Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science


Department of Systems Engineering and Management

First Advisor

Amy M. Cox, PhD


The composition of the U.S. Defense Industrial Base (DIB) is changing. Within the last decade we have witnessed a decline in the percentage of new entrants, especially among Small Businesses. The Department of Defense’s base of small business participants experienced a drop of 23% from 2015-2021. New entrants provide novel capabilities and increase competition, spurring innovation essential for continued economic and military advantage. Small Businesses represent well over 40% of the Nation’s Gross Domestic Product and have vastly outpaced large firms at a magnitude of 16.5 times as many patents per small firm.

The Air Force deliberately targets funding for Small Business R&D through the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program; currently managed by AFRL/AFWERX. This research identifies the prevalence of challenges to Air Force Small Business contracts. We surveyed approximately 1200 small businesses who completed AF SBIR efforts. Based on our survey data, we were able to gauge the perceptions on a list of 26 challenges from former Air Force SBIR Phase II and III (FY2015-FY2021) participants. In obtaining current information on small business perceptions, this research found areas of concern that, once addressed, may help expand the pool of relevant and willing SBIR participants.

AFIT Designator



Approved for public release: 88ABW-2023-0321

A 12-month embargo was observed.