Researchers, innovators sought for defence, security challenges

Veronica Silva
April 25, 2018

$84 million available annually for 20 years

The Department of National Defence (DND) has launched its first call for proposals for a new innovation procurement program geared towards leveraging ideas and expertise outside its own network of laboratories. The Innovation for Defence Excellence and Security (IDEaS) program will provide up to $1.6 billion over the next 20 years to encourage researchers and innovators from academia, business and even private individuals to assist in transformational changes that address challenges in defence and security.

Speaking at the program’s official launch in Calgary on April 9, national defence minister Harjit Sajjan said IDEaS is open to proposals that will solve a range of complex problems around Canada’s defence and security – from better equipping personnel to better understanding of post-traumatic stress disorder to preparing for climate change effects.

“Our government is committed to keeping our Canadian Armed Forces at the cutting edge of technology. … Through this program, our government will look beyond the traditional defence community and scientists and look to all Canadians and find the solutions we need to support, equip and train our service members,” said Sajjin. “We will invest in the most promising concepts … with over $313 million being invested in the next five years.”

The program is open to individuals or groups – not-for-profits, companies, and universities/academia - through different mechanisms, from developing prototypes to forging clusters. Solutions can be hatched in a home garage or in collaboration with other innovators and researchers.

“Through IDEaS, national defence will support innovators – big or small – in providing the Canadian Armed Forces with solutions to complex defence and security challenges,” Sajjin added.

These challenges include any risk to Canada and its people and the military – anything from natural disasters, cyber security threats to protecting the borders.

The concept for IDEaS was developed by Dr Marc Fortin, DRDC’s former CEO and ADM S&T of the Department of National Defence and has been in development for nearly two years, with discussions already ongoing since late 2016. It  was first announced in June 2017 in conjunction with a new defence policy that sets out the long-term direction for the country. The policy commits new and increased investments for the Canadian Armed Forces to the tune of $32.7 billion, including funding for IDEaS. But it was only in April 2018 when DND launched the first call to participate with 16 challenges.

IDEaS joins other innovation and procurement programs that engage with the research and innovation community to encourage stakeholders to innovate while at the same time addressing the procurement needs of the government. Aside from IDEaS, there’s also the Build in Canada Innovation Program (BCIP) and Innovative Solutions Canada (ISC). And like other government programs that encourage innovation with some procurement component, IDEaS was also patterned after similar programs from Canada’s allies. In this case, DND said IDEaS is patterned after similar programs in the US, UK and Australia. ISC was patterned after the US Small Business Innovation Research program (SBIR), and is open mainly to small companies. DND said IDEaS is solely focused on addressing defence and security problems by posing challenges rather than specifying solutions.

One of the features that differentiates IDEaS from other demand-driven innovation programs is that it has many mechanisms or elements for the research and innovation community to use in providing solutions. These include:

  •  creating innovation networks that encourage cross-sectoral collaboration;
  •  contests, which involve monetary rewards for successful demonstrations of promising solutions;
  •  competitions, where innovators can develop their solutions from prototype to products and services with potential capabilities;
  •  sandboxes, for prototyping opportunities; and
  •  innovation assessment and implementation, to assess and evaluate pre-production solutions, and provide direct feedback to innovators.

Currently, only competitive challenges are available, but other opportunities are to be announced in spring and summer 2018, including innovation networks and contests. Current challenges fall under three themes: enhanced human performance, anticipate threat and adapt to a changing environment. An example of a challenge in the first theme is a lightweight ballistic protection system to help Armed Forces personnel move around with ease while protecting them. Another challenge is recruitment and retention of women in the military to increase their representation to 25% by 2026.

An example of a contest could be around data science, where innovators can develop algorithms.

Speaking at the 17th annual RE$EARCH MONEY conference earlier this month, IDEaS portfolio manager Dr Roscoe Klinck said the program is open to a range of technology readiness levels. He added that what Canada has learned from allies is to harness the strengths of the multidisciplinary approach and have a procurement mechanism that is agile – to try out a number of solutions that can produce potential results quickly.

The first set of proposals is due on May 24 with the hope that projects can be awarded by fall.

Key Industrial Capabilities

Simultaneously to the IDEaS launch, Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED) announced key technology priorities for its Industrial and Technological Benefits (ITB) Policy. The 30-year-old policy requires that for every dollar spent on big defence purchases, the contractor has to give back another dollar to the economy. Over the years, the fund has reached $30 billion and generated around 40,000 jobs annually. In line with this policy, ISED said the government will encourage defence contractors to invest Key Industrial Capabilities (KIC). ISED identified five areas of Canadian industrial strength in emerging technologies, which have the potential to grow quickly, and 11 established industrial capabilities where Canada is globally competitive or where domestic capacity is essential to national security. The five emerging technologies are:

  • Advanced materials
  • Artificial intelligence
  • Cyber resilience
  • Remotely piloted systems and autonomous technologies
  • Space systems

The 11 established industrial capabilities are:

  • Aerospace systems and components
  • Armour
  • Defence systems integration
  • Electro-optical and infrared systems
  • Ground vehicle solutions
  • In-service support
  • Marine ship-borne mission and platform systems
  • Munitions
  • Shipbuilding, design and engineering services
  • Sonar and acoustic systems
  • Training and simulation

The adoption of KIC was first recommended in the 2013 report, Canada First: Leveraging Defence Procurement Through Key Industrial Capabilities (aka The Jenkins Report).

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