American Defense Calls for Builders of the Future

The way our soldiers fight has changed. That’s where you come in.

For more than a decade, one of the most popular reality television shows has been ABC’s Shark Tank, where entrepreneurs from businesses of all sizes pitch their products, technologies, or services to a panel of investors called the “sharks.” To date, more than 250 episodes of the show have aired over 12 seasons, with multiple companies skyrocketing to hundreds of millions of dollars in sales as a result of the exposure, and with the sharks’ assistance.

Over the past few decades, new technologies have disrupted almost every sector, creating a multitude of opportunities for entrepreneurs. Through technological innovation, new ideas can be explored, tested, and experimented with.

In many episodes, the sharks’ ears perk up when an entrepreneur mentions their product may have application for military, law enforcement, emergency response, or public safety purposes. While it often seems there’s little in Washington both sides agree on, there’s nothing partisan about ensuring the safety of our service members by equipping them with the most effective possible technologies.

Shark Tank garners millions of viewers each week, but most people don’t realize the US military has similar mechanisms to find and deliver the best available technology to end users within the Department of Defense (DOD). There is a massive market for technology products that our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines would want to wear, carry, or use in the field. Getting the best possible technology into the hands of our service members could save lives. Unfortunately, many companies that build the products our service members need don’t even know it.

Ideally, all levels of government should work with private-sector businesses. Only rarely can one actor solve problems alone; more often, it takes a partnership between government and business to make a major impact on a social challenge.

When you hear real-life stories from those who have faced technology failures and challenges in the field, it’s clear there are many opportunities for technology to solve both basic and complicated problems. In a podcast featuring retired US Marine Dakota Meyer—who was awarded the Medal of Honor in 2011—Meyer outlines how at almost every juncture of a daylong firefight, the technology he and his team relied upon failed them.

Their radios didn’t filter out multiple speakers, so their communications channels were a constant chaos of overlapping shouting between the different command echelons competing to coordinate the operation. They had no effective means to signal their location or the location of the enemy, so they were unable to leverage the air assets or long-range fires on which ground forces rely for support. Tragically, Meyer describes how, during one of his many harrowing runs in and out of the kill zone, he got his vehicle close enough to the rest of his team to rescue them while they were still alive, but he had no idea they were there until he found their bodies hours later.

These failures are frustrating by themselves, but even more frustrating is the knowledge that the technology to address these problems is already out there. How many companies sell software that filters out competing voices over communication channels? How many companies sell position-display technology that would have given Meyer and his team the ability to mark their locations, and the locations of the enemy, in real time, allowing the operations center to effectively coordinate support?

Defense forces operate drones remotely without risking the safety of their soldiers. With advanced hardware, cameras, and sensors, drones have helped save lives in military missions.

We know the commercial technology sector outpaces our national defense technological speed of adoption, particularly with respect to the equipment soldiers wear, carry, or use. The technology either exists already, is being created, or could be created if the need were made known. The problem is that commercial capabilities and soldier requirements are not getting paired effectively.

Until the United States has access to the best products commercially available, we will continue to lose our advantage in those areas where we should be increasing it. The good news is that we can overcome this threat as the government leverages the power of commercial innovation.

We know there is a massive trove of commercial technology capabilities the military is not yet plugged into, which is why we are looking for the builders of the future. If you know an entrepreneur with the technology to contribute to the future of our national security, we want to know about them.

We know those builders are out there. We have worked with you. We have seen what you are developing. And working together, we can overcome the major challenges that impact our soldiers, match solutions with problems, and better equip those who keep our country safe.