image for news

AFRL NEWS

AFRL NEWS SEARCH

AFWERX safeguards American interests through due diligence

  • Published
  • By Matthew Clouse
  • Air Force Research Laboratory

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio (AFRL) — In defense innovation, rigorous scrutiny is not just an afterthought; it’s the law. AFWERX, the innovation arm of the Department of the Air Force and a directorate within the Air Force Research Laboratory, employs a thorough due diligence process at the core of its investment strategy for safeguarding national security interests. 

One of the primary concerns driving the due diligence process is American intellectual property theft, a threat that poses significant economic and national security implications. A 2019 FBI document on intellectual property theft estimates losses of $225 billion to $600 billion due to counterfeit goods and stolen technologies.

“The intent of the due diligence program is to protect DAF equities from undue or adversarial influence,” said Charles Keith, AFWERX due diligence program manager. “The primary concern is the potential risk or leakage that results in intellectual property theft.” 

The due diligence law signed by Congress, officially known as Public Law 117-183 and enacted on June 27, 2023, mandated the establishment and implementation of a due diligence program to assess security risks posed by small businesses seeking federally funded awards. This law requires the heads of federal agencies with Small Business Innovation Research, or SBIR, or Small Business Technology Transfer, or STTR, programs, such as AFWERX, to establish and execute such a program. 

“We're living in a time of great consequence, and there are adversary actors out there today performing acts of aggression against our neighbors, threatening our interests around the world,” said Col. Elliott Leigh, AFWERX director and chief commercialization officer for the DAF. “It's important for us to be able to defend our interests to defend our allies and our nation.”  

With a mandate to protect American interests, AFWERX created a new division called Capital Initiatives. They execute a scalable due diligence program that identifies, defines and mitigates risk at every phase. Since the program stood up in March 2023, they have conducted due diligence on more than 11,800 SBIR and STTR proposals – the most within the Department of Defense, according to Keith.  

To efficiently and comprehensively review thousands of proposals, Capital Initiatives implemented an intra-Air Force process involving the Office of Commercial and Economic Analysis, or OCEA, and the Office of Special Investigation, or OSI. The collaborative process focuses on four risk factors: cybersecurity practices, patent analysis, employee analysis and foreign ownership. 

“We're not doing it alone, and we get support from organizations that have very specific skills,” Keith said.

OCEA conducts a thorough business assessment of all applicants, utilizing commercially available and publicly accessible information to identify risk indicators, Keith explained. Additionally, OCEA undertakes in-depth analytic assessments to recognize and evaluate geostrategic risks that pose challenges to DOD equities and threaten national security. Meanwhile, OSI conducts counterintelligence reviews of select high-risk companies based on indicators identified by OCEA. As the investigative arm of the DAF, OSI is tasked with identifying, investigating and neutralizing criminal, terrorist and espionage threats to Air Force and DOD personnel and resources. 

"If Capital Initiatives, OCEA and OSI identify any concerns, a team of individuals will assess whether the potential risks justify the investment," Keith explained. “There have been a few cases where the technology is so commonplace that its disclosure wouldn't pose significant harm. So while we still acknowledge the potential risks, sometimes its global benefits have made decision-makers more inclined to accept those risks intelligently.” 

Through proactive due diligence and strategic partnerships, AFWERX Capital Initiatives aims to safeguard critical technology and preserve America's competitive edge in defense innovation.  

About AFRL
The Air Force Research Laboratory is the primary scientific research and development center for the Department of the Air Force. AFRL plays an integral role in leading the discovery, development, and integration of affordable warfighting technologies for our air, space and cyberspace force. With a workforce of more than 12,500 across nine technology areas and 40 other operations across the globe, AFRL provides a diverse portfolio of science and technology ranging from fundamental to advanced research and technology development. For more information, visit afresearchlab.com.  

About AFWERX 
As the innovation arm of the DAF and a directorate within the Air Force Research Laboratory, AFWERX brings cutting-edge American ingenuity from small businesses and start-ups to address the most pressing challenges of the DAF. AFWERX employs approximately 370 military, civilian and contractor personnel at five hubs and sites executing an annual $1.4 billion budget. Since 2019, AFWERX has executed over 6,100 new contracts worth more than $4 billion to strengthen the U.S. defense industrial base and drive faster technology transition to operational capability. For more information, visit: afwerx.com.    

AFRL Placeholder image