The Pentagon could be doing more to transition technologies in the Rapid Innovation Program from development to military use, according to a Government Accountability Office report released May 7.
Transitioning technologies from the lab and into a military system has been a continued problem for the Defense Department despite about $12 billion invested in science and technology per year, the report said. The phenomenon has been nicknamed “the valley of death” by industry.
Under the direction of Congress, the Defense Department launched the Rapid Innovation Program (RIP) in 2011 to facilitate the quick development of technologies that could then be adopted in major defense acquisition programs. Since its inception, the program has been popular, with more than 11,000 white papers received from industry and 435 contracts awarded, mostly to small businesses. The program has yielded everything from training software for Army officers to practice tactical decision making to a vibration recorder that can help Navy aircraft maintainers determine why components fail.
However, getting a RIP contract award doesn’t guarantee that the military will eventually buy your technology, the GAO found. Out of the 44 RIP programs completed in July 2014, only half of them had successfully transitioned. Eighty-eight of 175 fiscal year 2011 projects, both finished and incomplete, had secured a funding commitment from the military, indicating they will likely transition.
“These transition rates are lower than what we found in our prior review of other DoD technology transition programs that reported transition rates ranging from about 55 to 85 percent,” the report noted. However “it is too soon to accurately assess the overall success of RIP due to the limited number of completed projects, as well as the lack of an overall program transition goal and effective metrics to track the degree to which projects have actually transitioned.”
The problem isn’t that technologies are not meeting desired specifications, the report said. An October 2014 review of RIP projects conducted by Pentagon found that 85 percent of fiscal year programs and 78 percent of fiscal year 2012 projects would likely meet at least 80 percent of their key performance parameters.
Defense Department officials provided several reasons why more projects hadn’t transitioned to an acquisition program, including funding constraints, changes to requirements, or because additional certifications are needed before they can be used on the field.
GAO recommended that the Pentagon establish a transition goal to help improve the success of the Rapid Innovation Program.
The Defense Department did not agree with that suggestion. It “needs to maintain flexibility in RIP to address risky technical requirements that may not be mature enough to transition to acquisition programs, but may present opportunities for prototyping, experimentation, or innovative test and evaluation,” it told GAO.