NEWPORT, R.I. — It was only fitting that the Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) Division Newport held this year’s Advanced Naval Technology Exercise (ANTX) initial planning meeting Feb. 20-21 at Innovate Newport. A marquee naval event showcasing the power of collaboration, communication, and innovation, ANTX 2020 will be the sixth iteration of the annual event. Innovate Newport, both in the physical space and nature of Division Newport’s ability to utilize it, embodies many of those same concepts.
“Innovate Newport provides an accessible and professional setting to foster collaboration,” ANTX Director Dr. Peter Hardro said. “By bringing together a large number of diverse organizations, we’re incubating collaboration and furthering thought as to how their technology could fit into the bigger Navy picture.”
More than 60 briefs were given by dozens of companies, academic institutions and government agencies over the course of the two-day event. Holding the event at Innovate Newport was made possible through Division Newport’s Partnership Intermediary Agreement (PIA) with the City of Newport. It is the first major event Division Newport has held at Innovate Newport since the official launch of the 401 Tech Bridge on Dec. 16.
At that event, a PIA was signed between Division Newport and Polaris Manufacturing Extension Partnership. This agreement also allows Division Newport to team with the University of Rhode Island, the Composites Alliance of Rhode Island and the R.I. Textile Innovation Network to reach out to businesses and educational institutions for further collaborative research opportunities. On Feb. 21, 401 Tech Bridge Director Steve Bordonaro provided some updates as to how things are progressing with the Tech Bridge.
“So far, everything has gone well,” Bordonaro, who has been a Tech Bridge director since November 2019, said. “Our focus has been on reaching out to other entities in the region. We have also been tech scouting with a cross-service team that includes the Army and Air Force.”
Bordonaro also apprised those in attendance on the progress made in building the 401 Tech Bridge facility on Polaris MEP’s campus in Portsmouth. This included a series of slides with renderings of what the space may look like. It will be the third space designated for 401 Tech Bridge work, along with an office at CIC in Providence and a workspace at URI’s Fascitelli Center for Advanced Engineering.
For the latest information on Tech Bridges, go to www.secnav.navy.mil/agility or https://www.secnav.navy.mil/agility/Pages/techbridges.aspx.
“We envision the Portsmouth facility as a place to do Prize Challenges and hold pitch days, among other opportunities. There will be twin labs with each side having a dirty space and clean space,” Bordonaro said. “This is not a company incubator quite as much as it is a project incubator or accelerator. If they’re working on a project there, it would live at the tech bridge throughout its lifecycle.”
In addition to its function as a workspace, the space in Portsmouth will also provide a physical storefront of sorts for the 401 Tech Bridge. Bordonaro said that this is an important piece for attracting businesses and universities that typically would not have worked with the Department of Defense (DoD) in the past.
“The idea of working with the DoD was very intimidating for some of these small companies. A company sees this big base with a gate and they may think that it’s not a welcoming environment,” Bordonaro said. “These companies are starting to see through efforts like the 401 Tech Bridge, Other Transactional Authorities (OTAs) and Prize Challenges that the barriers aren’t as difficult as they used to be. It brings a whole realm of possibilities into the mix that the DoD traditionally has not tapped into at all.”
As Bordonaro noted, OTAs and Prize Challenges are helping to attract a greater variety of businesses to help the Navy tackle some its most difficult problems.
“OTAs allow for even greater collaboration,” Contracts Policy Division head and OTA agreements officer Chris Kenney said during his brief. “People always talk about speed with OTAs, but getting that collaboration and communication is what we really want.”
In his talk, Kenney explained how OTAs enable flexible, effective and agile acquisitions for emerging research and prototyping through a streamlined and expedited process. He added that the only two major requirements for eligibility are the project must result in a prototype relevant to Division Newport’s mission and companies must be members of the Undersea Technology Innovation Consortium. Calls for topics are held biannually in April and October.
“We are continually working to align ANTX with the OTA,” Hardro said. “Last year, our ANTX event focused on undersea security, which included technology for harbor defense, counter unmanned undersea vehicles (UUVs) and similar ideas. Based upon what was demonstrated at last year’s ANTX, we subsequently solicited an OTA topic entitled “cheap and deep,” which seeks systems and component solutions that can go full depth at a low cost. This is just one of the ways ANTX is used to generate topics for the OTA.”
Prize Challenges, another alternative to traditional contracting, were briefed by senior contracting officer Chris Hebert. Every Tuesday and Thursday, government-wide contests are updated on Challenge.gov as members of the public compete to help the U.S. government solve some of its largest and smallest problems.
Last year, the Office of Naval Research (ONR) and Division Newport collaborated to source Navy problems out to industry to solve NAVSEA's first-ever Prize Challenge. Three problems were posted to Challenge.gov and at Innovate Newport on Dec. 16 Goetz Composites of Bristol, Response Technologies of West Warwick and Spencer Composites of Sacramento, California, were announced as the winners.
“We received more than 30 submissions, and with the help of Innovate Newport we were able to have the companies come in to pitch them and ask them questions directly," said Maria Medeiros, ONR program manager for Advanced Power and Energy Undersea Applications, Naval Enterprise Partnership Teaming with Universities for National Excellence, and Navy Undersea Research. “These three companies will receive $250,000 for six months to come up with a feasible product.”
NUWC Newport is a shore command of the U.S. Navy within the Naval Sea Systems Command, which engineers, builds and supports America’s fleet of ships and combat systems. NUWC Newport provides research, development, test and evaluation, engineering and fleet support for submarines, autonomous underwater systems, undersea offensive and defensive weapons systems, and countermeasures associated with undersea warfare.
NUWC Newport is the oldest warfare center in the country, tracing its heritage to the Naval Torpedo Station established on Goat Island in Newport Harbor in 1869. Commanded by Capt. Michael Coughlin, NUWC Newport maintains major detachments in West Palm Beach, Florida, and Andros Island in the Bahamas, as well as test facilities at Seneca Lake and Fisher's Island, New York, Leesburg, Florida, and Dodge Pond, Connecticut.