WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army will soon provide incentives for larger defense companies to incorporate technology developed through small businesses as part of competitive development programs, the service’s undersecretary said Sept. 6 at the Defense News Conference.

“I was pretty worried when I first came into the role [of undersecretary] because I saw some statistics that indicated that since about 2010, small business participation, at least on the innovation side of the Army, had dipped by about 30-35%,” Gabe Camarillo said, “so I asked the team to do an in-depth study of what were the causes, were there any trends that we should be concerned about.”

“We need to incentivize small business innovation, but we can’t always do it with direct awards,” he added.

The service will begin inserting language in some requests for proposals in fiscal 2024 meant to encourage prime contractors to use technology already funded and developed through Small Business Innovation Research dollars, but not yet carried into a program of record, according to Camarillo.

Starting small, the effort called Project Vista will take lower-tier acquisition programs and give source-selection credit to prime contractors that incorporate those Pentagon-funded technologies as part of their proposals, he explained.

“We’re experimenting,” he said, “and if it works, we’ll begin scaling it out.”

While large contractors already work with small businesses on a regular basis, the Army has struggled to turn technology developed through SBIR-funded grants or prototyping into actual fielded capability, Camarillo noted.

“We want to leverage that investment. Maybe it didn’t have a home, maybe that technology couldn’t bridge the valley of death, so we are now looking to find ways to incentivize integrators to pick up where that left off,” he said, referring to the gap between a product’s development and the Pentagon’s sluggish bureaucracy.

Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College.

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