What is a Department of Defense (DoD) White Paper?

Many Department of Defense (DoD) non-dilutive funding opportunities require applicants to submit white papers (occasionally referred to as concept papers) prior to completing a full application. DoD white papers are intended to provide the contracting agency with a concise yet detailed overview of an applicant’s proposed research, allowing the agency to select the projects that are the best aligned with their mission and capability gaps. This saves time and money for both the DoD (by not having to review as many full applications) and companies (by only completing full applications if invited). White papers are also frequently sent to DoD researchers as the initial step in assessing their collaboration interests. If there is interest based on the initial discussion and the white paper, providing a detailed slide deck on the company’s technology or platform will work well to advance the possibilities of pursuing collaborative research.

The Office of Naval Research (ONR) Undersea Weapon Programs’ Guidance for Preparing White Papers and Proposals, in a sentiment that is applicable to documents prepared for any DoD component or Federal Agency, states:

“There are reasons for preparing a well written, neatly formatted, complete white paper or proposal. First, by clearly explaining the problem, the approach to solve it, the attendant goals of the research, and the required time and funding, the program officer is provided with a clear picture of a proposed project. Second, white papers and proposals are not only read by the program officer to whom they are submitted, but by their successors, program officers managing related programs, high-level technical managers, and contracting personnel. Therefore, well prepared documents convey the sum and substance of a proposed or funded project and do not compel a reader to ask for clarification from the program officer or the organization from which it originated. Finally, a well-prepared document reflects well upon the principal investigator and their organization.”


White Papers vs. Proposals

White papers are used to present possible research projects to DoD or military-assisting Federal Agencies to assess an interest in, or possibility of, funding a specific research project. White papers include a statement of the technical problem, the possible military benefit, a proposed approach to a solution, and a brief statement of costs. They do not include extensive contractual statements addressing issues such as salaries, benefits, travel costs, equipment purchases, or certifications on equal-opportunity employment.

Proposals (i.e., full applications) are more formal requests for funding that lead to contractual relationships with the DoD agency. They include the same technical narrative found in a white paper. Except in the case of funding research at federal organizations, proposals must also include extensive contractual statements.

White Paper Format and Content

White paper formats and required content varies between each of the DoD components and their research offices. It is important to follow the format outlined in each solicitation’s application instructions. However, the following are generally applicable to white papers prepared for biomedical research projects solicited by the DoD:

  • Restricted Length
    • White papers are usually required to be kept very short (1-2 pages), though occasionally they are allowed to be up to 5 pages or more.
  • Specified Format Requirements
    • Application instructions will usually specify not only the white paper length restrictions, but also the required margins, spacing, and font style and size. It is important to review the instructions carefully to verify these specifications.
  • Information/Cover Page
    • The following information is usually required:
      • Name and address of the principal investigator’s organization and it’s “type” (e.g., for profit, nonprofit, educational, small business, minority owned, historically black college or university, minority institution, federal demonstration project participant, etc.);
      • Principal investigator’s name and contact information (address, phone number, fax number, e-mail address, etc.);
      • Co-investigators’ names, institutions, and contact information;
      • Date of submission;
      • If applicable, the name of the Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) or Request for Proposal (RFP), including the federal fiscal year, under which the white paper is submitted;
      • Total funds being requested for the duration of the project;
      • Duration of the project and proposed start date; and
      • Statement that the document contains proprietary information (if applicable).
  • Scientific Discussion
    • Briefly discuss how your approach will advance the current state of the science. Why do you believe your approach will provide an answer/solution to the current issue(s) when others have failed?
  • Relevance
    • Who will care if your approach is successful? Why? Focus on the mission of the particular agency you are applying to. Be sure to apply it to a broader community (defense, national security, economic security, U.S. innovation, global health, etc.).
  • Cost
    • Provide an estimate of the total cost of your proposed research. Keep costs within the realm of the agency’s normal funding amounts.

Below, we provide a generic white paper template as well as specific examples of DoD white paper templates from the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy. These are for informational purposes only and should not be used as official white paper instructions for any DoD solicitation. White paper templates can and frequently doe change, if they are even required as part of the submission process, so it is important to follow the template instructions laid out in solicitation-specific application instructions.

Generic White Paper Template


U.S. Air Force White Paper Templates


U.S. Navy White Paper Templates


What Now?

If your company has dual-use biomedical or human system technologies that can improve the operational readiness, situational awareness, or healthcare for our military personnel, Veterans, and their beneficiaries, consider utilizing DoD and other military-assisting non-dilutive funding resources, such as CDMRP or consortia to accelerate your technologies to DoD, VA, civilian, and international marketplaces. Contact us to learn how Tier Seven can assist your company with setting up cooperative R&D agreements (CRADAs) with DoD researchers, securing DoD and Federal Agency funding, and scientific advisory services.

Published March 18th, 2019
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