The Department of Defense, which has long relied on large companies for the bulk of its purchases, recently turned an eye to small businesses for research and development. In an announcement released this spring, the department established a small business advanced technology program to fund R&D feasibility studies by small companies.

The program, with a first-year budget of $5 million to $8 million, will parcel out around 100 awards of up to $50,000 for R&D projects of interest to the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). To make the program more attractive to small firms, the department has streamlined its regulations and suggests that proposals be limited to 20 pages.

Sam Cardon, president of the American Association of Small Research Companies, says the new program is a "good indication of change." But more important than the actual dollar amount, he says, is the apparent recognition of the effectiveness of small business R&D. With the billions of dollars the department spends on R&D, he says, the program could be "a wedge to let more companies into the Department of Defense."

Small firms that can demonstrate the feasibility of their proposals under the first phase of the program will be eligible for subsequent awards in phase two of the program, says Hal C. Felsher, director for small business and economic utilization policy at the department. Awards of from $100,000 to $500,000 will be made in phase two to cover projects of up to two years, Felsher says.

Proposals for the first phase are due August 31, 1981, and awards are to be made in December.