With the signing of a partnership agreement between Fleet Readiness Center East (FRCE) and Craven County, the U.S. Navy established its latest addition to a program designed to bring together regional government, industry and academia to expand an ecosystem focused on innovation.
The Eastern North Carolina (ENC) Tech Bridge launched Nov. 15 with the objective of accelerating the adoption of proven, agility-enhancing prototype solutions to solve difficult challenges faced by the Navy and Marine Corps. The Department of the Navy’s Naval Agility Office (NavalX) spearheads the Tech Bridge initiative, with the goal of rapidly delivering innovative capabilities to service members across the globe.
Tech Bridges are designed to bridge the gap between the Navy and emerging entities like startups, small businesses, academia, nonprofits and private capital that aren’t traditionally part of the Navy’s development and acquisition process. The ENC Tech Bridge is the Navy’s 18th Tech Bridge, with locations spanning the United States and international Tech Bridges based in Yokosuka, Japan, and London, England.
“Fleet Readiness Center East is excited to partner with Craven County and help facilitate an environment that encourages innovation and the development of advanced technology in the local area,” said FRCE Commanding Officer Col. Thomas A. Atkinson. “The launch the Eastern North Carolina Tech Bridge provides us with the opportunity to support the rapid development, testing and fielding of solutions that will enhance the mission readiness throughout the Naval Aviation Enterprise.”
The ENC Tech Bridge will initially focus on two areas of emphasis: maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) operations and additive manufacturing. To further development in these arenas, the ENC Tech Bridge framework allows the Navy to collaborate with non-traditional partners and accelerate the innovation timeline in ways that traditional acquisition methods do not, said FRCE’s Organizational Innovation Leader Lt. Col. Tegan Owen.
“We have an extraordinary opportunity at ENC Tech Bridge to invest in the diverse network of talent here in our region while providing the mechanisms to apply cutting-edge technologies toward innovative solutions, which will improve support for our warfighters when and where they need it most,” Owen explained.
The structure of the Tech Bridge eases the collaboration process and allows the Navy to leverage the speed and efficacy improvements these non-traditional partners have experienced in recent years. These unique problem-solving partnerships have led to several success stories since NavalX stood up the Tech Bridge initiative in late 2019, said Matt McCann, head of the Customer Engagement and Business Development Branch at FRCE.
“We have seen several recent examples, through other established Tech Bridges, where solutions to real-world problems were presented by sources not normally part of the familiar problem-solving base,” he explained. “It was eye-opening to see the speed and innovative thought process behind these solutions and, in many cases, at a fraction of the normal up-front costs. These relationships present a path that will allow us to put assets back in the hands of our warfighters at a significantly faster, and more economical, rate.”
The financial benefits of the Tech Bridge could extend far beyond Navy dollars saved in the prototyping and manufacturing processes. Having an innovation accelerator like the Tech Bridge present in the area also benefits economic development in the region, officials said.
“The Board of Commissioners and Craven County are honored to be partnering with FRC East on such an exciting project that will not only benefit those who protect our freedom but also create economic opportunities here at home,” said Chairman Jason R. Jones.
Local organizers look forward to seeing the program grow and bring benefits to the Navy, Marine Corps and eastern North Carolina. Craven County Commissioner Etteinne “E.T.” Mitchell said the Tech Bridge presents significant opportunities for all involved.
“I’m excited to see the partnerships and collaboration between universities, the Department of Defense and business,” Mitchell added. “The potential for the NavalX Tech Bridge in Craven County to help create and execute innovative ideas to assist the Navy and Marines is limitless.”
FRCE is North Carolina’s largest maintenance, repair, overhaul and technical services provider, with more than 4,000 civilian, military and contract workers. Its annual revenue exceeds $1 billion. The depot provides service to the fleet while functioning as an integral part of the greater U.S. Navy; Naval Air Systems Command; and Commander, Fleet Readiness Centers.