Leaders of a Riverside company say they are pioneering a way to quickly award meaningful defense contracts that solve real-world military problems.
Timothy Shaw and Ken Wall of SP Global have launched a consortium bridging business and the Air Force in a mutually beneficial way.
SP Global may be most familiar to the Dayton area as the investors behind local start-up GlobalFlyte, where Shaw serves as president and chief operations officer. The company launched in 2015 and offers a suite of situational awareness tools and apps to keep police and first responders connected.
More recently, SP in February won a $195 million, five-year contract to form the consortium, which focuses on autonomy research and commercialization.
The goal is to get research faster to the warfighter. Air Force Research Laboratories — or other defense agencies and departments — have questions, and they need answers fast. Members of this consortium provide those answers, Wall said.
“I think a lot of people at first stepped back and said, ‘No way,’” Shaw said. “But Ken and I are cut from the same mold. Don’t put a challenge in front of us, because we’re going to make it happen.”
The idea isn’t simply research or pure science. It needs to be useful research that can be used in combat, by pilots, soldiers and sailors, Wall and Shaw emphasized.
Overseeing this is the SP Global Institute, a nonprofit under the SP Global Inc. umbrella with an office in Riverside.
“It’s got to be for the betterment of the government,” Wall said of research being pursued. “And you can’t have a profit or a fee. That’s the law. That’s how they can get around (rigorous contracting requirements).”
“I tasked Ken and the team to break the contracting mold, and they’ve done a very good job of that,” Shaw said.
The normal 12 to 18 months between contract approval and payment? “We’re not doing that anymore,” Shaw said.
Members of what is called the “ARCNet Consortium” get contracts signed and money much faster, Wall said.
One clear incentive to participate: Consortium members can keep the intellectual property they develop. Commercialization is encouraged.
In February, the consortium had no members. Today, it has more than 110 members, from small companies to Lockheed Martin and 15 universities.
The first contract award was a little over three months ago, with about $7 million in contract awards as of mid-September and another $25 million in prospective contracts in the pipeline.
“We’re awarding six contracts in the next two weeks,” Wall said in a mid-September interview.
“We are nothing more than the facilitators for the (Air Force) researchers to give what they would like to see researched to a whole different group of (civilian) technology researchers out there that are sitting on the sidelines,” Shaw said.
To start an ARCNet project, a project sponsor must provide a request for project proposal and start-up funding for the project, an AFRL release said in May.
“This platform creates a new collaboration paradigm for autonomy technology development,” Corey Schumacher, ARCNet chief technology officer, said in that release. “The consortium platform allows for a deeper dialogue between the government and potential performers on research projects.”
Not only is the Air Force pleased, but it has been a good partner, Wall said.
“They want to make it happen as much as we want to make it happen,” he said.
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