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Lowering the Risk of Bringing Advanced Technology to the War Fighter: The Rapid Innovation Fund (RIF)

How the Services and Several DoD Agencies are initiating a new Advancing Product & Technology Program to Develop Hardware and System Prototypes to Reduce System Development Risks

October 17, 2011
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The DoD Rapid Innovation Fund (RIF): Formerly The Rapid Innovation Program

For those of us close to the acquisition game and following the contentious debate on lowering both the technical and financial risk of DoD Weapons and Technology development programs, along comes an initiative that has been hovering just below the radar screen. It is designed to make a dent in those DoD programs whose performance metrics — cost, schedule, delivery and risk — have been threatened by the use of technology which is “not yet ready for prime time”. The broadly based announcement on the existence of a new program to help DoD acquisition officials to reduce cost overruns has just come out, and its objectives and goals have finally surfaced. Amidst all the debate over deficit reduction and cutting pentagon spending, this initiative is a tentative first step. It is the first innovative solution, according to its legislative supporters on the Hill, to come along in a number of years that targets these problems. Yet it wasn't warmly embraced by the DoD community at large. Indeed, it seems to run counter culture to the way DoD develops programs and conducts its business. RIF is the first step to address some of these “out of control” program management concerns that have plagued some high profile DoD programs. It has been well over a year since legislative appropriations outlining this new risk reduction effort became law which finally gave birth to this new DoD program effort now called the Rapid Innovation Fund (RIF). And as might be expected the “ongoing soap opera” of issues surrounding program initiation in the DoD is alive and well in the various rings of the Pentagon, and it was evident here. This includes all the behind the scenes wrangling over funding levels, delivery impacts, programmatic and topic areas for focused funding. And of course, fighting over the specific financial control over the awarding and monitoring the contract. Who controls the money and who controls the purse strings is always the biggest matter to cause turf battles. But what was originally billed at the Rapid Innovation Program (RIP) is now being rolled out as the Rapid Innovation Funding program. It has just been released in the form of a Broad Agency Announcements (BAA), from the Office of Naval Research, The US Army/SOCOM, Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) among others. Responses are due at the end of October and into early November based on the individual solicitation. In this article I will provide a short overview of the effort and what the microwave community needs to know about this newly funded DoD program and how to factor knowledge of it into your plans.

Why is it needed?

There have been many studies, GAO reports, and Congressional hearings that have been highly critical of many DoD acquisition programs for encountering cost growth, schedule delays and under-performance/late deliveries. It suggests that many of the problems are partly attributable to DoD's inability to transition new technologies and war fighting concepts effectively into acquisition programs, despite the many transition organizations, processes and initiatives designed to do just that. In addition there has been considerable emphasis on how small businesses, and SBIR firms in particular, can provide technology solutions as a vital source of supply for developing innovative and cost-saving technologies for system primes in areas of great military need. However, it is widely known in the Defense Community about findings of the National Research Council, which has cited a lack of stable funding and the lack of a smooth transition path that are the most significant inhibitors to technology transition. So “the table was set” for some action to occur to address this problem, especially in light of all the Budget debates on Capitol Hill and DoD program development funding. Many of these concerns were in the cross hairs of many DoD budget cutters in particular.

DoD Guidance

It has been widely reported in the press that a memo covering the DoD policy on this matter has circulated around DoD and the Hill for some time, from the Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology & Logistics (ATL), Dr. Ashton B. Carter. In fact, that memo is now widely available. In it is a description of DoD’s overall goals for use of these funds that were made available in PL 111-383, the Defense Authorization Act of 2011. RIF was largely the idea and “love child” of Norm Dicks (D-WA), who has been a stout DoD Program supporter, known on the Hill for his ardent support of the B-2 Bomber, which we wouldn't have it if it were not for Congressman Dix. In addition he was also a strong supporter of this RIF initiative in general and in particular how SBIRs and small business can contribute to the success of this RIF effort. He is a firm believer that many of our national defense interests for materials and supplies that are supporting OEM/Prime contractors can best be served by the small business community. The first round of funding for RIF is $99.5 M, with Army, Navy and Air Force having $24 M each, and the remaining components with an aggregate of $27.5 M. Projects should not exceed 24 months and $3 M. It is expected that supplemental guidance memos from acquisition executives will be issued from the service specific component (Army, Navy USAF, etc.). Undersecretary Carter suggests that the goals for use of the RIF should reflect the DoD’s emphasis on rapid, responsive acquisition and engagement of small innovative businesses in solving defense problems. Although this is not an SBIR program, and the funding is not from SBIR dollars, SBIR Phase II projects are mentioned in the BAA and in Dr. Carter's policy memo as possible starting points. It is evident that the focus should be on smaller businesses providing solutions to advanced technically challenged areas. But it can also be read that larger and mid size firms, other than the large Defense Primes, should look into bidding for RIF funds. This is an opportunity for many in the Microwave Community. The DoD is looking to transition innovative technologies that resolve operational challenges primarily characterized by Joint Urgent Operational Needs (JUON), as well as into ACAT I-IA, II, III, IV or other defense acquisition programs. Proposal responses are due at the end of October and into early November.

Political Observations of RIF

There have been long delays in getting RIF going, and according to some news organizations that are covering the DoD, a lot of it can be traced to the top. DoD seems to have caused the delays and there have been many convolutions coming from Dr. Carter's office as a result of his actions. It is believed that this RIF program is not a top priority for him. And from a fiscal DoD budget perspective, Dr. Carter was and continues to be a conservative fiscal manager, wanting to hold DoD Program Executive Offices (PEO) and individual Program Managers (PMO) accountable for cost, schedule and delivery performance. He may view this as a new program, which may be more of a distraction than a cure to the DoD Program Development delays and problems. So it is thought that he is not very enthusiastic about this program. It was believed that there was significant horse trading around DoD as this became closer to BAA release, focused on who would receive and manage the RIF funds. Dr. Carter has a reputation of being “tight fisted with a budget and a hard task master when it comes to meeting schedule deliveries.” There are also significant additional dollars to be made available to this program that are currently being withheld (estimated to be about $87 M for each of the three services and about $124 M for the other nine components). So, its clear that this new BAA is a tentative first step. So what's with the funding hold back? If one were a pessimist, what happens if someone holds the money back. One would logically ask, whats the problem? And what gives here? One supposition that is widely believed is that withholding money from a program that congress has fully enabled, authorized, appropriated and passed into Law —demonstrates that the chances are pretty good “the holder” may want the program to fail. Why?...so the remaining money may be reprogrammed toward what the DoD sees as a better expenditure. All of this is happening in the context of the upcoming DoD budget cuts with all anticipating diminished DoD appropriations. It's a zero sum game in a lot of folks eyes. Isn't are Washington logic amazing?! On the other side of the coin, RIF supporters believe their ideas and technical approaches from the smaller business are the solution to the problem, not another problem unto itself. If this turns out to be the case, DoD leadership actions could be viewed as acting against congressional intent — not a good place to be. If so, this may cause cause a ruckus no matter what happens. The smaller businesses may have something to lobby their elected representatives, especially if they sit on the House or Senate Armed Service Committees, if they are not happy.

Who are the Players

The following DoD organizations are involved in this year's BAA:

• The Defense advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)

• Defense Microelectronics Activity (DMEA),

• Defense Logistics Agency (DLA)

• Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA)

• Joint Science and Technology Office for Chemical and Biological Defense (CBD)

• Missile Defense Agency (MDA)

• National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA)

• US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM)

The Goals of the RIF Program

As envisioned in the Appropriations language that accompanied H.R. 5136, the DoD Rapid Innovation Program would be designed to accomplish a number of goals: to stimulate innovative technologies; to reduce life cycle costs; to address technical risks; to improve the timeliness and thoroughness of test & evaluation outcomes; and to rapidly insert products into military systems that meet critical national security needs. The legislation goes further, indicating critical national security needs that would include, but not be limited to, the following: force protection; sensors; complex data handling; advanced communications; advanced materials; nano-manufacturing; chemical and biological standoff detection; language translation and cyber security. So its scope is wide and the net thrown out to the marketplace may be too diverse to have any effect for purest DoD Budget hawks.

Eligible for the RIF Program and Funding Levels

The bill language of H.R. 5136 refers to small business, but is not specific beyond that. However, the report language urges DoD to specifically prioritize the following projects: SBIR Phase II projects; Non-SBIR projects supporting major acquisition programs (ACAT I-IA, II, III and IV); projects executed by the defense laboratories and the test and evaluation community; and projects cost-shared with state local or other government funds. The legislation does not indicate any particular division of the funding among these categories. However SBIR Phase II projects are at the top of the list, and the report talks extensively about SBIR as a means of leveraging innovation, while neglecting to mention the other eligible categories above. The report language accompanying H.R. 5136 urges DoD to set a $3 M annual limit for each project, and to limit funding to two years for each project. The Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisitions, Technologies and Logistics (USD/AT&L) can make exceptions to this recommendation on a case-by-case basis.

The RIF BAA Process: The Specifics

The DoD Broad Agency Announcement for the Rapid Innovation Fund has been released on FBO under Solicitation Number: HQ0034-11-BAA-RIF-0001. The entire BAA can be found at:https://www.fbo.gov/index?s=opportunity&mode=form&id=18ed6b23a8f7fa0b5ec3b83fdbe0cb52&tab=core&_cview=0 (updated 09-16-2011).

The release date of DoD's Broad Agency Announcement for the Rapid Innovation Fund was September 16, 2011. The Department of Defense (DoD) issued a Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) as contemplated in FAR Parts 35.016 and 6.102(d)(2) for the Rapid Innovation Fund (RIF) on September 16, 2011. The DoD Components participating in this BAA included the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Defense Microelectronics Activity (DMEA), Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), Joint Science and Technology Office for Chemical and Biological Defense (CBD), Missile Defense Agency (MDA), National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA), and US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM). The RIF program was established to facilitate the rapid insertion of innovative technologies into military systems or programs that meet critical national security needs, such as those supporting the resolution of operational challenges characterized by Joint Urgent Operational Needs (JUON). The RIF program also intends to facilitate innovative technologies that show a clear transition path to fielding the technology into existing Acquisition Category (ACAT) programs or other defense acquisition programs. The BAA will request white papers in response to DoD's RIF requirements. Subsequent RIF proposals will be invited based on the evaluation results of the white paper submission. Those selected for RIF awards may receive up to $3 M in funding. The period of performance for RIF awards shall not exceed 24 months. Participation in the DoD RIF BAA is open to all responsible sources capable of satisfying the Government's needs; however preference may be given to small businesses capable of transitioning innovative technologies.

The Selection Process and BAA Agencies

Under the law, the Secretary of Defense is required to annually solicit applications from the services, defense agencies and special operations command. It would allow the Secretary of Defense to transfer funds from the Rapid Innovation Program to the RDT&E accounts of the services, defense agencies and SOCOM. The report language urges DoD to fund projects proposed by program executive officers (PEO) or program managers, which are determined likely to be fielded within three years. The idea is to focus on programs ready for rapid transition. The report language also urges DoD to ensure technology transition decisions are localized as much as possible between the program manager, the acquisition manager and the user. DoD is urged to develop and implement clear goals and metrics for the program that would enhance technology transition. This year BAA solicitations have come out of The Office of Naval Research (ONR), SOCOM, DTRA, MDA, and the US Army.

Technology Areas -- Joint Unmet Needs Statement (UONS) US Navy

Some of the technology areas Targeted for Joint Urgent Operational needs are highlighted below from Office of Naval Research BAA #11-032 issued September 16, 2011:

• Stand Off Detection and Confirmation of Explosives

• Stand Off Detection of Person Borne and Vehicle Borne IEDs

• Buried IED and Pressure Initiation Device Requirements

• Force Protection During Dismounted Operations

• Improved Armour Protection

• Enhanced Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) Capabilities

• Explosively Formed Penetrator Requirements

• Deep Buried IED Requirements

• Blasting Cap Detect and Defeat

• Command Wire Detect and Defeat

• Other Counter-IED and Force protection Proposals

Technology Areas: US SOCOM, Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) and Missile Defense Agency (MDA) Needs

Some of the Technology areas Targeted for these DoD Components from BAA # HQ0034-11-BAA RIF-0001 Issued September 16, 2011:

• Mobility

• Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance

• Weapons-Precision Guided Weapons

• Cyberspace operations/Electronic Warfare

• Solder Systems

• Biometric/Forensic/Sensitive Site Explotation

• Next Generation C4

• Power and Energy

• Stand off Explosive Detection

• IED Detection

• Composite Structures for Lightweight Missile Components

Technology Areas: US Army

• Some of the Technology areas Targeted for the US Army from BB # W911NF-11-R-0017

• Force Protection—Soldier and Small Unit

• Force Protection-Occupant Centric Platform

• Overburdened Physical Burden

• Surprise/Tactical Intelligence Mission Command

• Force Protection-Basing

• Human-Individual Training to tactical Tasks

• Surprise/Tactical Intelligence Actionable Intelligence

• Sustainability/Logistics-Basing

It is clear that from scanning the interest areas noted above, the DoD is still very interested in research and technology development in areas that are central to the core of our industry's interest in the microwave community. The Rapid Innovation Fund is a way for smaller companies to bring their ideas forward directly to the DoD to show how innovative ideas can have a significant impact on the the success of complex DoD Weapons Systems programs.

Recent Articles by Jim Fallon, President and CEO, Fallon and Associates Consulting LLC

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