By Charlie Zisette
July 7, 2020 at 5:00 am ET
The world of armaments is in a period of tectonic change, and the United States must continue to be at the cutting edge of technological development. This is true whether we’re talking about artificial intelligence and machine learning, energetics, unmanned systems technology, hypersonics, the development of life-saving materials or bringing information technology onto the battlefield.
The key to making this work is collaboration on rapid and effective prototypes, particularly under the auspices of Other Transaction Agreement’s managed by organizations such as the National Armaments Consortium. In essence, this consortium-based model functions as a public/private partnership, bringing together traditional defense companies startups, small businesses and other nontraditionals to give our warfighters a technological edge.
Over the years, this collaborative model has provided prototypes across a wide range of technology areas, yet recently, some have called for more transparency and questioned the value of nontraditionals in delivering innovation.
With regard to transparency, the NAC is fully in support of efforts to provide increased visibility regarding who are the end performers of contracts. That’s why we have put recent awards on our publicly facing website. Additionally, we are actively exploring ways to integrate awards decisions into existing searchable databases – such as USASpending.Gov. While the details need to be ironed out, we believe a solution such as this will ultimately provide the public, government officials, and policy makers additional transparency that is warranted.
More fundamentally, we believe that nontraditional participation is an essential element of the U.S. government’s technology development process.
OTAs allow and encourage large and small companies to collaborate with each other and with the government through an open process that brings innovative ideas to the table, streamlines contracting and prototyping, and helps the transition to fielding.
The result: Technology development happens faster, with more innovation, and at lower cost. Over the last decade, roughly half of the prototypes developed through the NAC have been led by nontraditionals, who often bring new ideas and novel approaches to solving our most challenging problems. Additionally, 99% of projects led by traditional contractors have included significant participation and contribution by nontraditionals.
One example is Corvid Technologies, based in Mooresville, N.C. Corvid has done work in competitive motorsports and with the U.S. bobsled team, while providing a range of solutions for the U.S. military. In missile defense, Corvid conducts high-fidelity computer simulations using its in-house developed, physics-based modeling software to help design, develop, build, and test adversary missile threat systems. This allows Corvid to determine whether particular targets have been intercepted, if the incoming threat was defeated, what type of threat was intercepted, and the optimal engagement method, based on the characterization of the debris field left behind. Not only does this capability provide better information to the warfighter, it also has the potential to save lives and resources.
A second example involves Mettle Ops, a company operating out of Sterling Heights, Mich. Its mission: making the battlefield more survivable for the warfighter. The company has worked on blast-resistant systems to save lives in tanks and other armored vehicles, including adaptive floors, foundational armor and explosive reactive armor tiles. With just 10 people, Mettle Ops is making a real difference, which is made far easier through the collaborative process enabled by the OTA.
These examples are just the tip of the iceberg. This collaborative approach is enabling more than 600 active projects spanning 12 different technology sectors, all with the goal of increasing our nation’s technological edge.
There are some who believe that Federal Acquisition Regulation-based contracting for prototypes offers a better way. We believe that they are missing out on the full potential of defense contractors/universities and government managers, engineers, and scientists to collaborate and innovate.
Small nontraditionals simply find it too difficult to engage in the FAR with its more complex and burdensome process. Without having nontraditional participation in a collaborative network of companies – you don’t have access to the disruptive, innovative technologies that these nontraditionals provide or the forums in which their ideas can be integrated and operationalized into defense modernization programs.
Over the course of the last decade, we’ve seen how consortium-based OTAs have become the gold standard for technology development because they link small nontraditionals with large primes, and they leverage the power of a large and diverse network to collaborate and to innovate. It’s a recipe for success.
We all benefit when companies, governments and individuals collaborate to find innovative solutions to challenging problems. That’s why we believe the consortium-based OTA model will continue to ensure the U.S. military is able to meet its greatest technological challenges to support our warfighters.
Charlie Zisette is the executive director of the National Armaments Consortium.
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