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Nine start-ups to pitch ideas for emerging missile technology at Eglin center

The gate at Eglin Air Force Base is shown in this undated photo.

U.S. NAVY PHOTO

By JIM THOMPSON | Northwest Florida Daily News | Published: November 5, 2019

NICEVILLE, Fla. (Tribune News Service) — Nine startup companies will be pitching ideas later this week in hopes of getting on-the-spot government contracts for work on hypersonic missiles, an emerging technology in which the Air Force Research Laboratory's Armament Directorate at Eglin Air Force Base is deeply involved.

Funding awards could total as much as $750,000 under federal guidelines for contracting with small-business, innovation-focused enterprises. Winning companies will get some funding at Pitch Day to jump-start their work.

The pitches will be the centerpiece of the Air Force's first-ever Hypersonics Pitch Day. The event, for pre-registered attendees, is scheduled for 8 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. Thursday at the Doolittle Institute in Niceville, one of five Air Force Research Laboratory innovation centers across the country. The Doolittle Institute works, in part, to enable rapid technology delivery to airmen in the field.

Hypersonic missiles, which can travel at up to five times the speed of sound and can be launched from aircraft, present a couple of advantages over existing weapons. Their speed allows them to quickly penetrate deep into enemy territory, which also means there is little time for enemies to defend against them.

"Hypersonics amplify many of the enduring attributes of air power — speed, range, flexibility, and precision," Brig. Gen. Anthony Genatempo, Air Force Program Executive Officer for Weapons and director of the Armament Directorate at Eglin, said in a news release from the base. "We're focused on capitalizing on these technologies to advance them to capability as quickly as possible."

That kind of speed has become critical for U.S. development of hypersonic missile technology. Three years ago, both Russia and China announced they were already testing hypersonic weapons.

The Air Force is pursuing two hypersonic prototype efforts: the Hypersonic Conventional Strike Weapon (HCSW) and the Air Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW). Both are expected to achieve early operational capability by the 2022 fiscal year.

The Armament Directorate at Eglin is managing two contracts connected with those efforts: a nearly $1 billion contract to Lockheed Martin's Space Systems Division for the HCSW, and a $480 million award to Lockheed Martin's Missiles and Fire Control Division for the ARRW.

Earlier this year, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein and then-Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson stressed the need for speeding up the service's acquisition process. Events like Thursday's Hypersonics Pitch Day are a part of that accelerated process.

In an era of great power competition involving the U.S., Russia and China, Wilson and Goldfein told a joint meeting of two congressional committees, "We cannot win this contest with an acquisition system from the Cold War. We must move fast to stay competitive and we are fundamentally transforming what we buy, how we buy it and from whom we buy it."

The nine businesses pre-selected to make presentations at Hypersonics Pitch Day include two hypersonic propulsion system research and development companies, two advanced materials research and development companies, a propulsion systems manufacturer, a communications and data transfer company, a research and design firm, a nanotechnology firm and a computer simulation research and training company.

The companies will make detailed closed-door pitches to Air Force experts and will have the opportunity to make less-detailed pitches to the media and other Pitch Day attendees.

Lt. Gen. Duke Richardson, military deputy to the assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology, and logistics, will be among the Air Force officials to hear the closed-door pitches.

"Fielding hypersonic weapons is a top priority for our warfighters," Richardson said in the Eglin news release. "The Air Force is leading the way and we can use all the help we can get from innovative companies. That's one reason why this pitch day is so exciting."

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©2019 the Northwest Florida Daily News (Fort Walton Beach, Fla.)
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