The US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) announced that it had seen “significant funding growth” FY2023 in contract awards to the small business sector, during an industry summit held in Q4 2023.

According to a 4 January 2024 release from the AFRL, the event brought together small business from across the AFRL network, including the AFMC Small Business office, AFRL and AFMC contracting offices, US Department of Defense (DoD) Office of Small Business Programs, the US Small Business Administration, and small businesses stakeholders.

Senior ARFL executives stated the Small Business Office set a record for FY23 with total small business awards reaching $2.12bn.

Speaking at the time, Brian McJilton, director of the AFRL Small Business Office, said: “Our Small, Disadvantaged Businesses received $546m, or 11.72% of our total amount awarded to small businesses.

“Our [Service-Disabled] Veteran-Owned Small Businesses set a record for AFRL at $123 million and our Women-Owned Small Businesses were awarded at $329m and HUBZone’s were $34m,” he added.

According to the US Small Business Administration website, the HUBZone programme fuels small business growth in historically underutilised business zones with a goal of awarding at least 3% of federal contract dollars to HUBZone-certified companies each year, ARFL stated.

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In February 2023, the US DoD expanded on its plans to increase involvement of small businesses in the national defence ecosystem, including the release of a Small Business Strategy. Through this, the DoD rebranded nearly 100 Procurement Technical Assistance Centers as APEX Accelerators, intended to refocus efforts in strengthening the defence supply chain through the integration of new enterprises.

Since the Covid-19 pandemic, virtually all Western countries have struggled with defence supply chain resilience, a factor made even more relevant as industry located within Nato countries looks to increase production of military equipment for national stocks amid Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.