Dual-use technology is still big business

The Technology Reinvestment Program (TRP) is no more--but don`t expect the Pentagon to get out of the dual-use-technology business quite yet. In January, the Pentagon an nounced its plans for replacing the controversial TRP--which was charged with developing military technology that had commercial applications--with two smaller programs to develo¥dual-use technology.

Dual-use technology is still big business

Vincent Kiernan, Washington Editor

The Technology Reinvestment Program (TRP) is no more--but don`t expect the Pentagon to get out of the dual-use-technology business quite yet. In January, the Pentagon an nounced its plans for replacing the controversial TRP--which was charged with developing military technology that had commercial applications--with two smaller programs to develo¥dual-use technology.

In the past, critics of the TRP, such as Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, had derided the program as a waste of defense dollars on nondefense projects. To deflect similar criticism of the successors to the TRP, Pentagon officials have paid close attention to making sure that the new programs are tightly linked to the military`s technological needs.

The replacements are the $85 million Science and Technology Initiative, in which the Pentagon and industry will share the cost of developing dual-use technologies, and the $100 million Commercial Operations and Support Savings Initiative (COSSI), in which the Pentagon will seek commercial products that can be installed in existing tanks, planes, and other weapons systems to reduce the cost of operations or maintenance.

Paul Kaminski, Undersecretary of Defense for acquisition and technology, says these programs will "put the department on a path to a time when the defense industry and the Department of Defense routinely look first to the commercial sector for the technology, processes, and products we need. Private companies now invest twice as much in research and development as does the Pentagon," Kaminski says. "What we`re trying to do is leverage what`s being spent on commercial R&D and apply it in our own infrastructure."

But a big part of the program is changing the mindset of bureaucrats and military officers who traditionally have avoided commercial vendors, preferring to develo¥unique technologies for the military. The successors to the TR¥offer financial inducements to the services to use the dual-use approach.

Science and Technology Initiative

At first glance, the Science and Technology Initiative doesn`t look very different from the old TRP; the federal government will split with the private sector the cost of developing new technologies that have uses in both military systems and commercial products. But there are key differences. Each military service will run its own programs, unlike under the TRP, which was controlled by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). In addition, each service will have to financially support the projects it sponsors by providing half of the federal government`s contribution. The other half of the government`s cost will come from the Pentagon`s new Dual Use Applications Program.

The idea is very simple: reduce the cost to the military services for taking advantage of dual-use technology. Because half of each project`s cost will come from the private sector and another fourth will come from the Pentagon`s dual-use office, each military service will get four dollars of purchasing power for each dollar it spends, Kaminski says.

Kaminski acknowledges that the Science and Technology Initiative is highly reminiscent of the original program, but he claims that the difference is that the military services will have to endorse projects by committing their own funds to hel¥finance them. "The program is being executed by the services. And that is a big difference," he says.

Kaminski says that the new program amounts to "some shared investment money" to encourage the production of specific products that might be "teetering" or might take longer to come to market in the absence of the Pentagon money. The military services are to start identifying potential projects immediately. Discussions between the dual-use office and the military services are to begin in June, and contracts will be awarded by the end of September, Kaminski says.

COSSI

Kaminski and his colleagues are more eager to speak about the Commercial Operations and Support Savings Initiative (COSSI), which seeks to identify new technology that would reduce the military`s operating costs, for example, by developing replacement components that are more reliable than existing components or by eliminating the need for costly specialized products to be used with them.

Maintenance and repair of weapons systems aren`t the most glamorous topics. But the Pentagon spends an enormous amount of money on operations and maintenance--as much as 70% of the total cost associated with a weapon, says Kaminski. So finding ways to cut those costs is increasingly important as the Pentagon`s budget gets tighter and tighter.

The goal is for each COSSI contractor to develo¥a "kit" that could be installed in existing weapons in the field. A COSSI contract will have two phases. In the first phase, the COSSI program will pay for the company to develo¥and test a prototype version of the kit. In the second, the military service that endorsed the new product will have the opportunity to purchase kits for use in the field. Through the COSSI program, Kaminski says, the Pentagon will take the time to see what`s happening commercially and try to use those products.

Saving money is the goal

Although the Pentagon could develo¥replacement components on its own, that would eliminate the savings it gets by helping companies develo¥a commercially viable product that the military services can use as well, he says. "We`re prepared to coinvest in that development so that as a commercial production line ramps up, we can buy this component at a much lower price because it`s being produced in volume," Kaminski says.

"What we`re really doing is inviting companies to apply a product to a known market need," Kaminski says. "We`re willing to share the cost of taking something already developed commercially, customizing it to our application, and testing it in the application. So we are creating an opportunity for a company."

Proposals for the COSSI program are due by March 18; details are available on the World Wide Web at http://www.jdupo.darpa.mil/jdupo/index.html. Companies from outside the United States, such as Japanese display manufacturers, are welcome to participate in the program, says DARPA`s Lee Buchanan. "Wherever there is a good deal is where we`re looking. The objective is to save money." o

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