Austin, Texas – A first-of-its-kind Army Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) pilot seeks to leverage small business innovators to help increase the rate of fire of self-propelled howitzer systems. The Special Program Awards for Required Technology Needs (SPARTN) is a new program blending government and industry best practices to introduce a whole-of-Army, collaborative approach to solution innovation.
“This rate of fire aspect is more than just putting rounds in the back of the howitzers,” said Brig. Gen. John Rafferty, director of the Long Range Precision Fires Cross Functional Team charged with modernizing Army field artillery capabilities. “It's also about asking, ‘where do we spend all of our time?’ We spend a lot of our time handling unpacking, unloading and downloading ammunition. If we can do that more efficiently we will become a more combat effective unit.”
SPARTN was created to incentivize small technology firms to work with the Department of Defense to propose Army modernization solutions. The aim is for those commercial solvers to create systems or sub-systems that not only solve Fire Faster, but also become sources of long-term commercial revenue. The program addresses the three long-standing barriers small businesses have faced in working with the Army: transparency, access, and capital.
SPARTN’s goal is to have companies on contract 30 days after the close of the submission period. The program nearly doubles the amount of capital available under SBIR Phase I, up to $200,000 for a four-month period of performance with considerable increases for Phase II and beyond. And those funds do not require the firm to sacrifice any equity or future options as with most private financing. SPARTN improves transparency by providing a clear pathway for successful technologies to transition into official Army programs. Furthermore, the problems companies will help solve under SPARTN already have buy-in from Army leaders who can make purchasing and budgeting decisions.
Companies participating in SPARTN also have the option to participate in a cohort program that grants them unparalleled access to the Soldiers who will use their technologies and to Army problem owners. By working with these stakeholder groups, innovators can have confidence that the solution they design effectively matches Army needs.
“The Army usually gives a piece of paper that says, ‘go build this,’ ” Rafferty said. “[The Field Artillery Autonomous Resupply cohort run by AAL earlier this year] was the first time we provided companies a chance to explore the problem and immerse themselves into the problem. We had iterations with subject matter experts for meaningful exchanges, so rather than someone just checking to make sure they're making progress on a contractual obligation, there was this opportunity to immerse themselves with this community on a routine basis to bounce ideas off of and to get feedback. It has proven to be effective process.”
"I am excited to be working together, across our community, on SPARTN SBIR to modernize our weapons systems," said Col. Tim Fuller, project manager Self Propelled Howitzer Systems. That excitement stems from what SPARTN represents as a promising step forward in coordination and synchronization of legal authorities and funding sources across the Department of the Army.
The application period for “Fire Faster” is Sept. 18 to Oct. 6. To learn more attend one of the topic specific webinars on visit aal.army/SPARTN.