A consortium of high-tech firms and researchers have been awarded US$75 million (A$105 million) by the US government to develop electronic systems packed with sensors flexible enough to be worn by soldiers or moulded onto the skin of a plane.
US Defence Secretary Ash Carter said funding for the Obama administration's newest manufacturing institute would go to the FlexTech Alliance, a consortium of 162 companies, universities and other groups, from Boeing, Apple and Harvard, to Advantest Akron Polymer Systems and Kalamazoo Valley Community College.
The group will work to advance the development and manufacture of so-called flexible hybrid electronics, which can be embedded with sensors and stretched, twisted and bent to fit aircraft or other platform where they will be used.
"This is an emerging technology that takes advanced flexible materials for circuits, communications, sensors and power and combines them with thinned silicon chips to ultimately produce the next generation of electronic products," Carter said.
He was speaking at NASA's Ames Research Centre in the heart of Silicon Valley.
The consortium, which will be managed by the US Air Force Research Laboratory, will add US$90 million to the federal money. Local governments will chip in more, boosting the group's total five-year funding level to US$171 million.
Defence officials say the rapid development of new technologies around the globe is forcing the Pentagon to seek partnerships with the private sector rather than developing most of its technology itself, as it once did.
"I've been pushing the Pentagon to think outside our five-sided box and invest in innovation here in Silicon Valley and in tech communities across the country," Carter said.
The 'flexible hybrid electronics manufacturing innovation hub', which will be based in San Jose, is the seventh of nine such institutes planned by the Obama administration in an effort to revitalise the US manufacturing base.
The new institute aims to use high-end printing technology to create specialised, stretchable electronics that could be embedded with sensors and worn by soldiers.
The technology also could ultimately be used to integrate sensors directly onto the surfaces of ships or warplanes, allowing real-time monitoring of their structural integrity.
Over the weekend, Carter also met with the Defence Science Board for a briefing on its latest study on how autonomous military drones and robots should be in the future.
The department has become increasingly dependent upon drones and other robots of varying degrees of autonomy, using them for everything from surveillance and reconnaissance to delivery of supplies and carrying loads for ground troops.