WASHINGTON – Two recent Army xTech competitions – xTechPlugFest and xTech Small Business Innovation Research Waveform – have successfully inspired small businesses to use the xTech Program as an avenue to break down barriers to working with the Army.
Since launching in 2018, the xTech Program has been creating a buzz amongst U.S. Army organizations searching for the latest technologies to boost Soldier readiness and mission requirements. Instead of the traditional acquisitions process, xTech provides the Army with a faster and unique alternative by using a prize-competition approach to award small, non-traditional businesses for their innovations.
xTECH COMPETITIONS REINVENT ACQUISITIONS
In August 2021, the Army Program Executive Office for Intelligence Electronic Warfare & Sensors partnered with xTech to launch the xTechPlugfest Competition. With a critical need to deliver assured positioning, navigation and timing solutions to Soldiers, and a total prize pool of $200,000, PEO IEW&S saw xTech’s competition approach as an opportunity to step outside the traditional methodology for viewing the current science and technology landscape.
xTech’s model follows a basic prize-competition structure of awarding top contestants with various rewards – in this case, cash prizes and even potential follow-on contracts with the Army. The program also offers Army partners the ability to tailor competitions based on their specific needs and goals. The Plugfest team worked with xTech to customize the entire competition, spanning problem statement development to the award structure, and the evaluation criteria used by xTech judges.
“All in all, it was the flexibility of xTech that enabled us to do so much more than what we originally planned to accomplish on our own,” said Ted Ryerson, PEO IEW&S PNT Modernization.
The xTech prize competition model allows for quicker identification and acceleration of technologies into Soldiers’ hands. At the end of the competition, five small businesses walked away with significant cash prizes to further develop their technologies for Army use.
HISTORY REPEATS ITSELF
xTech has hosted over 17 competitions, and Army organizations are talking to each other about the program’s benefits. For Plugfest, the idea for the competition was inspired by another Army organization – PEO Command Control Communication-Tactical – which hosted the xTechSBIR Waveform Challenge. Ryerson noted that the results of this challenge put PEO IEW&S’ mind at ease about utilizing the non-traditional xTech model and ensuring the xTech partnership.
The xTechSBIR Waveform Challenge, held from March to May of 2021, sought technology to develop an open-hardware architecture for software-defined radios, and included a cash prize pool of $250,000. Dr. Sayeed Hasan, PEO C3T PM Tactical Radios, helped to lead this charge alongside xTech.
“The Army always tries for better capabilities, better technology and better things,” said Dr. Hasan. “We always look to do things in better ways and to bring more value to Soldiers. xTech hits the mark.”
In addition to cash prizes, the five winners of xTechSBIR Waveform received the opportunity to submit for a Direct to Phase II SBIR proposal to prototype their innovations, and to attend a virtual Waveform Immersion Day in August 2021. This event served as a multipurpose forum for the waveform businesses to further showcase their technologies to the Army and industry, and to identify opportunities for further collaboration and Soldier implementation. The status of the prototypes, totaling over $8 million in SBIR contracts, is currently in progress, and Dr. Hasan is keeping a close eye on it for future technology transitions. Now that the technologies have been identified, the next step is to continue their maturation, so they are ready for full-scale Soldier use.
“At the end of the day, we want to see how we can utilize these technologies for our programs and enhance our capabilities,” said Dr. Hasan. This goal spans both PEO IEW&S and PEO C3T, who share a mission to solve critical Army challenges and have experienced firsthand xTech’s innovative way of doing so.
MORE PARTNERSHIPS, MORE TECHNOLOGIES
The xTechSBIR Waveform Challenge served as an example for the xTechPlugFest competition by demonstrating what the program can offer to the Army – a unique approach to innovation.
The ripple effect across Army organizations demonstrates the positive experience and desired results that xTech delivers and how it enables innovation to be at the forefront of Soldier readiness. As the program launches more competitions and develops more partnerships, xTech will continue connecting Army partners with cutting-edge technologies.
“xTech gives us a good opportunity to look back at the way we’re doing business and the way we solve gaps or limitations,” said Dr. Hasan. “Having a partnership with small businesses and other Army stakeholders is addressing our problem in a different way.”
For more information on the xTech Program, the latest competitions, and how Army organizations are getting involved, visit the xTech website at www.xtechsearch.army.mil.