakes Sound and Vibration, MELD Manufacturing, and Sphere Brake Defense, LLC – that will address the NGCV technology focus.

The Texas group had the largest number of submissions, with 60 companies pitching. Out of the 60 from the Texas ARL, Army officials selected the following eight companies – which came from around the nation – as finalists: AKHAN Semiconductor; Ghostwave, Inc.; Invisible Interdiction; NOVAA Ltd.; Response Technologies; United Aircraft Technologies; Valley Tech Systems; and Vita Inclinata Technologies.

This type of competition opens up a conversation about how private industry and the small-business sector can collaborate to really make a difference in military technology development.

“Our Army of the future must be ready to deploy, fight, and win decisively against any adversary, anytime and anywhere, in a joint, multidomain, high-intensity conflict, while simultaneously deterring others and maintaining the ability to conduct irregular warfare,” says Dr. Bruce D. Jette, Assistant Secretary of the Army (Acquisition, Logistics and Technology); his office launched the nationwide competitions. “The next generation of enabling technologies required to achieve these goals may not currently exist or they may not be apparent to the Army so we must proactively and aggressively engage with innovators to see what new ideas, concepts, systems, and subsystem components they can bring to the table.”

The final phase – the xTechSearch Capstone Demonstration –will see DoD leadership and Army subject-matter experts pick the Phase IV winner, the team that successfully demonstrates a proof-of-concept solution at the AUSA Annual Meeting in October 2019.