Traditional vs Non-Traditional

As the Department of Defense (DoD) continues to rely on contractors to support its mission, it’s important to understand the difference between traditional and non-traditional contractors and how they both influence the way innovation makes its way towards production.

Traditional contractors are defined as contractors that must tailor their contracts to Cost Accounting Standards (CAS). CAS-covered contracts are typically worth several billion dollars, meaning traditional contractors are well-known large defense contractors with long-standing relationships with the DoD and often have a deep understanding of the requirements and processes involved in working with the government.

On the other hand, non-traditional contractors are defined as a small business that is exempt from or does not meet CAS requirements. Their funding cannot go over $500 million and are usually relatively new to the defense market. Non-traditional contractors bring fresh ideas, technologies, and capabilities to the table and often offer agility, specialized expertise, entrepreneurial spirit, and a focus on outcomes.

The key difference between traditional and non-traditional contractors is their size and level of experience in working with the DoD. Traditional contractors have a proven track record of delivering on large, complex contracts, while non-traditional contractors may lack the same level of experience but bring fresh perspectives and invention to the table.

Ways Non-Traditional Contractors are Streamlining Progress

Non-traditional contracts come in the form of OTAs (Other Transactional Agreements). OTAs allow the government to execute contracts outside of the standard Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) process, enabling rapid and agile acquisition options. While a contract made through a traditional contractor may take 2 years to complete, a non-traditional contract would take a matter of months.

One example of how quickly an OTA has streamlined an opportunity from coming soon notice to award date is the Co-Packaged Analog-Drive High-Bandwidth Optical Input/Output (KANAGAWA) contract. KANAGAWA was a contract in which the government was seeking to mature co-packaged optics (CPO), laser sources, and associated advanced packaging techniques for prototype demonstration and technology transition into the DoD advanced packaging ecosystem and the Defense Industrial Base (DIB). This opportunity was released as a coming soon notice on June 14th, 2022, and was awarded on October 20th, 2022, which is less than 5 months from notice to award. The KANAGAWA Other Transaction Authority (OTA) prototype project is anticipated to be executed within a 40-month period following the award.

Another example of a contract making its way swiftly to be awarded is the Multi-Service Advanced Capability Hypersonics Test Bed (MACH-TB). This contract involved the government seeking proof of concept and prototype demonstration of modular Experimental Glide Body (EGB) testing hypersonic technologies/experimental payloads in operational trajectories using already available boosters. MACH-TB was posted as a coming soon notice in May 9th, 2022, and was awarded in October of 2022, just under 6 months from notice to being awarded, and is anticipated to be released and be executed in a 39-month period of performance.

Accessing technology for research and development can be challenging for government agencies. However, OTA government acquisitions documents streamline this process so that non-traditionals can gain quick access to the resources they need.


NSTXL is focused on building a network of innovators and creators across the most sought-after emerging technology fields. Within the platform, NSTXL supports three OTA’s including the Strategic & Spectrum Missions Advanced Resilient Trusted Systems (S2MARTS), the Training and Readiness Accelerator (TReX), and Space Enterprise Consortium (SpEC).  To learn more about the opportunities available through NSTXL’s OTAs, visit our opportunities page.