The U.S. Air Force is looking for the participation of international companies in its AFWERX innovation efforts to grasp high tech advances in artificial intelligence, materials sciences, advanced manufacturing and other capabilities.
On Nov. 17, the U.S. Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) at Los Angeles AFB, Calif., the U.K. Ministry of Defense, and Air Force Research Laboratory are co-sponsoring an International Space Pitch Day to hear from companies around the world on their ideas to propel military space capabilities. Air Force acquisition chief Will Roper said on Oct. 26 that the pitch day would kick off efforts to work with allied and partner governments around the world, including the developing world, to invest in companies that provide next-generation technology.
“If you want to know why we haven’t taken that bold leap, part of it is because of how our investment account, Small Business Innovative Research, SBIR, is set up,” Air Force acquisition chief Will Roper told an AFWERX Deep Tech and Skyshots “Ask Me Anything” virtual event on Oct. 26. “It’s by law focused on U.S. only companies, and we are certainly pro-U.S. companies within the Air Force and Space Force. But, look. Tech is global. Opportunities are global, and if companies around the world aren’t working with us, they could easily be working with our competitors. So we need to take the innovation battlefield outside of our homeland and wherever good ideas are found.”
Roper said that “hotbeds” for high technology are not limited to the usual suspects, such as Silicon Valley. “Technology is emerging in so many areas around the world, especially in the digital domains, and we’re simply absent, if there’s not an air base near there, we’re likely absent,” Roper said. “One thing I’m going to be doing immediately after [International] Space Pitch Day is working with Congress to see if we can broaden our ability to work with international companies. SBIR is the only account that’s limited by law so we have other accounts in the Air Force and Space Force we should be using.”
The Air Force is investing $100 million with tech start-ups on its Agility Prime initiative and is mulling what “deep tech” areas to tackle next. Among the candidates are adversary hardened AI, next generation space propulsion, high-density energy, trusted microelectronics, quantum sensors and systems, and quiet supersonic travel.