USA — Science Chief Charts Future Technologies

WASHINGTON, Feb. 16, 2011 — No one argues with the notion that the qual­i­ty of its peo­ple makes the U.S. mil­i­tary the best in the world.
But the equip­ment ser­vice mem­bers car­ry and the sci­ence back­ing them up are anoth­er rea­son for U.S. mil­i­tary pre-emi­nence, said Zack Lem­nios, assis­tant sec­re­tary of defense for research and engi­neer­ing.

Lem­nios gave an overview of the Defense Department’s sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy effort at Avi­a­tion Week’s Defense Tech­nol­o­gy and Require­ments Con­fer­ence here today.

The Unit­ed States needs a stronger, more vibrant and reshaped defense indus­tri­al base, Lem­nios said, and the nation must under­stand what lies ahead for sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy and where to make invest­ments.

“I want to make sure we have the sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy under­pin­nings to sup­port the depart­ment and the needs of the nation five to 10 years from now,” he said.

The fis­cal 2012 defense bud­get request pro­vides just over $12 bil­lion for sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy, a 3.6 per­cent boost, Lem­nios said, adding that he sees his job as pro­mot­ing research to lever­age inno­va­tion.

The depart­ment needs to make sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy invest­ments long term, he not­ed, and in a fis­cal­ly con­strained envi­ron­ment offi­cials must learn to “do more with­out more.”

Sci­ence can give warfight­ers the edge, Lem­nios said, cit­ing the first flight of the Glob­al Observ­er at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., as an exam­ple. He said the air­craft is open­ing up new fron­tiers in high-alti­tude avi­a­tion.

“The invest­ments that we made just a few years ago have opened up entire­ly new areas that are dri­ving new tech­ni­cal con­cepts in unmanned air vehi­cles,” he said. “I think you’ll see over the next sev­er­al years a larg­er degree of automa­tion, and I think we will see the inter­op­er­abil­i­ty of these unmanned sys­tems with manned sys­tems.”

The Glob­al Observ­er has a wingspan of 175 feet, and a body about 70 feet long. The unmanned aer­i­al sys­tem flies over 55,000 feet high and has a hydro­gen-fueled engine. “The hydro­gen propul­sion sys­tem -– a very high-risk con­cept -– is real­ly the key­stone of this air­craft,” Lem­nios said. “It allows for very long endurance with zero emis­sions and the abil­i­ty to stay on sta­tion for weeks or months at a time.”

In all of these areas, DOD is look­ing for the best ideas and the best peo­ple, he said, and is work­ing to find dis­crim­i­na­tors that open up the best capa­bil­i­ties for U.S. warfight­ers.

In the basic sci­ence area, Lem­nios said, he asked his staff, mem­bers of acad­e­mia and engi­neers what tech­nolo­gies or sci­ences have the poten­tial change the land­scape for the sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy com­mu­ni­ty.

“They may not be the nat­ur­al areas for the depart­ment,” he added, “but they will have — or they could have — big impacts on the way we think about projects.”

The experts came up with six areas: syn­thet­ic biol­o­gy, mod­el­ing human behav­ior, engi­neered mate­ri­als, cog­ni­tive neu­ro­science, quan­tum mate­ri­als and nano-sci­ence engi­neer­ing. The depart­ment will spend just over $2 bil­lion in fis­cal 2012 to research those capa­bil­i­ties, Lem­nios said.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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