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Defense Tech and Dual Use is the Future
Strengthen National Security, Economic Development, Tap the Talent Pool, Access New Money....
Technology has been created by the military and federal government for decades. In fact, many of the technologies we see today were born from some sort of private-public partnership, government research, or unpublicized programs. Many of the scientists, engineers and think tanks find their links to lettered agencies which supported, instructed, designed and orchestrated the future we live today. We see examples of this in all walks of life from GPS (Global Positioning System) to the internet! Many of the technologies which started in the government’s sphere helped transform the country and the world as we know today. This has been happening at rapid scale since modern governments have been around. Many governments across the world design, develop and create technologies which find their way onto the world stage from jet engines (UK) to cryptography technologies (German/UK) to satellites (Russia). Many of the technologies were built on previous efforts or designed by combining multiple technologies, thus accelerating use cases. While many were created to solve specific problems at times of war, commercial use cases were still distant dreams.
Enter the commercial and private world. GPS changed how we got places. The internet changed how, what and when we communicate. Jet engines transformed life for all. Satellites play critical roles in weather and communications. Touch screens are on everything now from refrigerators to vacuum cleaners. We could go on and on with inventions of the past, funded by government programs, transformed into the many uses in the commercial world. Countries, empires and kingdoms have been doing this for a long time. Much depends on the leadership, government models and of course the inventors. The right balance of invention, funding and motivation have and will continue to alter the course of history. The strengths of the US model lie on the ability of individuals to openly create whatever they want. The market provides the grading system.
Today, we are at another inflection point. With the explosion of venture, private equity, and start-up eco systems over the last two decades, innovation flourished. Not all made it, lots of money was wasted, lots of money was earned, and lots of new shit was created. More than that, a mindset was created. Entrepreneurship creates fires in the eyes and minds of people across the country and world. Some fueled by greed, some fueled by passion, some fueled by freedom, some fueled by need. The opportunity is reversed now. The military wants innovation from the communities. The speed of innovation from local communities far out paces the government processes. Many deployed solutions in the private sector overlap with needs in the defense world and can be greatly accelerated with funding and resources.
This article will shed light on the opportunity for commercial organizations to capture new revenue streams, alternative funding mechanisms and access to the best and brightest in the military community including Veterans, scientists, and some of the best trained people on earth. Defense Tech has enormous impact to national security as well as economic benefit to the private sector. We will dig into a few of these areas.
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What is Defense Tech
Defense tech refers to technology used in military operations and national security interest. This can include research and development, software development, training and simulation, maintenance, logistics, and manufacturing. Defense technology is broad. It includes a wide spectrum of products and services, ranging from conventional weapons systems…..tanks, aircraft, and ships, to cutting-edge areas like cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, space defense and healthcare. It is mission driven in providing solutions to practical problems for armed services and supporting agencies. These solutions are specifically engineered to equip armed forces and security agencies to execute their mission.
Weapons Systems: This can include everything from small arms (rifles, pistols) to more complex systems like tanks, fighter jets, naval ships, and missiles.
Communication Systems: Secure communication tools and systems that allow for encrypted data and voice transmission, ensuring that adversaries cannot intercept or understand the messages.
Surveillance and Reconnaissance: Includes technology such as drones, satellites, and advanced radar systems that help in monitoring enemy activities and gathering intelligence.
Protection and Armor: This can be personal armor for soldiers, like bulletproof vests, or armor and protective systems for vehicles and installations.
Cybersecurity: Tools and systems designed to protect, detect, and respond to cyber threats, given the increasing importance of digital warfare and espionage.
Simulations and Training: Virtual reality, augmented reality, and other simulation technologies that prepare troops for real-world scenarios without putting them in immediate danger.
Logistics and Support Systems: Technologies that aid in the transportation, supply, and maintenance of military forces.
Advanced Manufacturing Techniques: 3D printing are continually influencing the development of newer and more effective defense technologies.
What is Dual Use Technology
Dual-use technology refers to products, services, or knowledge that can be used for both civilian and military purposes. Dual-use technology can range from raw materials to finished products, and from tangible machinery to software and technical know-how. Application examples include software, chemicals, and advanced materials.
Nuclear technology: While nuclear reactors can produce electricity for civilian use, the same technology can be employed to produce weapons-grade nuclear material.
Chemicals: Some chemicals can be used in pharmaceuticals or other civilian industries but can also be precursors to chemical weapons.
Drones: Initially developed for military reconnaissance and combat, drones are now widely used for a range of civilian applications, from photography to delivery services.
Satellite technology: Satellites can be used for civilian communications, weather monitoring, or GPS, but they can also be used for military surveillance and communications.
Advanced computing and encryption: While essential for secure online transactions in the civilian world, they also have significant military and intelligence applications.
Why it Matters More Now Than Ever
The current defense budget in the United States is over $753B annually. While debatable on where and how the money is spent, opportunities for private companies, start-ups, and organizations are enormous. There is a continuous demand for innovation across new materials, autonomous systems, advanced AI, cybersecurity, space defense, unmanned systems, advanced manufacturing and human health enhancement. Many of these areas have dual-use purposes across civilian and military. The trick is finding areas of joint cooperation which usually takes a bit of exploration, open minds, creativity and of course relationships with organizations who specialize in working with the defense world.
Based on current events and the geopolitical environment, these heightened areas of need based collaboration would include anything related to supply chain logistics, AI/ML related technologies across multiple areas from analytical reporting to drone software technologies, space technologies related to new materials, communication technologies for hardened infrastructures, the sciences of new materials for energy, and human enhancement technologies related to health in extreme conditions.
While application of the technologies differs, the impact crosses public and private arenas. Take the example of what we call contested logistics. China supplies many countries with basic critical components and materials. Natural resources are supplied by a small group of conflicting countries. The balance of all of these moving parts is critical for a nation’s security. Supplying key materials from minerals to microprocessors are highly contested in the current geopolitical environment. Ensuring these logistical pathways maintain their efficiency takes cutting edge analytical software, advanced manufacturing for speed to market and uninterrupted accurate communications. Technology plays a role in everything from the material to the advanced communication systems. The commercial world may have already solved one or many of these problem areas. Awareness on both sides is key to unlocking the new opportunities.
The benefits in cooperation are threefold:
New Markets for the Company — The defense organizations are vested partners with reoccurring revenue streams. For start-ups, the risk is low. Product development costs are funded without taking equity. For more mature businesses, product augmentation is funded with high ROI.
Economic Development and New Talent Pools — The community, city, state, region benefit from the company’s growth and the partner companies it attracts. These produce new tax bases for supporting citizens and investments back into the community. Additionally, current defense technologies can be used to solve local problems. Many of the dual use technology companies are founded and led by military Veterans. Veterans and first responders are some of the most trained professionals on the planet. Not only are they subject matter experts in certain domains, but they are also transformational agents for organizations.
National Security — Protecting the interest of our people, organizations, governance and economic stability is critical for continued innovation. Providing support to our friends, neighbors and allies is needed in order to maintain global stability. Leadership in next generation technologies provides security. Speed to market will accelerate with private companies, public institutions, and academic partnerships.
Defense Funding and Development Mechanisms
There are multiple programs available for companies and organizations to help design, develop and test market fits. Yes, the government can pay you for product development through a number of programs without taking equity. Below are some of the different governmental programs. Countries operate various defense funding programs aligned with their national interests. Many countries, including the United States, have strategic alliances and agreements for the development of joint technologies. These agreements expand and contract based on global events and diplomatic relationships. This is not an exhaustive list. The US alone has over 15+ known programs each providing specific mission based innovation in a particular branch of military or supporting agency. The most common programs are listed below.
Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA): Supports projects that are both transformational and high-risk, across an array of technologies.
Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR): A program that enables small businesses to explore their technological potential and provides the incentive to profit from its commercialization. One of the largest VCs in the world.
Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR): Aims to expand funding opportunities in the federal innovation research and development arena.
European Defense Fund (EDF): Aims to promote the competitiveness, efficiency, and innovation capacity of the defense industry throughout the EU.
Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO): Involves EU Member States cooperating more closely in the area of security and defense.
Defence and Security Accelerator (DASA): Seeks to find and fund exploitable innovation to support UK defense and security.
Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl): Ensures that innovative science and technology contribute to the defense and security of the UK.
Technology Development Fund (TDF): Established to promote the self-reliance of Indian defense technology as a part of the ‘Make in India’ initiative.
Innovation for Defence Excellence (iDEX): Focused on creating an ecosystem to foster innovation and technology development in defense.
MAFAT - Israel's Defense Research and Development Authority: Engaged in applied research and the development of military technologies.
Israel Innovation Authority: Although not strictly defense, they do offer programs and grants that can apply to dual-use technologies.
Capability Acquisition and Sustainment Group: Designed to meet the Australian Defense Force’s (ADF) military equipment and supply requirements.
Defense Science and Technology Group: Aims to provide innovative and creative technological solutions to meet defense challenges.
Innovation for Defence Excellence and Security (IDEaS): A program that supports the development of solutions from their conceptual stage, through prototype testing and capability development.
Examples of Leadership — The Best Part
Let me highlight a few organizations and companies in this space to get the juice flowing. There are handfuls of venture groups focused on defense. They range from domain specific, to Veteran supported funds, which focus on both dual use and/or defense related investments. The number of venture organizations has exploded over the last 5 years. One of the earliest organizations is the Stony Lonesome Group founded by Sean Drake. Sean is an Army Veteran. They have had three successful funds and now focus on late-stage investments with a fourth fund. Over 80% of the invested companies are Veteran owned/founded. Investments include ARRIA, ID.me, Cyberspatial, Valqari, Neuroflow, Warrior Centric Health, and LALO. All at various stages and several are pre-IPO. Stony Lonesome’s sister company is Pathfinder Solutions which helps guide the companies down the SBIR/STTR paths. This has led to long term government contracts.
There are several other great examples of dual use and defense related companies.
Sustainment.tech is focused on reshoring of US manufacturing. The founder and CEO is Bret Boyd. Bret is an Army Veteran. They have built a two sided platform which matches demand with supply in the US. You want to have something built in the US, Sustainment has the solution. A “CRM” for the US manufacturing resurgence. A modern approach with modern technology which serves dual uses for the civilian and defense world. Building locally, addresses the contested logistics problem for the air force as well as basic medal for building homes.
Fedlearn is focused on upskilling the Federal Gov/GovCon world with it’s cutting edge learning platform. They have enhanced modern content with and AI backend for better learning outcomes. Dr. Keith Dunbar and Michelle Snyder are the founding team. They recently signed agreements with the DOD to upskill talent after a multiple step pilot process.
Pellonium is focused on cyber + business risk. Founded by Veterans, Chris Puderbaugh, Brandon Thomas, and Homayun Yaqub. They aim to transform the cyber world with new approaches in data collection and business risk assessments. This could transform the way businesses and government organizations look at cyber in addition to being quantum ready.
MK3 Industries is focused on automobile part distribution. Founded by Charles Masters Rodriguez. Charles is an Army Veteran. MK3 is set on logistics and distribution of key auto maintenance. Dual use company with distribution of civilian vehicle parts as well as military vehicles.
Mass Virtual is focused on transforming the training and simulation of the Military. Founded by John Brooks, former Air Force. Mass Virtual hold sole contracts with the Air Force which helps train crews through the use of XR technologies. This reduces the cost to the military and provides real time training for multiple job functions. You no longer need to physically go to the flight line to get experience and take assessments. There are dual uses for the technology across civilian aviation, logistics and transportation verticals.
Q-Branch is a global accelerator. Founded and led by Marcos Cervantes, Army Veteran and cool dude. They don’t call it Q Branch for nothing. They help find paths for global companies into the US market and support defense/dual use technologies find fits. A great group of folks. Shout out to Samantha Brown for accelerating the mission!
Some great stuff out there…..
Where do we go from here….
So where do we go from here? How does a company, organization, city or region start the process of engagement?
First, regardless of your political views, everyone should care about the security of their nation. Without security, people’s livelihoods will not exist. The stability of our society depends on the defense of our people, institutions and economic activity.
Second, awareness of defense related and national security priorities at the local, state and federal levels is needed in order for companies, organizations and individuals to take advantage of the available resources. It’s your tax money, use it. Becoming familiar with the programs and support organizations in the defense ecosystem. There are national and local level resources. Some are non-profits, some are partnered with educational institutions, and others are associated with venture organizations usually led by military or agency Veterans. Get to know them, they are good people.
Third, ask your local/state leaders how they are engaging with defense eco-system. Ask them if they have a plan. Ask them if they are looking for dual use technologies for some of the problems they are trying to solve. If they are not engaged, ask them why.
Forth, if your city, state, region, company has already engaged the defense community, share the experience…. good and bad.
We all have an enormous opportunity to help strengthen the nation, increase economic development and provide leadership with next generation technologies which will shape the world.
God Bless America.
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