The Navy’s first international Tech Bridge in London was formally launched last week, the same week that the U.S. announced two new Tech Bridge locations, showing how much the sea service values this forum for collaboration with community businesses and researchers.
The London Tech Bridge was formally launched Dec. 10, with two commanders – one from the U.S. Navy and one from the U.K. Royal Navy – serving as co-directors of the collaboration incubator meant to bring together operational needs and innovative solutions from both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.
Second Sea Lord Vice Adm. Nick Hine and U.S. Navy acquisition chief James Geurts joined for a virtual kickoff event, where they discussed an ongoing effort for the two navies to achieve interchangeability. The Tech Bridge is a next step in that collaboration, pairing their navies’ needs with ideas from the traditional defense industry, academia, tech companies, small businesses and other non-traditional partners in the U.K.
Hine said he was primarily interested in ideas that would boost the lethality, availability and suitability of his navy.
On lethality, Hine said the traditional way of introducing new capability is to take the last weapon and add a little more range or a little more firepower, which drives up the cost a bit and means the Royal Navy can afford a couple fewer of the systems than before. Hine said he wants to turn that model on its head: between niche expertise in the U.K. defense ecosystem, plus the scale and mass of the U.S. Navy as a customer, and innovations in development and manufacturing that industry can bring, he hopes the two navies pairing together through the London Tech Bridge will help propel the navies forward with much greater capability for a more reasonable cost.
The primary focus areas for this Tech Bridge will be crewless and autonomous technology, artificial intelligence, biotechnology, space, and directed energy and lasers, though Hine and Geurts stressed that they welcome any idea from any partner on any topic area.
Hine added during the event that “anything we can do to make my platforms more available and more sustainable at reduced cost, I’m all in.” The more money that can be taken out of maintenance and sustainment bills, the more money can be reinvested into buying lethality, he said.
“This is not necessarily about the normal players; this is not necessarily about people that are just interested in defense. And as [Geurts] says, if you don’t know anything about the U.S. Navy or the Royal Navy, that sort of doesn’t matter, and in some ways it’s even more exciting because you can bring to us a different perspective, a different set of conversations, things that exist elsewhere – because we do not have a monopoly on good ideas, and we certainly don’t have a monopoly on best practice,” he said.
“So I think we want this Tech Bridge not just to be about tech, but to be about all the things that add value. … I don’t care if it comes from somebody in a garage that’s just had a good idea, or actually comes from one of the big primes that spent billions of dollars inventing something.”
Back in the U.S., the Navy announced on Dec. 9 its two newest Tech Bridge locations: Hawaii and the Gulf Coast.
The Hawaii Tech Bridge will be based in Honolulu and will focus on command and control, communications, cybersecurity, intelligence, space systems, and resilience. The Tech Bridge is already partnered with Naval Undersea Warfare Center Keyport Detachment Pacific, the Hawaii Technology Development Corporation, and the University of Hawaii’s Office of Innovation and Commercialization, and future partnerships will likely include the major commands collocated in Hawaii: U.S. Pacific Fleet and U.S. Indo-Pacific Command.
The Gulf Coast Tech Bridge spans from the Florida Panhandle to the Stennis Space Center and New Orleans. The Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City Division, the Naval Research Laboratory South and the Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command will collaboratively lead the Tech Bridge, which will draw from technical expertise and the industry base in four states across the South.
The Gulf Coast Tech Bridge will focus on coastal science, meteorology and oceanography, and assured maritime access. Undersea operations, unmanned vehicles, and artificial intelligence and machine learning are common threads throughout the work done at the three lead locations and will likely be featured in the work done by the Tech Bridge.
Whitney Tallarico, who heads the national Tech Bridge network for the Navy, said in the Dec. 9 kickoff event that this year the Tech Bridges overall have focused heavily on artificial intelligence applications across their various mission areas and that in 2021 unmanned and autonomy would be the new focus area.
Geurts said during the event that the Tech Bridge network had 126 projects valued at $64 million ongoing now, and that that money had already been budgeted for research and development but that spending it through this network was yielding a greater return on investment.
As for adding more nodes to the network – now 15, after last week’s additions, Geurts said “each one isn’t an addition, it’s really a multiplier effect that’s making a real difference.”