Feb 06 2023

How DOD Uses Collaboration to Spur Tech Innovation

Drawing ideas from industry, allies and other partners is key to accelerating technology adoption, say officials at the 2022 Reagan National Defense Forum.

In a panel discussion at the 2022 Reagan National Defense Forum, members of the Department of Defense discussed ways in which they’ve spurred innovation, particularly during times of strife.

Panelist Heidi Shyu, under secretary of defense for research and engineering, highlighted several initiatives, including the Rapid Defense Experimentation Reserve. RDER is a collaboration between the military services, combatant commands, industry and coalition partners to accelerate the discovery and implementation of new warfighting technologies. Launched in 2021, RDER has resulted in the DOD scouting ideas from industry, allies and partners.

“This is where we literally work hand in glove with the Joint Staff to understand the joint warfighting capabilities they desire to have,” Shyu said. “Because in any conflict, we’re fighting a joint war, and we fight with our coalition partners. We don’t fight within a single service.”

The department’s Defense Innovation Unit also recently announced a partnership with the National Contract Management Association to implement best practices for acquiring emerging commercial technologies.

The efforts of RDER and the DOD’s other innovation-focused organizations highlight the importance of collaboration when it comes to finding new tech solutions.

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How RDER Is Accelerating Innovation Across Sectors

In recent years, government officials and experts have expressed concern about the pace at which the DOD was testing and implementing emerging technologies. In fact, the defense community uses the term “valley of death” to describe the drawn-out phase between when a tech program starts and when a service actually adopts the technology. To bridge this gap, the secretary of defense established RDER to help speed the delivery of new warfighting capabilities and emerging technologies.

The initiative works like this: Companies propose innovative tech solutions and present prototypes that close gaps in the DOD’s defense capabilities. RDER then evaluates the proposals, selecting projects to test in the field and laboratory settings. At the core of RDER is collaboration, where the DOD seeks out innovation beyond its own walls.

“RDER is part of a Defense-wide effort to engage our innovative industry partners,” said Bruce Juselis, division chief for RDER technical accession and proposal development, at RDER Industry Engagement Day in August.

Shyu noted that small companies play a critical role in this push for innovation, and the Office of Strategic Capital will assist in funding companies that develop technologies deemed critical to national security. The Defense Department also is working with the Small Business Administration to help fund small startups.

EXPLORE: How government initiatives are driving digital transformation.

The DOD Is Working to Strengthen Public-Private Partnerships

The DOD has taken other steps to strengthen the connection between public and private organizations. In 2015, it launched the Defense Innovation Unit to rekindle its relationship with the commercial technology ecosystem and to accelerate the adoption of cutting-edge technology. Through the DIU’s recent partnership with the National Contract Management Association, the two organizations will exchange information and resources to help develop best practices on acquiring emerging commercial technologies.

In 2022, the DOD tapped into the potential of small companies by launching the Accelerate the Procurement and Fielding of Innovative Technologies program. APFIT was created to transition technologies from pilot programs to production, prioritizing those developed by small businesses and nontraditional defense contractors. Small businesses are often more forward-thinking but lack the capital to invest in their ideas. The DOD gives small businesses the funding to ramp up production of their unique tech solutions, driving quicker innovation.

LEARN MORE: How agencies can innovate using the latest cybersecurity tools.

The Role of Collaboration In Building an Innovation Ecosystem

Shyu said the DIU’s efforts have been crucial in opening the floodgates of tech innovation through collaboration.

“In terms of starting out looking at Silicon Valley and other innovative small companies, DIU certainly was on the forefront,” she said at the Reagan National Defense Forum. “Now, every single service has opened up their door to also look for innovative small-company solutions to solve their problems, so now we have an innovation ecosystem.”

Fellow panelist Karen Dahut, CEO of Google Public Sector, also touched on DIU’s impact in building a network of organizations across sectors and industries that work together to foster innovation.

“I think it’s fair to say that the speed with which the small incubation companies get to market with something that is commercially relevant and applicable to DOD has been too slow,” Dahut said. But since the DIU’s inception, “the focus of the innovation ecosystem on the aerospace and defense community has been significant.”

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