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On Wednesday, Indiana blockchain startup SIMBA Chain announced that it has received a $1.5 million Phase II contract from the U.S. Office of Navy Research (under the Small Business Innovation Research program to stimulate federal R&D projects with commercial potential). SIMBA Chain has been tasked to design and build a blockchain-based demand sensing solution for the Defense Logistics Agency, which provides combat support and supply chain management for the U.S. Department of Defense.

Demand sensing is a forecasting technology used across industry verticals, but which in the U.S. military context is used to ensure availability of replacement parts for weapons.

The award follows a Phase I project awarded in June 2020, for which SIMBA Chain worked with the U.S. Marine Corps to define a use case for a blockchain-based prototype that could actively monitor physical assets and inventory at a supply depot.

With this new, Phase II contract, SIMBA Chain will further build out that prototype, working with the Naval Enterprise Sustainment Technology Team (NESTT) on a use case centered on the Boeing F/A-18 Hornet supply chain.

An Indiana VC success story

Founded in 2017, SIMBA Chain—a nimble mover in the emergent “smart-contracts-as-a-service” field—has received seed-stage venture funding from Indiana’s own Elevate Ventures, 1st Source Bank, and the IDEA (Innovation, De-Risking and Enterprise Acceleration) Center at the University of Notre Dame. Since its inception, SIMBA Chain has been awarded and successfully completed multiple contracts with DARPA, the U.S. Department of Energy and U.S. Department of Defense

The award underscores the increasing role that blockchain technology is playing in defense applications. SIMBA Chain CEO Joel Neidig said the award further demonstrates the power of SIMBA Chain’s collaboration with the U.S. Navy, managing and security military supply chains and ensuring readiness to thwart cyber as well as physical threats.

“Blockchain is well suited to solve complex supply chain pain points, as it enables a decentralized mechanism for the recording of non-repudiable transactions, making data both immutable and auditable, and lastly, tamper-proof once written,” he said, adding, “Our hope is it becomes a model across the Navy and other branches of the U.S. military.”

Blockchain war-games

SIMBA Chain has been on the U.S. defense radar for some time. In October, its strategy using blockchain-enabled Rapid Additive Manufacturing Labs for battlefield use captured the gold medal in the U.S. Air Force’s first ever Advanced Manufacturing Olympics. The company won top honors in the Supply Chain Marathon division over industry giants Stratasys (second place) and Boeing (third place) in a field of 16 finalists.

The Advanced Manufacturing Olympics was created to bring together technology companies, startups, traditional and non-traditional U.S. Department of Defense contractors, academia, and student to help solve some of the Air Force’s most significant sustainment issues.

SIMBA Chain’s gold-medal-winning project was a complete “war games solution:” a plan built around Rapid Additive Manufacturing (also known as “Fast Fabrication”), assembled over six days, and capable of delivering critical parts to a fictional island battlefront under siege, keeping field hospitals operational, and making sure critical infrastructure such as runways remained intact.

Their project—which clearly intrigued the top-brass on the judges panel—used portable Rapid Additive Manufacturing Labs, capable of printing metal, plastic, and composite parts on demand with the interconnectivity and cyber security of blockchain. This enabled parts to be quickly 3-D printed and delivered securely to military units, front-line medical staff and relief organizations.

“What was different about our approach was how we met both the physical challenges of war fighters as well as the cyber threats that are playing a growing role in modern warfare,” Neidig said after winning the award, adding that his firm has high hopes that blockchain (and specifically SIMBA Chain), will soon be an integral part of the U.S. military’s strategic weaponry.

“The key component of any supply chain is security and particularly critical to fast-changing military operations,” Neidig explains. “Including blockchain in our strategy set SIMBA Chain apart as our additive manufacturing labs were digitally and securely interconnected with one another and with military command This ensured the integrity of communications and that whatever was needed could be built to military specifications without compromise from external forces.”

“Trusted Capital”

Recent announcements from the U.S. Department of Defense point to increasing vigilance on the part of the defense community to sensitivities around venture financing. On Wednesday, the DoD announced the establishment of the “Trusted Capital Digital Marketplace,” providing “trusted sources of funding” for small- and medium-sized providers of innovative defense-critical capabilities, and combating “predatory investment practices.”

The Trusted Capital Marketplace, while a “whole-of-government” initiative, will be led by the Chief Information Security Officer for Acquisition and Sustainment under the DoD. In Wednesday’s announcement, the department cited the current National Counterintelligence Strategy, which says U.S. adversaries are using “front companies, joint ventures, mergers and acquisitions, foreign direct investment, and talent recruitment programs to gain access to and exploit U.S. technology and intellectual property.”

Next battlefront? Restaurants

And there are other, emerging commercial use cases for smart-contracts-as-a-service, as well. Last month SIMBA Chain was named a Top 100 Software and Technology Provider for the global food and beverage supply chain by Food Logistics magazine. That award came after the company developed a blockchain-based solution for Mexican restaurant chain Restaurants Toks that enabled it to register and track its coffee bean supply chain.

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