AUSTIN, Texas – Lt. Gen. Ross Coffman, deputy commanding general of U.S. Army Futures Command, underscored the Army’s commitment to diverse and effective collaboration with industry during a March 13 panel discussion at Optiv Cyber House, a cybersecurity networking and learning event that is taking place in downtown Austin amid the city’s 2023 South by Southwest conference and festivals.
The panel, Demystifying the DOD Customer, additionally featured insights from Alexis Ross, president of Apex Defense Strategies, who holds a doctorate in public policy, and Ashlee Dominguez, vice president of intelligence and analysis at Valiant, on how and why more commercial businesses are partnering with the Army and U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) to grow their products and customer base.
“We’ve seen a lot of interest in speed and innovation,” Ross said, highlighting how the Army’s use of other transaction agreements, delegation of decision-making and pursuit of nontraditional approaches – along with new Congressional authorizations – have been helping to forge new partnerships and accelerate acquisition processes between the Army and members of industry.
Coffman emphasized that the DOD is able to offer unique research and financial resources to companies, and that the Army’s motivation for supporting such business arrangements, many of which aim to yield new technological advances, is rooted in Soldier readiness.
“I’m not a tech person, and I’m not a modernization person, I’m a Soldier person,” Coffman said. “Everything that we do is focused on making our women and men in uniform successful on the future battlefield.”
During the panel, Coffman and Ross took the opportunity to debate some of the benefits and challenges of working with the DOD. Ross highlighted that despite recent improvements, some potential Army partners continue to view the DOD acquisition process as “opaque and complex,” which can discourage them from applying for awards. Coffman pointed out that while companies do still have to put in work to win contracts, the opportunities available are broad and extend beyond technology platforms. “Everything that it takes to run a small town – from staples to buses to garbage trucks – you have in the Army,” Coffman said.
In addition to trends in acquisition and level of ease in working with the government, the panelists discussed how the Army has increased its focus on research and development, prototyping and experimentation in recent years. These robust science and technology activities, paired with more active external engagement initiatives – including business outreach conducted through innovation hubs such as the Army Applications Laboratory and more tradition portals like SAM.gov – have provided additional providing grounds for nascent products and ideas, which can benefit from end-user feedback in the form of Soldier touchpoints. Private capital engagement with the military can also sometimes result in dual-use technologies, allowing companies to develop commercial and military product applications.
Attendees at the event, who came from various business, government and technology backgrounds, had the opportunity to pose questions about the Army’s acquisition system, including how the Army decides whether a new product is “cool” enough to explore.
Coffman explained that the Army strives to communicate with potential partners in a candid and timely manner, ensuring there is clear understanding of the possibilities and complexities of a DOD partnership; “Like any relationship, communication is probably the most important thing.”
He also clarified that the Army is open to – and intentionally seeks – a multitude of innovations and partnerships, with businesses large or small, as long as they deliver needed capabilities with integrity and excellence.
“All we want is the best thing in the hands of our Soldiers,” Coffman said.