Army expands ‘Dragon’s Lair’ pitch event to all branches

U.S. Army 1st Lt. Mahdi Al-Husseini, assigned to the 25th Combat Aviation Brigade, pitches his presentation on AI pilot performance feedback. Al-Husseini is one of seven Soldiers who is taking part in Dragon's Lair 5. The program was established in October 2020 to help increase innovation across the XVIII Airborne Corps.

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The Army is opening its Shark Tank-style event to all branches of the military to pitch ideas on new tech to improve service members’ lives.

The event, “Dragon’s Lair,” brings a panel of experts together to hear new ideas directly from soldiers. It’s a rare opportunity for soldiers to speak directly to leaders and offer their own ideas, be it for a new app or policy update. Its expansion will give airmen, Marines, sailors, guardians and coastguardsmen an avenue to pursue funding and resources to develop winning ideas that could help drive digital modernization.

“Good ideas reside everywhere across the military,” Army Col. Joe Buccino, producer of Dragon’s Lair and public affairs officer for the 18th Airborne Corps, said. “Innovations are not limited to soldiers; service members across the force solve for inefficiencies in their daily lives. We want to uplift and resource those innovations.”

Dragon’s Lair falls under the Fort Bragg, North Carolina-based 18th Airborne Corps’ modernization project dubbed Project Ridgway, an over-arching plan to bring more digital talent and processes to meets the Army’s mission. The project also includes initiatives to send soldiers to data boot camps and bring in outside experts to improve operational integration with emerging tech.

Dragon’s Lair is Project Ridgway’s way of allowing any soldier, and now any service member, to participate in that digital modernization.

The program was recently highlighted by Army Secretary Christine Wormuth as a critical way to give soldiers the means to innovate and offer ideas that will benefit them and fellow member of the Army.

“The Dragon’s Lair program on Fort Bragg is so important, as it allows soldiers to bring new ideas to the command,” Wormuth said in early October.

Recent winning ideas include an app that allows soldiers to book practice gun ranges and one on organizing motor pools. New policy proposals have also been accepted, including updates to the Army’s efforts to curb sexual harassment and assault.

The range-finding app’s creator, Maj. Ryan Adams, told FedScoop in June he came up with his winning idea after being chained to his desk filling out paperwork to book a range (and complete many other tasks that way). In his life outside the military, that never would be the case with modern tech, he explained.

“It is an enduring issue in the military…we are pretty much stuck to our desks doing admin work,” Adams said. “We can do this stuff on our phone.”

Pitch events have been popular formats for getting new ideas into the military. The Air Force ran a “Pitch Day” for small companies to present ideas and earn research grant contracts on the same day — a process that is much faster than the traditional method of acquisition. The Space Force recently launched a similar program.

“The more information submitted, the easier it will be for the Dragon’s Lair panel to ‘see’ the innovation,” Buccino said. “The innovation can be anything from a new policy for quality of life to a tech-based product — and everything in between. It’s the full spectrum of the idea. This is unbounded innovation.”

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Air Force Pitch Day, Army, Department of Defense (DOD), Project Ridgway
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