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Chemical-Free Robotic Vegetation Control for Base Facilities and Runways


OUSD (R&E) CRITICAL TECHNOLOGY AREA(S): Advanced Materials; Microelectronics


OBJECTIVE: Explore and develop innovative technology solutions to automate base maintenance equipment that reduces manpower, maintains high readiness, and reduces toxic chemical environmental impact from maintenance operations.


DESCRIPTION: Weeds and invasive vegetation control is a critical foreign object debris (FOD) prevention activity. The National Association of FOD Prevention Inc. reports that FOD costs the aviation industry US$13 billion per year in direct plus indirect costs. Vegetation attracts wildlife, introducing a bird/wildlife aircraft strike hazard (BASH).


At many Air Force bases, entomologists conduct critical weed and invasive vegetation control activities to reduce the flightline FOD risk and keep aircraft safe and operational. This time-consuming manual activity relies on inordinate amounts of manpower, and exposes airmen to the toxic herbicides used to remove weeds. Herbicide exposure requires Airmen to don protective gear. Airmen undergo medical examinations every six months to check for hazardous chemicals in their bloodstream. These Integrated Pest Management Program activities are expensive and puts Airmen health at risk.


Agricultural and ground management operations have been disrupted by labor shortages and shortages of critical agricultural inputs, including synthetic fertilizers (Russia a leading supplier) and chemical herbicides (China sole component supplier). Recent global events have also highlighted global food supply vulnerabilities, either from malicious actions of foreign adversaries, unsecure technology, or climate change. Risks of worsening disruptions can be mitigated by developing vegetation management technologies that reduce dependency on herbicides and synthetic fertilizers, which, if deployed on a large scale, would simultaneously reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and help reverse catastrophic climate change trends. The same agricultural technologies could reduce cost to maintain or reduce invasive species, ensuring warfighters have a food supply at least as safe and reliable as that expected by the consumer.


This topic seeks solutions the DAF can use to automatically maintain vegetation near the flightline, reducing manpower and cost, while eliminating the use of chemicals. Specifically, the DAF is seeking solutions that provide autonomous, chemical-free control of vegetation growing in hard-to reach locations such as along fence lines and building foundations. It is expected the solution also provides a means for enabling increased adoption of regenerative agriculture practices, mitigating the impact of input scarcity while assuring agricultural output sufficient to feed warfighter and the free population alike.


PHASE I: As this is a Direct-to-Phase-II (D2P2) topic, no Phase I awards will be made as a result of this topic. To qualify for this D2P2 topic, the Government expects the applicant(s) to demonstrate feasibility by means of a prior “Phase I-type” effort that does not constitute work undertaken as part of a prior or ongoing SBIR/STTR funding agreement. Applicant(s) must include in its response to this topic "Phase I-type" feasibility documentation that substantiates the scientific and technical merit and "Phase I-type" effort such as developed a concept for a workable prototype or design to address, at a minimum, the basic requirements as described above. Documentation should include all relevant information including, but not limited to technical reports, test data, prototype designs/models, and performance goals/results for establishing the scientific and economic feasibility of the proposed work. Work submitted within the feasibility documentation must have been substantially performed by the offeror and/or the principal investigator (PI).


PHASE II: Phase II will be a continuation of research and development already performed in a “Phase I-type” effort. The focus in this phase should finish refinements of system design concepts, building and testing of a field-scale prototype, and prototype validation based on field usage and base demonstration.

Proposals should include development, installation, integration, demonstration and/or test and evaluation of the proposed solution prototype system.


These activities should focus specifically on:

  • Evaluating the adapted solution against the proposed objectives and measurable key results.
  • Describing in detail how the installed solution differs from the non-defense commercial offering to solve the Air Force and/or Space Force need(s), as well as how it can be scaled for wide adoption, i.e., modified for scale.
  • Identifying the proposed solution's clear transition path, taking into account input from affected stakeholders, including but not limited to, end users, engineering, sustainment, contracting, finance, legal, and cyber security.
  • Specifying the solution's integration with other current and potential future solutions.
  • Describing the solution's sustainability, i.e., supportability. Identifying other specific DoD or Governmental customers for the solution.


PHASE III DUAL USE APPLICATIONS: Military Application: Automated equipment that enables widespread adoption of sustainable vegetation management agricultural practices, reducing operational costs and ensuring food supply to warfighters and US allies. Similar equipment supports the rapid deployment of mobile bases, in a wide variety of terrains and environmental conditions, as well as routine base maintenance.


Commercial Application: Agricultural equipment that enables widespread adoption of sustainable agricultural practices, profitably, across a variety of agricultural conditions.



  1. The National Association of FOD Prevention Inc. reports that FOD costs the aviation industry US$13 billion per year in direct plus indirect costs.
  2. Gillezeau C, van Gerwen M, Shaffer RM, Rana I, Zhang L, Sheppard L, Taioli E. The evidence of human exposure to glyphosate: a review. Environ Health. 2019 Jan 7; 18(1):2. doi: 10.1186/s12940-018-0435-5. PMID: 30612564;
  3. PMCID: PMC6322310.
  4. Pesticide Supply Outlook: Pesticide Shortages, High Prices Unlikely to Ease in 2022;


KEYWORDS: Biotechnology; Directed Energy (DE); weed abatement; Autonomous maintenance; Vegetation control; Robotics; Herbicide reduction; Regenerative agriculture; Dual-Use;

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