Future of Army's International Tech Centers in doubt

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- The Army has placed outposts around the world to search for foreign technology firms whose products might aid U.S. military transformation. But current policies restrict the Army from fully engaging these firms, and the future of these outposts is under scrutiny.

The Army has three sparsely staffed International Technology Centers (ITC) that divide the industrial world among them, focusing primarily on small businesses that don’t have ties to the U.S. defense establishment. The centers are situated in London, Tokyo and Santiago, Chile. Each is staffed by a single colonel and a small administrative staff. Lieutenant colonels maintain solitary presences on behalf of the initiative in Germany, France, Singapore, Australia and Argentina.

But although the program is excelling at finding technologies the Army wants to use, policies, rules and regulations are preventing the ITCs from getting those technologies back to the United States and into the Army.

“We are struggling with this,” said Maj. Gen. Roger Nadeau, commanding general of the Army’s Research, Development and Engineering Command and Aberdeen Testing Ground. Nadeau spoke to group of Army and industry officials at the Association of the U.S. Army Winter Conference today.

The ITCs need funding to give seed money to foreign firms to help them develop their ideas, Nadeau said. But the Army can’t easily measure the return on investments the centers make. Amid widespread budget pressure, the ITCs struggled to pay salaries last year, he said.

“We, the Army, need to decide if this is something that we want to do,” Nadeau added.

Also, current policies prevent the Defense Department from bringing technologies from small foreign firms directly into the government, Nadeau said. Rules pressure the Army to “buy American,” he said, and small foreign firms have little experience interacting with the complex DOD system.

The most practical way to bring foreign technologies into the U.S. system is to link small foreign firms with large U.S. companies, Nadeau said. “Business to business is easier than business to government,” he said. So, the ITCs work to link these foreign firms to U.S. contractors that can incorporate the new technologies into existing programs.

But the rules also prevent the Army from working on contractors’ behalf, so Nadeau is presenting the ITCs as information repositories that U.S. contractors can use for leads on local firms with innovative ideas. As long as the ITCs present the same information openly to all companies, no competitive advantage should be given, he said.

Small foreign companies have tremendous energy and innovative ideas, so the Army needs to figure out how to build pathways for these companies to interact with the existing establishment, Nadeau said. The ITCs can provide that, he added.

Meanwhile, India and China are aggressively engaging these small foreign firms, providing a competitive incentive for the United States to stay involved in the work, Nadeau said. “You can’t afford to be there, but you can’t afford not to be there,” he said.

Some of the areas of interest for the ITCs are:
  • Improvised explosive device and land mine detection.
  • Nonlethal crowd control.
  • Robotics and robotic vehicles.
  • High-power electronics and optics.
  • Information transmission.
  • Network science and technology for coalition operations.
  • Enhanced network sensors.
  • Flexible communications to support network.
  • Nanotechnology and biotechnology.

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