June 17, 2014 --
Opportunity knocked for military and industry alike at the 2014 Navy Opportunity Forum in Crystal City, Virginia. The sea service previewed more than 200 technologies, and company representatives hoped to gain insight on how to win government contracts.
Among the speakers at the June 3 forum was Jim Smerchansky, chief engineer for the Marine Corps and deputy commander for Systems Engineering, Interoperability, Architecture and Technology at Marine Corps Systems Command.
Mr. Smerchansky talked about innovations that come out of the Small Business Innovation Research program, which he described as the development of new or the use of existing technology in a way it was never used before. Speed is essential, he said, turning in one instance to the Rapid Insertion Program as an example.
“I’m a big fan [of the Rapid Insertion Program],” Smerchansky said. “It provides more dollars up front and lets us attack what we already know is a problem. We can use a short timeline to get a system from introduction to finish.”
He also emphasized the importance of communication among the military services as well as between the military and industry representatives.
“As an example, if we are pursuing an effort that is also of value to the Army, collaboration between the Marine Corps and Army during Phase 2 of program development is vital,” Smerchansky said. “It gives us structure for brainstorming. Right now our communication is relationship and personality driven. We’re looking for venues for more collaboration in the future.”
Smerchansky told industry representatives he wants to give a realistic assessment of the challenges facing all parties while giving small businesses their due.
“You know in the current environment we’re in. It’s easy to downplay the importance of these kinds of events and interactions,” he said. “Open dialogue and strong relationships between government and industry in time of peace help ensure effective communications in wartime. While we’re still at war now – and there are many crazy unstable events happening around the world – we’re on a path to a peacetime footing.”
He noted how MCSC compares to other military services and systems commands.
“We’re not designing and acquiring advanced aircraft and naval ship systems and platforms such as the new F-35,” he said. “We also are not in the business of physical construction or space systems, although our systems do need to integrate and work with a majority of these systems.
“We design, build, test, acquire and sustain on behalf of the Marine Corps,” he said. “Everything a Marine wears, carries, shoots, communicates with or drives – we acquire. We also do the garrison and tactical [information technology] networks and infrastructure.”
He said all of the command’s Small Business Innovation Research efforts are traceable back to a sponsoring program within the MCSC purview and an identified need or gap. He explained that sponsoring programs are “hands on” for the duration of the project and are responsible for planning for and managing the transition of successfully developed technologies.
Citing programs that MCSC does well, Smerchansky said the MCSC Office of Small Business Programs has been awarded the Secretary’s Cup for fiscal 2013, the highest honor within the Department of the Navy. Likewise, MCSC exceeded all of their small business targets for fiscal 2013.
“There are 710 million more reasons you should take notice of the unique nature of how we do business and what types of things we buy from small businesses,” he said. “More than $710 million was awarded to small businesses across all of the [North American Industry Classification System] codes and product service codes used by the command.”
About 55 percent of infantry combat equipment comes from small business, he said. However, the command is not doing as well as it should in transitioning Small Business Innovation Research technologies.
“We are starting an effort to baseline and document our transition successes including original equipment manufacturer transitions,” Smerchansky said. “I expect this number to increase, but not by leaps and bounds without better engagement with technology developers.”
While there is a traditional timeline associated with the development of a Small Business Innovation Research technology, he said in many cases the drum beat of MCSC programs is moving at a faster pace. For example, a four-year developmental window is a longer duration than the development cycle of some programs.
He recalled that the advanced secure communications mode for Marine Corps Radios went from contract to fielding in only 24 months. The Mobile Trauma Bay moved from contracting to fielding in just 116 days. Smerchansky explained that at such speeds there are risks associated with the investment in new technology development.
He said the key to tapping into opportunity is regular contact between the Marine Corps and industry through the Small Business Innovation Research contracting office. He urged industry representatives to confidently make their case.
“Our dedicated SBIR contracting office is meeting its goals and improving our speed of execution,” Smerchansky said. “Small businesses are their own best advocates. No one knows their technologies and capabilities better than them. When in doubt, call your SBIR program manager for assistance.”