Defense Department seeks ways to boost tech transition

Navy officials on Wednesday highlighted the need to better transition technologies from research to commercial products and discussed ways to get there.

The goal of government and industry is to avoid having good technologies fall into the "valley of death," said Tim Harp, an official at the Office of the Navy Secretary. He defined the valley of death as when companies are told that the government will not fund their projects until they demonstrate that the technology works, and then when they do, they must wait two years to get the funding. That approach does not correspond with rapid technology lifecycles, he said.

Harp spoke at an event sponsored by the Office of Naval Research. The emphasis on speeding the transition time is at least in part driven by the current wartime status, which has led the government to seek to harvest technologies in the pipeline.

Harp highlighted three current initiatives being undertaken to improve technology transition. Under the defense acquisition program, the Navy is looking for non-traditional suppliers, with an emphasis on smaller companies, though the program is open to anyone.

The department is culling the roughly 200 programs that were nominated to see which technologies to acquire. The criterion is that the proposed technologies do a job better than work currently done by the military, Harp said.

Filling the gaps between long-term research and development and immediate needs is the Quick Reaction Fund. That program moves technologies faster through funding cycles for one-time purchases aimed at providing a quick fix, he said.

The third initiative is called technology transition, which is aimed at accelerating Defense initiatives into technology. There are about 13 candidates for funding under the initiative this year, he said, but added that the department is looking to expand the program in the future.

"This is one you might want to keep an eye on," Harp said.

Michael McGrath, deputy assistant Navy secretary in the research and development area, said the "center of gravity" has become the transition of all technologies quickly. He outlined necessary conditions for successful technology transition.

Those conditions include having a recognized need and a technology that fits, a "business case" showing that the technology will pay for itself eventually, a window for introducing the technology, a way to acquire it, and the funding and commitment to buy it.

McGrath also pointed to the "mismatch" between the fast pace of technology and Defense's relatively slow acquisition process. He said that even if a purchase passes muster, the earliest budget the department is planning now is fiscal 2006.

The Navy's focus on future naval capabilities calls for reserving one-third of the budget for technology transition, McGrath said. The Navy also will launch a program in fiscal 2004 aimed at speeding technologies to products, he said. Department officials also are talking to more venture-capital investors, and the department is developing a panel to look at that, he said.

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