01/09/2022: This article has been updated with comments from the University of Rhode Island Research Foundation.
The Department of Defense has opened millions of dollars in grants to a Rhode Island research consortium that will fund cybersecurity and supply chain research for the maritime industry.
Earlier this month, the ministry designated six new defense manufacturing communities across the country. The program, authorized by the National Defense Authorization Act of 2019, is designed to fund long-term investments in local businesses that work on national security technology or innovation.
The money is awarded to joint ventures made up of academic institutions, contractors or advocacy associations, nonprofits, or state and local governments. One of the consortia selected this year is led by the University of Rhode Island Research Foundation, which proposes to use up to $5 million in federal grants “to address weaknesses in the maritime defense industrial base by strengthening the workforce training or retraining or recruiting and retaining and expanding small business support to support automation, robotics and cyber resilience.
“The project will provide at least 50 small business assistance grants, educate and train 675 students and workers using enhanced offerings from the Manufacturing Innovation Institute, and launch an innovative assessment education model to improve capacity evaluation and vendor matching for DoD supply chain companies. reads a project description on the DoD website.
In an email, Erik Brine, director of defense research and development initiatives and operations at the university, told SC Media that one of the proposals, a pilot project between URI, Polaris MEP, MxD and ARM, improve the capability of programs offered by Polaris, including supply chain mapping, customer discovery, adherence to DoD cybersecurity standards, and use of automation and robotics.
“We will do this by taking advantage of what any university has in abundance, human capital, and combining that with what MxD and ARM can provide, spectacular expertise,” Brine said. “We will leverage the expertise, programming, and curriculum of MxD and ARM to train URI students to deliver these capabilities under the guidance of Polaris MEP.”
The funding will also allow companies to access both assessments and recommendations while developing the broader curriculum that will train students in much-needed cybersecurity and supply chain skills.
“Doing this will not only prepare these students for hands-on experience in the field, but it will also fill a void in the capabilities and capabilities that exist in our ecosystem,” Brine said.
According to the DoD, the department has distributed $50 million in funding for the program over the past two years to 11 defense manufacturing communities, 1,350 companies and 29,000 workers. The funding has helped develop 11 new defense technologies, make improvements to 23 others, and provide cybersecurity assistance to nearly 400 companies.
In addition to the URI Research Foundation, consortium partners include academic and research institutions like Polaris MEP, 401 Tech Bridge, Brown University and the Rhode Island Department of Education, defense contractors General Dynamics Electric Boat, Raytheon and military institutions like the US Naval Warfare College and the Naval Undersea Warfare Center, among others.
In a statement, Rep. Jim Langevin, DR.I., co-founder of the Congressional Cybersecurity Caucus, said the grants would benefit both national security and the economy of his home state.
“The designation of the University of Rhode Island Research Foundation as a defense manufacturing community will attract millions of dollars in federal investments to advance our national security, develop our workforce and advance the Rhode Island’s economy,” Langevin said. “I look forward to seeing how this grant will help our defense manufacturing sector expand its cutting-edge work on issues of robotics, cybersecurity, and other emerging technologies.”