DOD seeks new tech-transfer mechanism DOD seeks new tech-transfer mechanism

WASHINGTON-Pentagon leaders are asking a policy group to locate the sources of leading-edge technologies and to recommend a mechanism for making them available for military needs.

Jul 1st, 1997

DOD seeks new tech-transfer mechanism

By John Rhea

WASHINGTON-Pentagon leaders are asking a policy group to locate the sources of leading-edge technologies and to recommend a mechanism for making them available for military needs.

Defense Department officials commissioned a study from the Potomac Institute of Policy Studies of Arlington, Va., because advanced technologies are rapidly migrating from the military and aerospace sector to the commercial sector.

Experts at the Potomac Institute are beginning the first phase of the 3-year project by surveying the potentially militarily critical technologies at 400 to 500 companies and at about 100 federally funded research and development centers.

This phase should be completed by the fall, when Institute officials will submit their findings and then move on to the next phase next spring. This phase will consist of a trial technology transfer program focusing on two or three critical technologies, explains Michael Swetnam, the Potomac Institute president.

Under a $6.1 million contract awarded in May by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Institute specialists are looking at a variety of ways in which companies use government labs at a modest cost and share their technologies.

These might include government-industry consortia at the state level such as those at the Department of Energy labs in New Mexico and the Air Force`s Rome Lab in New York, as well as and greater use of cooperative research and development agreements - particularly favored at the Army Research Lab and Naval Research Lab, Swetnam says.

The effort is part of DOD`s Technology Assessment and Access Program, a DARPA attempt to develop an "outreach mechanism" to identify the key players, assess their progress, and develop relationships. It is part of the overall dual-use effort run by H. Lee Buchanan, deputy director at DARPA and the DOD`s so-called dual-use "czar."

DOD officials have sought $185 million for dual-use projects in the coming fiscal year, of which $85 million earmarked for science and technology (S&T) efforts has gone through Congress unscathed.

Another $100 million focused on operations and maintenance issues has drawn congressional criticism, and DOD leaders hope to get half of that money through a supplemental appropriation. About half of the money would pay for in-house efforts at DOD, another fourth go to the services, and the other fourth would be available to industry.

One of the goals is to enable DOD to achieve what is being called "just in time" technology investment, Swetnam says. For example, in the case of stealth technologies, for which there are no apparent commercial markets, DOD will have to invest up front. Other technologies can be acquired by the commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) route.

The list of the areas where industry is believed to be ahead includes not only computer technology, advanced materials, and medical and biological technology, but also aerospace technology. In the highly competitive, time-critical commercial markets, company leaders are reluctant to share information on research until it becomes a marketable product.

This situation also exacerbates the already-sticky problem of intellectual property rights, Swetnam adds, as companies seek to hang on to the results of their cooperative research and development agreements and their relationships with university labs.

Under the current reengineering, downsizing trend, company leaders want to farm out basic research and are also seeking a cost-effective say to do this. AT&T spun off its traditional Bell Labs organization as a separate company, IBM has moved its research from a "university environment" and attached it to operating business units, and Xerox is outsourcing research to federally funded research and development centers, he notes.

As a result, the traditional channels of information on the state of the art of militarily critical technologies are being closed to DOD.

More in Home