Defense Secretary Ash Carter plans to announce today a new $317 million initiative to develop high-tech fibers and textiles that could eventually store battery power, advanced computer circuitry and health sensors in troops’ clothing. Led by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Defense Department will help fund a consortium to research and manufacture advanced materials with broad applications for national defense.
Known as the Advanced Functional Fabrics of America Alliance, the consortium will focus on integrating flexible fibers and yarns with integrated circuits, LEDs, solar cells and other capabilities to create fabrics that can see, hear, sense, communicate, store energy, monitor health and change color. The technology could lead to military uniforms that regulate temperature, power equipment or detect and warn about hazards like chemical or radioactive elements.
The consortium, managed by the U.S. Army Contracting Command—New Jersey Emerging Technologies Contracting Center, combines about $75 million in Pentagon funds with an additional $250 million from the private sector and local governments. Companies involved in the research include Nike, New Balance, Bose, Intel, DuPont, Buhler Quality Yarns and a host of energy and material technology firms.
The deal follows a similar one Carter announced last September that involved $165 million for the Manufacturing Innovation Institute for Flexible Hybrid Electronics. That consortium, led by the FlexTech Alliance, also involves dozens of universities, companies and not-for-profit groups. Since taking over the Pentagon’s top job last year, Carter has prioritized technology and innovation initiatives and continues to look for new ways for the Defense Department to bring in top talent that might not typically be drawn to traditional national security jobs.