Army Shaking Non-Defense Trees for Next Tech Breakthrough

The Pentagon is a very large building that houses a lot of the authorities for the U.S. Military. It's big. This photo doesn't do it justice, but they're kinda rightly concerned about people flying drones around there.

The U.S. Army, continuing a Pentagon trend of scouring the front lines of technological innovation for tools that can help warfighters, has launched a second competition among small businesses that don’t usually fall into the world of defense acquisition.

The second Expeditionary Technology Search competition, known as xTechSearch 2.0, is inviting participants to pitch their ideas directly to Army brass in a roughly 10-month competition to identify what could prove to be game-changing innovations in a wide range of battlefield technologies.

Dr. Bruce D. Jette, the Army’s assistant secretary for Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology, said the service wants to revolutionize the way it acquires new technologies to support a force that must be ready to respond quickly to fast-moving, asymmetric, multi-domain conflicts. “The next generation of enabling technologies required to achieve these goals may not currently exist, or they may not be apparent to the Army,” Jette said in an announcement, “so we must proactively and aggressively engage with innovators to see what new ideas, concepts, systems, and sub-system components they can bring to the table.”

The Army will review white papers that were submitted by a Dec. 31, 2018, deadline for xTechSearch 2.0, and will select up to 60 semifinalists by the end of February or the beginning of March to make their pitch to XTechSearch panels. Up to 25 finalists will be featured at the Association of the Army’s Global Force Symposium and Exposition in Huntsville, Ala., from March 26-28, with the Army staging a Capstone Demonstration for the winner sometime in October. Cash prizes for the competition will range from $1,000 to $200,000, with the amounts increasing during each successive round.

Version 2.0 follows the first xTechSearch from last year, in which 350 U.S. participants entered a competition with a total of $1.95 million in prizes. As with other technology competitions that abound throughout the Department of Defense and the Federal government, the prize money isn’t a lot in the grand scheme of things. But most DoD competitions–such as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Spectrum Collaboration Challenge and the Intelligence Community’s effort to use machine learning to automate analysis of satellite images–present a collaborative development environment that can push technologies forward, as well as the potential for contract awards. For xTechSearch, as with other competitions, the Army also emphasizes that it will protect the intellectual property rights of participants, saying the Federal government cannot gain an interest in any participant’s IP without the participant’s written consent, and that its use of the technology will require a licensing agreement.

And although the competition involves small businesses and nontraditional defense contractors, the technology areas where the Army is looking for disruptive concepts involves a range of programs often associated with large vendors. Among the areas xTechSearch participants can address are long-range precision fires (missiles, artillery, and weapons navigation systems); the Next Generation Combat Vehicle, which the Army has been developing for years; and the Future Vertical Lift (FVL) program, a large-scale effort to develop a family of five helicopters to eventually replace the likes of the Black Hawk, Apache, and Chinook helicopters currently in use. Major defense contractors such as Lockheed-Martin, Bell, and Sikorsky/Boeing are already working on FVL designs and prototypes.

Other areas xTechSearch is focusing on include the Army Network, Air and Missile Defense, increasing solider lethality, medical technologies, and military engineering technologies.