Air Force launches Defense Technology Accelerator

The Air Force is launching a technology accelerator program as part of a new effort to reform acquisition procedures and rapidly field commercial technology to address military needs.

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The Air Force might have some of the fastest and most lethal planes in the world, but it's still outgunned when it comes to its speed of innovation. The new Defense Technology Accelerator is designed to help change that.

The program has just announced its first project -- a Space Accelerator, which is a partnership with the nonprofit National Security Technology Accelerator (NSTXL) and administered by aerospace-focused accelerator LightSpeed Innovations.

NSTXL CEO Tim Greeff announced the project at the Defense Energy Innovation Summit in Austin, Texas.

According to the program's website, the goal is to find commercial entities to address the following broad challenge: "develop alternate, commercially based solutions for space situational awareness to include space traffic management, monitoring, custody of closely spaced objects, and anomaly resolutions."

The program will assemble a cohort of 10 to 20 aerospace startup companies that the Air Force and LightSpeed will mentor during a roughly three-month process that will ideally lead to prototyping and fielding new technology.

"The Air Force has both funding and a contract vehicle lined up and ready to support relevant technologies meeting the specified needs indicated, following an intensive 13-week mentorship program," the website states.

Although the program is designed to address the space situational awareness challenge, Greeff and others said it will not limit itself to the questions it poses. If new technologies are discovered during the startup process that address other military needs, the program should be able to pivot.

The accelerator will ideally be a "living incubator" that can innovate and iterate, Greeff said.

The Air Force Accelerator was created earlier this year. A group of Air Force officers then continued to refine the concept before pitching the idea to the Air Force Research Laboratory's Space Vehicles Directorate, which has provided the Defense Technology Accelerator with approximately $10 million in initial funding for a three-year period. Additional projects focused on other mission areas also are in the works.

Initially branded the Air Force Technology Accelerator, the project's name was broadened to "Defense" to reflect the goal of developing an innovation platform that can be adopted by the other military services.

The accelerator is designed to complement other initiatives such as the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental and the Army's Rapid Capabilities Office to help the Defense Department take advantage of innovation in the commercial sector and develop better methods of contracting with industry.

"A Defense Technology Accelerator is only a small piece of the [DOD] startup ecosystem that is required to drive innovation," according to the Defense Technology Accelerator website. "However, the companies that graduate from the Defense Technology Accelerator program will have validated product mission fit and be educated and equipped to tackle some of the obstacles that normally hinder startups from working with the government."

During the initial phases of the Space Accelerator, companies will work with DOD leaders, program managers and other customers to better understand the culture at DOD and the nature of the problem they are trying to solve.

"Teams will also be mentored on how to leverage their product concept towards dual-use technology that also benefits private industry," the website states.

LightSpeed is accepting applications for the space project until Dec. 23, and the program is scheduled to begin in late January 2017.

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