Pentagon issues long wish list to industry, including technologies for stratospheric, hypersonic flight
By Ben Iannotta|March 31, 2020
Solicitation seeks prototyping and introduction to forces by 2028
Normally when the Pentagon’s research and engineering office issues a request for information to the defense industry, it has a specific technical problem in mind related to its goal of outmatching or leaping ahead of China and Russia, which it sees as the country’s near-peer competitors.
Late yesterday the office added a new tactic to its prototyping repertoire when it released a document officially called the “Global Needs Statement” or unofficially the Global RFI.
The term “global” refers not to geography but to the wide range of technical areas in which the Pentagon is seeking help in getting powerful new technologies into the hands of troops by 2028.
The interest areas are an eclectic mix designed to resolve a concern held by Tim Dare, who is in charge of developmental test, evaluation and prototyping in the office of Mike Griffin, under secretary of defense for research and engineering.
Without the Global RFI, “I may not ever see the interesting stuff that industry is doing on their own,” Dare told a group of AIAA corporate members during an online Zoom meeting last week. He wants companies to alert his office to “novel capabilities that we don’t know about,” meaning those produced with their internal research and development dollars.
Griffin’s office has defined 11 “modernization areas” ranging from artificial intelligence to hypersonics to space technologies, plus 10 “joint areas of interest” including “operationalizing the stratosphere” and “autonomous close air support.”
Domestic and international companies are invited to choose one of the areas and submit a 100-word, unclassified description of their research, with a limit of one submission per company or division of a larger company.
At stake are contracts that could be worth $2 million to $4 million a year for two or three years. Eligible technologies must start at Level 3 or 4 on the Defense Department’s 9-step Technology Readiness Level scale. TRL 3 means that “proof of concept” has been demonstrated, and Level 4 means “laboratory validation” has been achieved, according to the RFI. The winners must push the technologies to Level “6 +,” requiring a demonstration in a “relevant environment.” A transition partner, such as a military service, would shepherd the technology into action.
Some of the submitters will be invited to make one-on-one presentations sometime between June and September at a “solutions meeting” that would accommodate classified discussions.
Before deciding which projects to fund, Dare will receive input from the Prototyping Senior Steering Group, an advisory board that includes some of Dare’s staff, the assistant directors of the modernization areas and representatives from the military services, combatant commands and Joint Staff.