The University of Rhode Island Research Foundation is proposing to use up to $5 million in DoD grants to "address weaknesses in the maritime defense industrial base." (Photo by Alexi J. Rosenfeld/Getty Images)

09/01/2022: This piece was updated with comment from the University of Rhode Island Research Foundation.

The Department of Defense has opened up millions of dollars in grant funding to a research consortium in Rhode Island that will fund cybersecurity and supply chain research for the maritime industry.

Earlier this month, the department designated six new Defense Manufacturing Communities across the country. The program, authorized through the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act, is designed to fund long-term investments in local businesses that work on national security technologies or innovation.

The money is awarded to joint ventures made up of academic institutions, defense contractors or associations, non-profits or state and local governments. One of the consortiums selected this year is led by the University of Rhode Island Research Foundation, which is proposing to use up to $5 million in federal grant funding “to address weaknesses in the maritime defense industrial base through strengthening workforce training or retraining or recruitment and retention, and expanding small business assistance to support automation and robotics and cyber resiliency.”

“The project will provide a minimum of 50 small business assistance grants, educate and train 675 students and workers using Manufacturing Innovation Institute enhanced offerings, and launch an innovative Education to Assessment model to enhance assessment capability and supplier matching for DoD supply chain companies,” reads a project description on DoD’s website.

In an email Erik Brine, director for 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 will enhance the capacity of programs offered by Polaris, including supply chain mapping, customer discovery, meeting DoD cybersecurity standards, and the use of automation and robotics. 

"We will do this by leveraging what any university has in abundance, human capital, and combining it with what MxD and ARM can provide, dramatic expertise," Brine said. "We will leverage the expertise, programming, and curriculum of MxD and ARM to train URI students to provide these capabilities under the direction of Polaris MEP."

The funding will also give companies access to both assessments and recommendations while building out the larger program that will train students in badly needed cybersecurity and supply chain skillsets.

"Doing this will not only prepare these students with hands-on experience in the field, but it will also fill a void in capability and capacity that exists in our ecosystem," said Brine.

According to DoD, the department has doled out $50 million in funding for the program over the last two years to 11 defense manufacturing communities, 1,350 businesses and 29,000 workers. The funding has gone to develop 11 new defense technologies, make improvements for 23 more and provide cybersecurity assistance to nearly 400 companies.

In addition to the URI Research Foundation, the 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 U.S. Naval Warfare College and the Naval Undersea Warfare Center, among others.

In a statement, Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., co-founder of the congressional cybersecurity caucus, said the grants would benefit both national security and his home state economy.

“The University of Rhode Island Research Foundation’s designation as a Defense Manufacturing Community will attract millions of dollars in federal investments to advance our national security, develop our workforce, and drive Rhode Island’s economy forward,” said Langevin. “I can’t wait to see how this grant funding will help our defense manufacturing sector to expand its cutting-edge work on issues of robotics, cybersecurity and other emerging technologies.”