Opportunities abound for industry to add technical expertise to diverse scientific exploration efforts.
Scientists at the Office of Naval Research are creating the world that will exist half a decade from now through projects that will change the face of the battlefield. With specific programs already decided, officials are turning their attention to garnering the support they need to make their burgeoning technologies a reality.
The Future Naval Capabilities (FNC) Portfolio for fiscal year 2014 includes 16 major studies—called enabling capabilities—most with command, control, communications, computer, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) facets. “Almost all of them have some relationship to the C4ISR community,” says Dr. Thomas Killion, director of transition at the Office of Naval Research (ONR). “Some are more directly involved with it.” One of the most technical projects is geared toward units at the company level and below that must operate in austere environments. The Exchange of Actionable Information at the Tactical Edge (EAITE) aims to provide these troops with more efficient and timely automated production and dissemination of information products. Focused mainly on the Marine Corps, EAITE will examine bandwidth requirements regarding how to load the system with the relevant data that is available when necessary within the constraints of the operating network.
The Spectral Reconnaissance Imagery for Tactical Exploitation (SPRITE) is designed to benefit the Marine Corps and the Navy, offering a hyperspectral and wide-area intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capability for Marine Corps tactical unmanned aerial systems (UASs) and small tactical UASs. SPRITE will complement existing electro-optical wide-area airborne surveillance and autonomously detect threats such as improvised explosive device precursors or hidden targets.
Remote piloting comes into play in the Unmanned Aerial Systems Interface, Selection and Training Technologies project that streamlines UAS interface design and the processes by which personnel are selected and trained to use the platforms. Moving back to the Navy’s main domain, the Advanced Undersea Weapon System will position and remotely control sensor and weapon nodes to perform autonomous functions and neutralize surface and subsurface threats in shallow or intermediate-depth waters.
In the ISR arena, projects include the Intelligent Collaborative Engagement effort to destroy well-defended surface vessels conducting area denial operations through autonomously coordinating stand-in electronic warfare and kinetic weapons. The Passive Sensor Surveillance capability aims to provide fire quality control targeting data in radio frequency-denied or -degraded theaters. Because the vast majority of the other efforts scheduled in the fiscal year 2014 FNC Portfolio include C4ISR directly or indirectly as well, Killion encourages members of the technology community to look at projects broadly to see how their expertise might come into play.
All of the programs represent a significant investment of resources. Most are funded to run for five years. The shortest timeline is three years, but few programs have that restricted window. As such, considerable time and energy are devoted to choosing the portfolio’s contents. Integrated product teams (IPTs)—composed of representatives from the acquisition, funding, science and technology and warfighting communities—define gaps, which they subsequently provide to the ONR. Officials at the organization then develop specific technical proposals that address these gaps. These proposals are reviewed by a panel of senior ONR technical leaders and, once vetted, move on to the IPT working groups that examine and recommend a prioritized list of the proposals. The IPTs review and approve the prioritization and forward it to the technology oversight group (TOG), which is chaired by two three-star officers. The TOG membership consists of three-star officers that oversee the IPTs and approve the final FNC Portfolio.
Industry engagement is critical to the success of the enabling capabilities. Killion emphasizes that the Navy’s technical community is dependent on industry to provide the technologies that go into the systems that program managers (PMs) and program executive offices (PEOs) acquire. He adds that the ONR looks to the private sector to bring its best options to the table so government officials can help companies develop technology for future opportunities to support programs of record.
Once the ONR PMs have their projects approved, they receive jump-start funds a year prior to the actual kick-off of their efforts. Personnel already are doing preliminary work on the fiscal year 2014 studies. Each year to prepare, the PMs put in place broad agency announcements (BAAs) and requests for proposals (RFPs) as well as conduct industry days, which are announced on the FedBizOpps website. During those in-person engagements, program managers obtain input from companies about how they can address particular efforts. As of press time, the BAAs and RFPs for the upcoming portfolio are scheduled to be released later this year. Industry’s early engagement can help the ONR refine plans prior to those releases.
A large number of the projects are classified or include classified portions, but industry, government or academia members interested in more information and who have the appropriate clearances are welcome to contact the ONR. The majority of the programs are available for some level of unclassified review.
Most of them also stem from previous science and technology investment and many tie into already completed FNCs. Some of these follow-on programs address additional areas of concern within the research fields. Others build directly on discovery and invention. Through the work, developers take basic and applied research that develops new technological concepts and see how to apply them to meet needs.
Steven Smolinski, the FNC program director, explains that each year priorities change based on overall strategic guidance from the Defense Department and the Department of the Navy. These annual command signals drive focus areas. Though the enabling capabilities are funded for several years, adjustments are possible based on changes in the defense climate during the course of the projects. Because the efforts are funded for an extended period, they generally ride through the yearly changes. However, occasions do arise where Navy officials re-examine research along with changes in priority and available resources.
For example, an enabling capability may center on a product to transition to a specific program of record (POR), but if that program is cut, adjustments must be made accordingly. Researchers want to emphasize products that have the greatest probability to move on and eventually benefit the warfighter. Killion explains, “The purpose of these programs is really to develop technology products and knowledge that can be handed off to the acquisition community, to the PMs or PEOs or into the PORs they manage.”
The actions undertaken throughout the FNC effort to determine and to advance the research choices are deliberate and designed to facilitate the most useful outcomes. Smolinski has been involved in science and technology with the Defense Department for almost 30 years, but only a few of them have been with the Navy. Comparing the sea service’s procedures to others he has experienced, he states, “What’s interesting is how well structured this process is.” He adds that the work is being cited as a model for others in the military to use an approach to their science and technology programs. Creating close relationships among the stakeholders such as resource sponsors, developers, acquisition community members and personnel who eventually will subsume the products helps keep the technology moving forward instead of being lost somewhere in the shuffle.
Smolinksi says ONR personnel continue to track the products that come out of the enabling capabilities past the initial research. Not only do these officials examine if the efforts were technically successful, but also if they are adopted in some way to be integrated into programs or become new systems.