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Realignment Helps Meet Changing Warfighter Needs

February 2007
By Rita Boland
E-mail About the Author

Personnel will concentrate on technologies with broad uses.

To focus on technologies that have global- or theaterwide effect and that span the branches of the U.S. military, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has combined its Advanced Technology Office and Special Projects Office to form the Strategic Technology Office. The office is determining what capabilities warfighters lack and finding solutions for current problems and potential needs.

The creation of the Strategic Technology Office (STO) demonstrates the military’s recognition that “strategic” has a different meaning for troops today than it did in the past, especially during the Cold War era. Warfighters face new adversaries, and theaterwide dominance requires new tactics and technologies. The office has seven thrust areas: novel space technologies and applications such as rapid access, space situational awareness, counterspace and persistent tactical-grade sensing approaches, including extremely large space apertures and structures; strategic and tactical networks and communications systems; information assurance for enterprise and mobile computing platforms; countermeasures for underground facilities used for command and control, weapons storage and staging and the manufacture of weapons of mass destruction; comprehensive protection systems against chemical, biological and radiological attacks; weapons and equipment to support small-unit operations; and maritime operations, including platform improvement, littoral combat support, persistent sensing modalities and energy at sea.

Realigning offices is not a new practice for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Arlington, Virginia—it is an activity the organization undertakes regularly. “The agency reorganizes on a very timely basis in order to meet new challenges and new needs,” says Dr. David Honey, director of the STO. Honey directed the Advanced Technology Office before it melded with the Special Projects Office to form the STO.

The combined effort has brought together personnel working on similar projects in the formerly disparate offices and created a synergy in program development. “Since the office has come together, I’ve already seen a tremendous increase in [synergy],” Honey shares. Project managers already had realized that peers in other offices had similar program interests even before the transformation occurred. Co-locating the teams resulted in the free exchange of ideas and collaboration, increasing the overall effectiveness of the efforts.

Personnel in the new office are working to deploy tools that U.S. Defense Department system builders can use in joint operations to meet the requirements of the current battlefield. Troops often need to collaborate and coordinate missions across a wide area of responsibility, and they require a number of networked capabilities. “Network-centric warfare is in fact a key thrust in theaterwide operations,” Honey explains.

Often, this type of communication includes bringing together different branches of the military. Honey states that with multiple services involved, “interoperability at all layers needs to be accounted for.” STO researchers have to stitch the levels of data, applications and systems together. Performing the work at an agency such as DARPA gives the researchers agility in pursuing technology that is outside of a particular military service.

Honey uses network centricity as an example, noting that projects that address this topic usually start with an Army focus and later transition to the U.S. Marine Corps or vice versa. At DARPA, personnel have the flexibility to move among the services and to deliver needed capabilities to the warfighter. Honey explains that because of changes in the operational environment, any military branch could be the first to encounter a situation for which the STO has developed a technology.

The office has several network and network communications projects underway. For theaterwide communications abilities, warfighters have an increasing requirement for bandwidth. Front-end troops need to connect to the Global Information Grid (GIG) to reach the services available there.

To address this issue, the Optical and Radio Frequency Combined Link Experiment seeks to develop combined radio frequency and free-space optical communications and networking technologies that exploit the benefits of complementary path diversity (SIGNAL Magazine, April 2005). “In a nutshell, this program will bring free-space laser communications between platforms in the battlespace,” Honey says. It will provide a high backbone for use by tactical warfighters. The STO staff sees the program as a way for warfighters to obtain a high-bandwidth link into the fiber optic plant that extends worldwide.

The STO is attacking the network and communication problems that its customers are likely to encounter across the entire spectrum of warfare. Honey shares that the office will never find a “one-size-fits-all” solution. Instead, his team determines issues and solutions based on the troops’ environments. One problem identified in urban warfare is the multipath issue, which poses difficulties for radio frequency technology. Multipath refers to radio signals taking two or more paths to their receiving destination. A group in the STO is examining the use of multiple-input/multiple-output (MIMO) technology to produce data rates that are 10 to 20 times faster than current systems. The Mobile Networked MIMO project aims to increase spectral efficiency by using multipaths to create parallel channels in the same frequency. The effort will increase the data rates to warfighters on the move in urban areas.

In the Wireless Network after Next (WNaN) program, team members are pursuing technologies and system concepts that, according to Honey, enable “densely deployed networks in which distributed and adaptive network operations compensate for limitations of the physical layer of the low-cost wireless nodes that comprise these networks.” The WNaN effort will provide battlefield communications that are reliable, and it has a low system cost. Developers will create a handheld wireless node prototype that can create high-density ad hoc networks and gateways to the GIG. The technology is scheduled to transition to the Army in 2010.

When developing technologies, STO personnel conduct a thorough study of available commercial and Defense Department capabilities and tools. They adopt commercial goods when applicable and design new technologies when necessary. The STO has approximately 70 programs in progress. Honey says that his office looks at all aspects of the warfighter’s mission, down to the individual soldier.

Over the next five to 10 years, Honey states that the STO will look for new opportunities to improve warfighter support. The researchers realize that the operational environment is not static and that the United States could find itself involved in new and unexpected situations. In each STO thrust area, personnel are examining ideas from industry partners that DARPA potentially should pursue. STO decision makers also are studying the thrust areas and examining several scenarios in which the Defense Department may find itself involved in the future. “We try to identify the problems that we see that the Defense Department is going to face,” Honey says. “We’re very concerned still about detecting technological surprise that our adversaries could use against us,” and they also are concerned about giving the United States the advantage of technological surprise over its enemies.

STO leaders try to determine where the fighting force is vulnerable and where the next threat could exist. They rank the most severe problems the U.S. military may face and generate development opportunities from there. STO leadership and project managers held a meeting when the office was first established to discuss what opportunities were available and what they wanted to try. They continue to meet to discuss those issues and to determine what work falls into existing thrust areas and what new thrust areas they might need to develop.

In addition to theater operations, the STO officials also examine global operations. “In some ways, global is just a network of theaters,” Honey explains. Though STO personnel work to develop technologies that will be useful in every theater, they also look at the needs of the individual areas and determine what systems might be required for dominance in each. The actions and activities in desert environments vary from scenarios the military might face in Taiwan or Korea. “We try to have programs that stand across all those theaters,” Honey says.

The director is reaching out to vendors about the ideas his office plans to pursue. The STO recently released a major new broad agency announcement (BAA)—BAA07-01—to solicit private sector proposals for the performance of research, development, design and testing in work directly supporting the office. The BAA is posted on the FedBizOpps Web site and the STO site. The office and other DARPA offices also have several other open BAAs posted online.

Honey hopes to improve communications and to exchange information about new opportunities through the STO Web site and especially through the 25th DARPA Systems and Technology Symposium scheduled for August 2007. He believes there are many opportunities for collaboration and new programs. “DARPA remains an idea-driven organization,” he states. “That’s really our heart and soul.”

 

Web Resources
Strategic Technology Office: www.darpa.mil/sto
Broad Agency Announcement 07-01: www.darpa.mil/baa/BAA07-01.html and www1.fbo.gov
Other BAAs:
www.darpa.mil/baa/#STO
DARPATech 2007: www.darpa.mil/sto/darpatech.html