A Guide to Prototyping for Defense

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Prototyping plays a crucial role in defense by connecting new technology with its potential military applications. The Department of Defense (DoD) has a different definition of a prototype. They focus on adapting commercial innovations to meet military needs instead of just creating a basic model.

In this blog, we’ll delve into the details of defense prototyping, showcasing how it integrates commercial technologies with military utility, the significance of testing and custom tooling, the pivotal role of Technical Readiness Levels (TRLs) in determining a prototype’s viability, and JAKTOOL’s expertise and unique perspective we offer customers.


Prototyping for Military Utility and the Department of Defense

Making prototypes for defense has many important reasons. They help make sure that military personnel have the best, most reliable, and safest equipment possible. The process of prototyping in the defense sector is driven by the need to innovate while adhering to exact requirements unique to military applications. 

Here are the primary purposes for creating prototypes for defense:

  • Testing and Validation: Prototypes are used to test and validate concepts and technologies before they are used in real-world situations. This process helps identify potential issues, ensuring the final product meets all necessary performance, safety, and durability standards.
  • Innovation and Adaptation: By prototyping, defense projects can leverage cutting-edge technologies and innovative solutions from the commercial sector and other fields, adapting them for military use, ensuring that the armed forces have access to the latest technological advancements, enhancing their capabilities and effectiveness.
  • Cost and Time Efficiency: Developing prototypes helps assess the feasibility and practicality of new technologies or systems before committing significant resources to mass production. It helps save money and time by finding issues early in the design process, leading to cost savings and faster development.
  • Customization and Specificity: Defense prototypes are customized to meet specific military needs, including withstanding extreme conditions unique to military environments. This customization ensures that the equipment will perform as needed in the diverse and often harsh conditions encountered by military personnel.
  • Feedback Integration: Prototyping provides a valuable opportunity to gather feedback from end-users—military personnel who will use the technology in real-world situations. This feedback is crucial for refining and improving the design to meet the users’ needs better and enhance the overall effectiveness of the equipment.
  • Risk Mitigation: By creating prototypes, defense projects can mitigate risks associated with deploying untested or under-tested technologies. This step is vital for ensuring the safety of military personnel and the success of missions, as it allows for identifying and correcting flaws before deployment.
  • Facilitates Clearer Communication and Collaboration: Prototypes serve as tangible representations of ideas or concepts, facilitating more transparent communication among engineers, designers, military personnel, and other stakeholders, ensuring that all parties understand the project’s goals and progress.
  • Regulatory Compliance and Certification: In the defense sector, equipment and technologies must often meet specific regulatory standards and obtain certifications before deployment. Prototyping allows for the necessary testing and adjustments to ensure compliance with these rigid requirements.


The Crucial Role of Testing and Custom Tooling

Testing and the application of new technologies are fundamental aspects of defense prototyping. This process is not merely about creating a new product but rigorously evaluating its performance under conditions that mimic real-world military environments. 

Moreover, custom tooling underscores the attention to detail and customization inherent in defense prototyping. These efforts ensure that the final product is innovative, practical, and sustainable within a military environment.


Technical Readiness Levels

NASA first developed the Technical Readiness Levels (TRLs) concept, which is integral to understanding defense prototyping. These levels range from TRL 1, which represents basic principles, to TRL 9, which indicates a system tested and proven in operational environments.

  • TRL 9: Actual system “flight proven” through successful mission operations. 
  • TRL 8: Actual system completed and “flight qualified” through test and demonstration.
  • TRL 7: System prototype demonstration in a military environment.
  • TRL 6: System/subsystem model or prototype demonstration in a relevant environment.
  • TRL 5: Component and/or breadboard validation in a relevant environment.
  • TRL 4: Component and or/breadboard validation in a lab environment.
  • TRL 3: Analytical and experimental critical function and/or characteristic proof of concept.
  • TRL 2: Technology concept and/or application formulated.
  • TRL 1: Basic principles observed and reported.

Prototypes can vary widely in their TRLs, from virtual prototypes at TRL 2 to more advanced benchtop prototypes at TRL 4, where the mere movement of the prototype can be considered a success. This spectrum underscores the developmental journey of defense prototypes from conceptual models to fully operational technologies.

Defense customers commonly come to us with prototypes in stages TRL 1 – 4, but we’re also able to see projects through to TRL 9, assisting customers in the final testing stages and providing solutions and guidance through the low-rate-production (LRP) phase.


Expertise and Experience: The Backbone of Successful Prototyping

Behind every successful defense prototype is a team of experts with deep knowledge and experience. We stand out in this realm, employing specialists who have honed their skills on the frontlines of R&D for defense.

From small arms testing to warhead development and beyond, our experts bring invaluable insights to our prototyping process, ensuring that each project meets and exceeds military standards.

For defense customers who have the option of utilizing in-house manufacturing and prototyping resources but are looking for an outside perspective to take their prototype to the next level, our team boasts experienced engineers who speak the language of defense. Many of our team members come from the DoD and have deep knowledge of DoD processes, requirements, and more.

This experience, combined with our in-house equipment and other resources, commitment to high-quality work, and drive to create something better, leads to a superior end product and smoother process for our customers.


JAKTOOL: Prototyping the Unknown for Defense

Our team here at JAKTOOL epitomizes the innovative spirit of defense prototyping, tackling the unknown, and pushing the boundaries of what’s possible. Whether creating custom designs for space use or developing next-generation ammunition, our approach is defined by a commitment to excellence, cost-efficiency, and a deep understanding of the defense sector’s unique needs.

Unlike traditional defense contractors, whose focus may lie in mass production, we prioritize the prototype’s development, ensuring that each project is guided by engineering expertise, rigorous testing, quality assurance, and a profound respect for the end-users needs.

Over more than two decades, we have assisted military customers with more than 5,000 projects, designing, building, and testing unique subsystems for vehicles, ships, rockets, weapons, and ammunition, leveraging our Accelerated Innovation Method™ (AIM™).

Here’s what our defense customers have to say about their experience with JAKTOOL:

“I just wanted to take a moment to thank the JAKTOOL team for turning around [the project] so quickly. Getting [the hardware] on schedule allowed us to perform testing that provided a solution to a problem we have been having for almost two years. Getting this testing done closed a major issue and was a big win for us. Thanks again, and I look forward to working together again in the future!”


Trust the Defense Prototyping Experts

Prototyping for defense is a multifaceted process that blends innovation, practicality, and strategic thinking. It’s about more than just creating a new product; it’s about reimagining the potential of technologies within a military environment. With our expertise, testing protocols, and an unwavering commitment to quality, we’re setting new standards in defense prototyping, ensuring that military personnel have access to the most advanced, reliable, and effective tools on the battlefield.


From Idea to Done: Your Project with JAKTOOL

At JAKTOOL, our passion is your passion. We feel fulfilled when we help customers create new products that change how the world works. Our team of experienced engineers is ready to discuss how we can bring your idea to life. Reach out today.


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The JAKTOOL Vision Vault is a space for us to expand on the passions that drive innovation and growth at our company. On this blog, we’ll take deeper dives into industry news and our expertise and highlight the leaders we have under our own roof through featured blogs. Follow along for updates throughout the month and recaps on new episodes of JAKTALK, our biweekly podcast hosted by our founder, COO, chairman, and visionary, Jeff Kinsberg.