News and commentary on defense and homeland security issues focus largely on the big companies and programs. This is reasonable and even logical. This is where the money is. The evolution and outcome of major programs such as the F-35 or Littoral Combat Ship will have a major even decisive impact on America’s ability to fight and win future wars. The large defense contractors such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics are major forces in the U.S. economy, engines for export earnings and amazing repositories of scientific and technical talent.
However, there is a tendency for discussions of U.S. security to miss — or perhaps better put understate — the value and unique roles played by much smaller companies. Yet, such companies are often incubators for advanced technology and innovative operations. Or they provide special skills, products and unique or niche capabilities. They have an agility that is difficult for larger organizations to match and can develop and market specialized systems and capabilities economically and profitably.
One such example is a company called NABCO. NABCO is a leading provider of extremely high quality containment devices for explosive and chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) threats. This is clearly a capability which is widely in demand globally. Once the police, border patrol, TSA or military forces find an explosive or CBRN device what do they do with it? Containment is the best means of rapidly neutralizing such threats prior to being defused or neutralized. Because of its expertise in containing dangerous materials, NABCO is also a leader in explosive storage, explosive disposal and environmental remediation. Both the Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security have approved NABCO containers for use by their components.
Another example is a company called Insitu. This company is a world leader in the design, production and operation of unmanned aerial systems (UAS). Unlike Lockheed Martin/General Atomics with the Predator or Northrop Grumman and Global Hawk, Insitu specializes in smaller, tactical, low-cost UAS that can be deployed by small units or on individual naval platforms. Insitu pioneered in the area of UAS support to tactical units with its Scan Eagle system. For years, Insitu operated Scan Eagle systems for the Marine Corps in Iraq, providing surveillance on a unique fee for service basis. Insitu not only builds flying vehicles but also payloads and control systems for UASs. In 2010 Insitu won the Navy’s contract for a small tactical UAS with its Integrator vehicle. Although Insitu was acquired by Boeing, that company rightly recognized the unique character of this small, innovative enterprise and has left it as an independently-managed subsidiary.
A third example is ADS. This company has pioneered in the area of rapid responses to urgent operational requirements particularly for soldier clothing and individual equipment. ADS serves as a conduit for more than 3,000 providers of clothing, equipment and material. Its innovative approach to logistics and contracting has markedly improved the flow of material to U.S. forces in or bound for Iraq and Afghanistan. ADS also provides similar services to the Department of Homeland Security and, in particular, police and first responders.
Finally, there is Force Protection. Force Protection has been at the forefront of understanding the phenomenology of improvised explosive devices and the design of vehicle hulls and systems to enhance survivability. This company was one of the first to respond to the desperate need for mine resistant, ambush protected vehicles (MRAP). Force Protection built hundreds of Cougar MRAP that have been transporting U.S. forces, first in Iraq and more recently in Afghanistan. Force Protection also builds the amazing Buffalo MRAP engineering vehicle that is essential for route clearance and explosive ordinance disposal in the war zones. Recently, Force Protection’s Ocelot won the U.K. competition for that country’s Light Protected Patrol Vehicle.
These are merely a few examples of how small companies are providing support to the U.S. military, homeland security and police and first responders. These companies are innovators in their niche areas. Moreover, they are great examples of the power of small, innovative companies as an engine of U.S. economic growth.
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