USA — Science, Technology Aid Today’s Wars, Gird for Tomorrow’s

WASHINGTON — The Defense Department’s sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy effort has two over­ar­ch­ing mis­sions: to help today’s warfight­ers and pre­pare capa­bil­i­ties for tomorrow’s ser­vice­mem­bers.

The trick is to put these two mis­sions in synch, said Zachary J. Lem­nios, direc­tor of defense research and engi­neer­ing.

Dur­ing a Defense Writ­ers’ Group break­fast yes­ter­day, Lem­nios said the Defense Depart­ment faces a range of chal­lenges. When he arrived as direc­tor last year, he said, he framed four imper­a­tives to ensure the office gets it right.

“The first is accel­er­at­ing deliv­ery of tech­ni­cal capa­bil­i­ties to win the cur­rent fight,” he said. Sec­ond, he added, is to pre­pare for an uncer­tain future.

These two imper­a­tives are at the heart of the orga­ni­za­tion. The office must get tech­nol­o­gy to ser­vice­mem­bers in Iraq and Afghanistan to win today’s fights, but no one knows what type of threat will face the nation in the future, and sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy mon­ey must be spent to com­bat as yet unknown ene­mies.

The third imper­a­tive is reduc­ing the risk, time and cost of acqui­si­tion sys­tems, Lem­nios said. “And the fourth is to make sure we have the under­ly­ing math, sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy foun­da­tion that we need.”

Respond­ing to the needs of ser­vice­mem­bers in the field, Lemh­nios said, is the most impor­tant imper­a­tive. Lem­nios said he has met with all 10 com­bat­ant com­man­ders, and it has helped him shape how the depart­ment looks at sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy base.

“We are try­ing to put in place a sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy port­fo­lio that isn’t there just for fun­da­men­tal sci­ence, it’s there for the com­bat­ant com­man­ders and ser­vices and to sup­port the future needs of the depart­ment,” he said.

Lem­nios receives joint urgent oper­a­tions require­ments direct­ly from the com­bat­ant com­man­ders. A require­ment is a need that is “so urgent it has to be addressed in order to save lives,” he explained.

“There have been sev­er­al hun­dred of these requests,” he said. Lem­nios’ office con­nects the sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy com­mu­ni­ty with the com­bat­ant com­man­ders so they under­stand the art of the pos­si­ble.

Right now, these needs are cen­tered on the fight to counter impro­vised explo­sive devices, on per­sis­tent sur­veil­lance and on body pro­tec­tion and armor, Lem­nios said. “All [of the com­bat­ant com­man­ders] want the 80 per­cent solu­tion today rather than per­fec­tion five years from now,” he said.

Exam­ples of an urgent need rushed to the front are Aero­stat bal­loons that con­tain sur­veil­lance cam­eras and oth­er hard­ware to help in pro­tect­ing for­ward bases, the direc­tor said.

For­ward oper­at­ing bases in iso­lat­ed areas need perime­ter sur­veil­lance, he said, not­ing the bal­loons loft up to 1,500 feet and don’t take much man­ning to oper­ate.

“We’re now deliv­er­ing these [bal­loons] to all for­ward oper­at­ing bases,” he said.

The office also is mov­ing a heli­copter alert threat sys­tem along. This sys­tem answers the need to pro­tect heli­copters from small-arms fire, and it was adopt­ed from a sys­tem in place for Humvees. Six­teen micro­phones mount­ed on the chop­pers can pin­point where ground fire is com­ing from. The sys­tem now is mount­ed on Black Hawk heli­copters at Fort Drum, N.Y., and will deploy to the com­bat the­ater in Octo­ber, he said.

“Both sys­tems were field­ed in less than six months,” Lem­nios said. “We blew through a bunch of bar­ri­ers to make this hap­pen.”

The office also is work­ing to detect impro­vised explo­sive devices – the lead­ing killers of U.S. per­son­nel. “Think of the IED prob­lem as a sys­tem, in which the ene­my has a vote,”

Lem­nios said. The depart­ment is address­ing the threat through tech­nol­o­gy, foil­ing the trig­gers, attack­ing the net­works and com­ing up with new tac­tics, train­ing and pro­ce­dures.

Sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy can help in all of these areas, Lem­nios said.

“This is less about indi­vid­ual tech­nol­o­gy and more about the sys­tem con­struct,” he added.

All of this IED tech­nol­o­gy and sur­veil­lance results in tera-bytes of data, and sort­ing through it is a major stum­bling block, he acknowl­edged. Lem­nios said the depart­ment is going to tack­le the data-to-deci­sion chal­lenge head on. His office has a tight tie with train­ers at Twen­ty-nine Palms in Cal­i­for­nia and Fort Polk, La., to see “where tech­nol­o­gy real­ly does sup­ply a lever and how do we sup­ple­ment that tech­nol­o­gy con­cept with tac­tics, tech­niques and pro­ce­dures.”

But per­son­nel 20 years from now will need capa­bil­i­ties, and the seed corn for these ideas is the basic research paid for today, Lem­nios said. Indus­try looks for pay­outs and gen­er­al­ly doesn’t fund basic research, he not­ed; his­tor­i­cal­ly, the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment or uni­ver­si­ties do that.

The Defense Depart­ment gen­er­al­ly funds basic research when the depart­ment needs to have a pre-emi­nent posi­tion for a long time or when pri­vate indus­try finds the risk too high to fund it. A large effort is under way in the Air Force to open the next fron­tier in propul­sion, Lem­nios said. The Air Force is devel­op­ing an engine that will use 25 per­cent less fuel at Day­ton Lab in Ohio.

Lem­nios said he wants the depart­ment to fund the high-risk, crit­i­cal tech­nol­o­gy devel­op­ment, then for indus­try to opti­mize the results and pro­vide the tech­nol­o­gy back to the depart­ment. A sim­ple exam­ple is the way the glob­al posi­tion­ing sys­tem was put in place 23 years ago. “That was a [Defense Depart­ment] invest­ment,” he said. “Today, that’s a shrink-wrapped prod­uct that … is ubiq­ui­tous.”

Anoth­er exam­ple is micro­elec­tron­ics. Orig­i­nal­ly, the Air Force drove that invest­ment. Today, it’s pri­vate indus­try.

The part­ner­ship still works. An exam­ple is the all ter­rain mine-resis­tant, ambush-pro­tect­ed vehi­cle that has been deployed to Afghanistan in the thou­sands and is going to coali­tion part­ners also. It went from the idea to indus­try pro­duc­ing 1,000 vehi­cles a month in less than a year.

“This was sort of on par with what the depart­ment did in World War II to pro­duce air­craft,” Lem­nios said.

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

More news and arti­cles can be found on Face­book and Twit­ter.

Fol­low on Face­book and/or on Twit­ter