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Tech Transfers to Industry Provide Catalysts to Development

Armor technology for Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected (MRAP) vehicles originated in the U.S. Army's Tank Automotive Research Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC) laboratories, which helped manufacturers produce the vehicles quickly. Ballistic protection studies at the Army Research Laboratory (ARL) also contributed to the armor exteriors that have saved many Soldiers' and Marines' lives in combat zones.

On another project, the low-rolling-resistance tires on Fuel Efficient ground vehicle Demonstrator (FED) models improved its miles-per-gallon (mpg) ratings by 7 percent compared to High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles (HMMWVs). This time, Army engineers didn't develop the technology — they transitioned the tire technology from the commercial market and adapted it for use on military vehicles.

The MRAP and FED programs offer just a few examples of successful technology transfers and transitions — exchanges that both the government and industry use to accelerate the development of products, processes and knowledge to usable maturity levels.

Panelists at the Ground Vehicle Systems Engineering and Technology Symposium (GVSETS), held Aug. 14-16 in Troy, MI, cited several instances of projects and innovations that were adapted for warfighters or reached the market faster because of reciprocal research and development (R&D) efforts.

"We provide the tech transfer mechanisms, industry helps us with product development, the product comes back to help the warfighter, and we're still maintaining the dominance on the battlefield that we have now," commented Joseph Wienand, Technical Director of the Edgewood Chemical and Biological Center, one of the Army's R&D agencies within the Research, Development and Engineering Command (RDECOM). "Ideally, this is the way it's supposed to work."

Panelists drew the distinction between the terms:

  • Technology transfer happens when government moves technology or knowledge to industry.
  • Technology transition is when industry provides government with developments that can accelerate defense programs.

"In pushing transfers and transitions, we're making sure we're still relevant and innovative and driving the economy," Wienand noted.

A presidential memorandum in October 2011 encouraged federal laboratory directors to "foster innovation by increasing the rate of technology transfer and the economic and societal impact from federal R&D investments." The memo added that in addition to stimulating economic growth, these activities could help achieve "excellence in basic and mission-focused research activities."

"We don't want to have things that just stay inside the fence," Wienand pointed out. "Folks in this business have seen an uptick in people interested in transferring technology outside the federal labs."

Transitions in Many Forms

Dr. David Gorsich, TARDEC Chief Scientist, explained that the effect can happen in three forms: knowledge transition, capability transition and technology transition.

"We see all three types of transition as crucial in the Army science and technology (S&T) community's technology transition efforts. To forget any of these aspects could doom future acquisitions and lead to more challenges," Gorsich declared.

An example of knowledge transition, he explained, occurred when TARDEC hired modeling and simulation (M&S) talent from the automotive industry to study the effects of roadside bombs on vehicles in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"TARDEC made an early and wise investment in analyzing the effects of underbody blasts. We hired people from the auto industry who did crash studies, and they helped us develop a new capability where we could predict the effects of blasts on vehicle structure," Gorsich remarked. "Those capabilities are now constantly being used. The Striker Double-V Hull program is another good example of where we worked with industry and the acquisition community to understand the benefits and costs."

Useful S&T knowledge builds up over time, through failed attempts and demonstrations that both government and industry need to complete programs effectively and avoid cost overruns. "We realized things, like adding armor to a vehicle increases protection but also adds weight that then requires more vehicle power. There is a breaking point," Gorsich commented. "Having that expertise upfront and knowing the design trade-offs is really crucial."

Capability transition typically involves a demonstration of what the Army would gain from technology. The FED program, for instance, showed that it's possible to build a vehicle with the requirements of a HMMWV but with fuel-efficient technologies that save on fuel and life-cycle costs. TARDEC examined many of the FED vehicles' capabilities in M&S studies.

"In terms of capability, our ability to model and predict vehicle systems at a system level helped everyone understand the benefits and burdens of the technology," Gorsich stated. "This is very valuable in terms of making a decision on whether we continue to develop a technology and understanding where there are challenges from a physical perspective. You can model analytically."

Several commercially available fuel-efficiency systems on the FED vehicles are being evaluated in testing and will likely be transferred onto other military platforms.

Technology transition also helped TARDEC engineers develop the Vehicular Integration for Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance/Electronic Warfare (C4ISR/EW) Interoperability (VICTORY) in-vehicle electronics architecture, which integrates systems and components into a single framework that phases out the "bolt-on" hardware approach and provides a common structure for current and future systems. "Nowadays, software could be just as important, or more important, than an actual hardware piece," Gorsich noted.

Stocking the Toolbox

Tim Ryan, Chief of Technology Transfer and International Cooperation at the Armaments Research, Development and Engineering Center (ARDEC), commented that R&D centers have an array of tools to partner with businesses that facilitate technology sharing. These include Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants, Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) grants, Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs), licensing agreements, service agreements, intellectual property agreements and Memoranda of Understanding or Agreement (MOU or MOA).

"At ARDEC, over many years, partnering and collaboration have become part of our culture, part of our strategic planning and our business plans," Ryan commented. "CRADAs are really the bread and butter for tech transfer agreements. It's a very broad and flexible authority, and we can do a lot of things with it."

Ryan gave examples of the three pillars of technology exchanges: spin-offs, spin-ons and dual-use technologies.

Spin-off technology moves from federal labs into the manufacturing sector and goes into product technology. "The Future Combat Systems' XM-360 cannon started in concept development with a CRADA and went into systems development," Ryan recalled. "We use this model a lot, where we have a capability at a subcomponent level that industry can tap into to help support their acquisition efforts."

In spin-on technology, an industry partner develops the product for the Army's use. The Excalibur precision-guided projectile developed by Raytheon is an example.

"The artillery round, after it's fired toward the target, uses a global positioning system (GPS) to course-correct in flight, sense the target and then in nonballistic trajectory can top-attack it for less collateral damage. The problem is it's expensive. We entered into CRADAs with industry to lower the cost," Ryan remarked.

ARDEC turned to a fireworks company to identify a dual-use arrangement — the military uses a type of cartridge casing for artillery and tank rounds that can also be found in fireworks.

"For the technology to be affordable, you can look to the commercial sector to take advantage of economies of scale," Ryan stated. "This foam celluloid technology for combustible cartridge cases in cardboard type material holds a propellant in artillery and tank ammunitions, and works in pyrotechnic devices. We've been working for several years with material used in fireworks."

Close Collaboration

David Keese, Director of Integrated Military Systems at Sandia National Laboratories, called technology transfer and transition a "contact sport."

"You've got to rub elbows with people, and you've got to be on the same page as people you're trying to work tech transfers with," Keese stated. "You have to embrace it and embrace the folks you're working with. Not every technology we know about has military utility. You have to be wise and judicious about which ones you use and try to incorporate them into your field of systems."

Because many products are developed in a cooperative way, it can be difficult to see the difference between a successful transition and transfer.

"They are heavily intertwined," Keese stated. "The basic Lynx Radar system was provided by General Atomics but Sandia developed it as a radar system to load on unmanned aerial vehicles. We had some smart people in radar technology who asked, 'Why can't we do synthetic aperture radar on a moving air platform?' So we developed it, transferred that to the private company and now it's fielded in different theaters as an effective weapon in finding and detecting improvised explosive devices (IEDs)."

Sandia also worked with a company called Team Technologies Inc. to develop a bomb disablement system called Stingray — an explosive-driven water jet that slashes through the device to defeat it.

Scott Greene, Vice President of Ground Vehicles for Lockheed-Martin, named two other types of technology being developed in partnerships with industry: autonomous technology and air bag suspensions.

"We're working with TARDEC on convoy technology and autonomy in general," Greene commented. "The algorithms that drive autonomy are unique, and government and industry have done a significant amount of partnering in the lab. All the mechanics for making a convoy autonomous — actuators, radars and low cost sensors — were already available commercially. Here's another product found in the commercial domain and we can marry them up with high-tech algorithms."

Finally, transfers and transitions call for a sound systems engineering process. "The key is to have good communication. You really need to be Velcro-ed to understand what the requirements are and what needs to be traded."

Transfers Serve the Mission

Beyond helping warfighters, Keese cited other reasons for Department of Defense labs to transfer technology.

"I think the federal laboratories represent a great investment by the nation. If we can show utilization of that investment to rapidly field and develop technologies, I think we will have done the nation a service," Keese commented. "We're also enabling the government to be a smarter buyer. By developing these technologies to a certain level of maturity, the government can say, 'Let's go forward' or 'No, let's put that on the shelf until it matures a little further.' Helping the government make those smarter decisions is part of what our laboratory role could be."

Making suppliers aware of technologies that can enhance their products can also have benefits for the Department of Defense. "We're doing this to bring new technologies to the field but also to protect intellectual property options for the government. We recognize we are only part of a system but when we're effectively aligned and synchronized to what the community's doing, I think good things can come from that."

The government's role also includes offering scientific expertise, something Edgewood engages in often, Wienand added. "We have people who work in very specialized areas and they can help," he related. "When you think about biological agents, there aren't a whole lot of people around the world who work with this stuff day-in and day-out. They're more than willing to help improve products that help the warfighter."

Wienand encourages private industry and academic researchers to contact RDECOM agencies to find those specialists. "The most confusing thing usually is trying to figure the government out. Who is the expert in nano-something within the Army? Who can tell me whether this product has a potential use in the future? Find a professional within the RDECOM family; they can help you get there. And we can get those great ideas."

Disclaimer: Reference herein to any specific commercial company, product, process or service by trade name, trademark, manufacturer or otherwise, does not necessarily constitute or imply its endorsement, recommendation or favoring by the United States Government or the Department of the Army (DoA). The opinions of the authors expressed herein do not necessarily state or reflect those of the United States Government or the DoA, and shall not be used for advertising or product endorsement purposes.