FAST Labs: A Fast Track for U.S. Military Innovation

By Samir Naqvi – May 24, 2019

For decades, the separation between Washington D.C. and Silicon Valley has been philosophical as well as geographical. While the East Coast has often required extensive documentation before implementing new programs; on the West Coast, the focus is on pushing boundaries and thinking outside the box. As a result, advances in U.S. military technology have somewhat lagged other countries, as the Department of Defense’s vendor and contractor requirements are often stricter than Silicon Valley companies are able to meet.

But that’s all set to change with the advent of the FAST Labs system, a contractor-developed vehicle that allows new technologies to bypass traditional approval pathways and “fast-tracks” innovative ideas from conception to implementation. Let’s dive in to learn more about FAST Labs and how it’s poised to reshape the development of military technologies.

What is FAST Labs?

Developed by BAE Systems, Inc., one of Great Britain’s largest aerospace and defense firms, FAST Labs is dedicated to innovation. This program combines federal research funding with venture capital-fueled technology to accelerate the speed at which new ideas are explored, tested, and brought to market.

Unlike other defense contractor-launched systems, FAST Labs doesn’t create prototypes itself; instead, it helps provide technology entrepreneurs with the resources, marketing expertise, and mentoring opportunities they need to help them seek out angel investors and venture capitalists.

Why is FAST Labs So Innovative?

BAE is hoping that FAST Labs can allow cutting-edge technologies to be developed more quickly by bypassing the DoD’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) at the earliest stages. While DARPA still plays a valuable role in government and military innovation, it’s easy for fledgling technologies to get bogged down in its documentation and production requirements. By fast-tracking these projects and getting venture capitalists on board early, it’s more likely these projects will have verifiable results by the time they’re ready to go through DARPA.

Currently, FAST Labs has established two internal organizations to assist its search for new technologies: a portfolio strategy team and a scouting team. The portfolio strategy team will evaluate each innovation as it progresses to determine whether it makes more sense for BAE to absorb the innovation into the program or purchase it as an outside vendor.

Meanwhile, the scouting team does just that—scouts potentially groundbreaking technologies that are emerging from university research teams, technology startups, and small businesses to determine whether these largely commercial technologies may also have viable military applications. 

By combining these approaches, FAST Labs has cast an incredibly broad net over today’s technological developments to ensure that the U.S. military has access to the most cutting-edge technology possible.

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