1st international CRADA between AFRL, Indian startups ignites strategic collaboration
Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M. (AFRL) – In a historic achievement, scientists from the Air Force Research Laboratory, or AFRL, are leading the first non-domestic Cooperative Research and Development Agreement, or CRADA, between the U.S. Space Force and companies located outside the U.S. This signing marked the U.S. Space Force’s first non-domestic CRADA with any industry partner.
The two Indian startups, 114AI, an artificial intelligence firm that builds dual-use software for domain awareness, and 3rd ITECH, India’s sole image sensor company, will work in partnership with AFRL’s Space Vehicles Directorate. The CRADA will foster collaborative efforts in cutting-edge technologies, marking a significant milestone in advancing innovation in Earth observation sensors and space domain awareness.
The signing of the agreement gained the attention and sparked issue of a joint leader’s statement by President Joe Biden and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his visit to the White House June 22, 2023.
The statement emphasized the establishment and launch of the India-U.S. Defense Acceleration Ecosystem, or INDUS-X, a network-fostering joint defense technology innovation between the two country’s universities, startups, industry and think tanks as part of the U.S.-India initiative on critical and emerging technology, or iCET.
INDUS-X includes various short-, mid- and long-term goals. Short-term goals involve joint challenges, academic partnerships, mentor-protégé programs, a senior adviser group, or SAG, and think tank roundtables. Mid-term goals include an accelerator program for defense startups, collaboration with major defense firm supply chains and the establishment of innovation and testing labs for startups. In the long term, the goals include an Indo-U.S. Joint Innovation Fund, easing regulations for cross-border development and trade and standardization of certifications for technology startups.
“I have had the pleasure of meeting with many companies and universities while in India and am consistently impressed by the talent of the country’s engineers and scientists, and eagerness to collaborate with our Space Force,” said Merrick Garb, commercial, civil and interagency partnerships branch chief, Global Partnerships Directorate, Headquarters Space Force, Pentagon. “It is exciting when mutually beneficial collaborations, such as this agreement with 114AI and 3rd iTECH, are signed to advance the state-of-the-art in space domain awareness and Earth observation sensor technologies.”
Dr. Wellesley Pereira, mission area lead for Space Information Mobility at AFRL’s Space Vehicles Directorate, shared his enthusiasm for the project.
“This CRADA represents a significant step forward in our quest to push the collaborative boundaries of space technology,” Pereira said. “By bringing together the best minds and resources from different nations, we can achieve breakthroughs with mutually beneficial results. We are very appreciative to the entire team that worked to make this happen, including Vrinda Kapoor and Vinayak Dalmia at 114AI and 3rd iTECH, Merrick Garb at Headquarters Space Force, and Melissa Ortiz, tech transfer agreements specialist lead Space Vehicles Directorate.”
Dr. Jaime Stearns, researcher and lead for the topic development for the accelerator, space domain awareness at AFRL, said she was “thrilled” when 114AI joined AFRL’s Space Domain Awareness Accelerator a few years ago as the first international participant.
“We all learned together how to start bringing international companies into the Space Force ecosystem,” Stearns said.
In addition to the accelerator’s introduction, Ortiz said it has been an honor to work with her team since 2020.
“This is the beginning of an amazing relationship being the first collaborative effort to work with an Indian startup,” Ortiz added. “Looking forward to seeing many more collaborations that will evolve through this effort.”
The signing of the CRADA and the broader INDUS-X initiative align with AFRL’s partnerships and the Space Vehicles Directorate’s mission to develop the latest in space component technology and transition to provide space-based capabilities to the nation.
To read more about AFRL’s Space Vehicle’s directorate, visit https://www.afrl.af.mil/RV/.
For more information on INDUS-X, visit: https://www.defense.gov/News/Releases/Release/Article/3434923/launch-of-the-india-us-defense-acceleration-ecosystem-indus-x/.
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 www.afresearchlab.com.