Nobody puts more money into bleeding edge R&D than the Pentagon. And a surprising number of those studies actually pan out. So why is the military still relying on gear that's decades old? The problem is crossing the so-called "valley of death" between research projects and "acquisition," when the Defense Department actually starts to buy stuff in bulk. National Defense magazine offers up some examples.
Last year, the Georgia Tech Research Institute developed a lightweight ceramic armor for a vehicle... The message from military officials was that they needed this technology immediately for troops in Iraq. We prototyped one vehicle and delivered it to Quantico, where the Marine Corps acquisition command is based. We are waiting to hear from the Marine Corps on what the next steps are, Cross says. This is where we all get frustrated We think its a good solution. Theres no technology impediment for moving forward. Its the acquisition process.The armored vehicle is not likely to go into production any time soon. The Army and the Marine Corps are studying proposed designs from major defense contractors for a new light tactical vehicle that would replace the Humvee. The program is not expected to deliver new vehicles for at least two more years.Frustrations with the defense bureaucracy also can be found at a California university where Congress created a technology transfer office specifically to expedite the transition of promising concepts from the commercial sector to the military.The challenge is getting into acquisition programs. That consumes most of our time, says Stu Gordon, director of the Office of Technology Transfer and Commercialization at California State University San Bernardino...Recent products that, with CSUs help, contractors successfully sold to the Defense Department include biological detectors, radios, batteries and fuel cells.We have contacts at the office of the secretary of defense, Gordon says. They are very supportive But when we ask them how we get into acquisition programs, frankly, they dont know. This is true for many of the technologies we have.Getting to the right person who can write a purchase order so someone in the military can buy the product is really a hard thing to do, Gordon says. Some officials at the Defense Department want to help us but they dont know how.UPDATE 3:40 PM: John Robb has some interesting ideas on how "tinkerers' networks" should be brought into the R&D process.