Pentagon awards $100M to accelerate innovative tech adoption from nontraditional contractors

Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, Heidi Shyu speaks to Defense Writers via zoom at the Pentagon, Washington, D.C., Jan. 13, 2022. (DoD photo by United States Marine Corps Sgt. Taryn Sammet)

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The Defense Department has allocated $100 million to 10 startups with the hope of accelerating existing innovative tech pilots into full production.

Through the Accelerate the Procurement and Fielding of Innovative Technologies (APFIT) pilot program, the DOD aims to push existing innovative projects across the “valley of death” — the phenomenon in which companies win small projects with the DOD that succeed in the prototype phase but fail to scale into production, often due to the time it takes within the budget cycle for a full procurement — and to “deliver war-winning capability earlier than scheduled.”

Ten DOD program offices were given $10 million to procure innovative tech from nontraditional, startup contractors that have received less than $500 million in cumulative revenue from the department.

“APFIT holds great promise to transform the way the Department procures next generations solutions. This pilot program is well positioned to be a key asset as we continue to work to bridge the valley of death,” Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Heidi Shyu said in a statement. “The ten companies being funded will fill critical capability gaps. Without APFIT, their innovative technologies could take much longer to reach the hands of our warfighters.”

The APFIT program was mandated by the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act as a mechanism to deliver “innovative and mature technologies and products that can meet warfighter demands but currently lack the necessary funding to transition the capability into the production delivery phase,” per a release from the DOD.

The programs selected were:

  • Navy’s Advanced Sensor Package Procurement, awarded to Arete Associates
  • Marine Corps’ Anti-Jam Radio-links for Maritime Operations Resiliency, awarded to Pacific Antenna Systems, Titan Systems LLC, and Naval Systems, Inc.
  • Marine Corps’ Atmospheric Plasma Coating Removal System, awarded to Atmospheric Plasma Solutions
  • Special Operations Command’s Augmented Reality Tactical Assault Kit, awarded to Eolian
  • Air Force’s Autonomous Unmanned Aerial System – Vertical-BAT, awarded to Shield AI
  • Army’s Drop-Glide Munitions, awarded to Orbital Research
  • Missile Defense Agency’s Lightfield Directing Array Secure Production, awarded to Bright Silicon Technologies
  • Special Operations Command’s Lightweight Wide Field of View Aviation Goggle, awarded to Aviation Specialties Unlimited
  • Defense Innovation Unit’s Rapid Analysis of Threat Exposure, awarded to Philips Healthcare
  • Space Force’s Real-Time Sensor Data Transformation, awarded to Meroxa

California Rep. Ken Calvert, the ranking Republican on the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, was a cheerleader for the inclusion of APFIT in the 2022 NDAA. Calvert called the funding announcement an “exciting step in overcoming the long-standing challenges with transitioning defense technologies from prototypes to production at scale.”

“The so-called ‘Valley of Death’ has been an obstacle to getting emerging technology and commercially available resources into the hands of our warfighters on the battlefield,” Calvert said. “I pushed for the creation of APFIT to overcome this hurdle and ensure we stay ahead of near-peer adversaries like China in our technological advantage.”

Last week, the heads of 19 national security-focused technology startups and small businesses pressed Congress in a letter to resolve specific hurdles they’re encountering associated with how the Pentagon buys software and other innovative technologies.

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Accelerate the Procurement and Fielding of Innovative Technologies (APFIT), Department of Defense (DOD), Heidi Shyu, Innovation, valley of death
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