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DoD seeks $100M for ‘valley of death’ bridge fund

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WASHINGTON― The Pentagon is asking Congress for another $100 million to help innovative small businesses get their cutting edge weapons into the hands of troops, its head of research and development said on Wednesday.

“The $100 million I am asking for is to help multiple small companies, especially if they need to finish a prototype,” Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Heidi Shyu told Defense News on Wednesday. She said the request is in the fiscal 2023 budget request; the Biden administration hasn’t yet released detailed budget tables.

For fiscal 2022, Congress included $100 million in procurement money for the “Mission Management Pilot Program,” as part of the $1.5 trillion federal spending package signed into law last month. According to FY22 defense policy law, the fund is for technologies that apply across the armed services.

Shyu spearheaded this tranche of funding, which she said would continue supporting promising recipients of Phase II Small Business Innovation Research grants that are not quite ready for Phase III, which is aimed at commercialization.

That FY22 pilot program is in the process of launching, she said.

“We just got it,” Shyu said of the funding, “so we just identified a leader internally who will lead the effort. We’re going to look across all the [armed] services to make sure the SBIR Phase II contractors with the most promising technology the services want [receives] this bridge funding.”

Shyu made the remarks after a Senate subcommittee hearing where lawmakers pressed her and the heads of DARPA and the Defense Innovation Unit to explain how they would better help innovative companies cross the so-called “valley of death” from inception to prototype to adoption.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has acknowledged the department in its tech race with China must improve tech transition efforts, and its FY23 budget proposes $130.1 billion for research and development, an all-time high.

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