A top U.S. Air Force official has broached allowing allies to use intellectual property for defense articles to ramp up their production overseas.

“We are going to need to figure out incentivizing intellectual property, but also using it to scale,” Air Force Lt. Gen. Clinton Hinote, the service’s deputy chief of staff for strategy, integration, and requirements, told the Defense Innovation Board’s (DIB) winter meeting on Feb. 1.

Hinote gave the example of a U.S.-designed missile that allies could build and use in their defense and said that he would give specifics in a closed DIB session that was to follow the open meeting.

If U.S. allies need a given U.S.-designed missile for deterrence/defense and have sufficient manufacturing capacity, “it is in the [U.S.] national interest to lease the intellectual property, give it to the partner and let them build the weapons because at the moment we are not able to build enough weapons fast enough,” he said. “Even a situation like what we have in Ukraine challenges us. It will be an order of magnitude worse, if we have to go fight a great power.”

Last September, Jim Dunn, the Air Force’s director of policy and programs for international affairs, suggested that Ukraine’s demands for weapons to defeat Russia points to the need for the United States and its allies to invest in diverse production lines and ramp up capacity to build air-to-air missiles and energetics for munitions (Defense Daily, Sept. 27, 2022).

During the Feb. 1 DIB meeting, Hinote also discussed “cultural and structural” problems in the middle layers of DoD and elsewhere that he said block the adoption of innovations invented by smaller companies. Hinote said that startups have told him that they have to self-fund for two years before such firms can access DoD funding, and DoD prime contractors have been known to buy an interest in or acquire such startups to tamp down the threat they pose to the primes’ existing, long-term sustainment contracts.

“If we’re not incentivized to fight better so that we can save lives and defend this country better, then I don’t know what we have to do, but we’ve got to do something because the incentives right now are lined up against rapid, scalable progress,” Hinote said.

While the Air Force has a budget of more than $800 million for small business innovation research (SBIR), Hinote said that the service is not taking full advantage of that funding and small firms’ cutting edge technologies because of the cultural and structural obstacles to innovation in DoD’s middle labyrinth and elsewhere in the military services.

“It’s not an access to innovation problem,” he said. “It’s an innovation adoption problem.”

Last June, the Atlantic Council established a Commission on Defense Innovation Adoption, co-chaired by former Defense Secretary Mark Esper and former Air Force Secretary Deborah James.

During the DIB discussion on Feb. 1, Hinote told an anecdote to illustrate ongoing resistance to innovation.

“Last week…we were in a meeting, and we were discussing an innovative effort by the Department [of the Air Force] and we were looking for reasons to continue with this innovative effort–it happened to have the last word Prime in it–and we were working through what is the importance of it, how can we leverage it…and I hear this from one of our senior leaders, ‘If we start developing the capability today, it won’t field until 2032,'” Hinote said.

“I think that that one statement encapsulates the difference between the what you might call the innovative ecosystem that we are so blessed to have in our country and the governmental system, which is, ‘Are you kidding me?’ There are thousands of variants of uncrewed aircraft flying today. We should be able to scale uncrewed aircraft to the point in our military that any formation that needs one can have one, and I don’t believe that takes 10 years. It cannot take 10 years, and I don’t think any of you who are in private capital would allow anybody to say that to you. But we say it to ourselves all the time, and, unfortunately, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

“What we have got to do is change the conversation because there is nobody in the middle who hears that in a meeting and is incentivized to push the bounds of technology, to push the bounds of scale/cost, and take risk,” Hinote said. “That’s how deep it goes.”

Defense Daily emailed questions to the Air Force on future funding plans for the Agility Prime program and will update this article with any response. In addition to Agility Prime, the Air Force began an Autonomy Prime effort last year.