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Re-engineering Defense Research And Development

July 2003
By Maryann Lawlor
E-mail About the Author

Objectives change to meet a transforming military’s needs.

U.S. Defense Department science and technology investment is transcending the requirements model of the past in a shift from threat-based to capabilities-based thinking. While researchers are examining areas such as avionics, materials and nanotechnology, military leaders are exploring how cutting-edge developments can move more quickly from the laboratory to the field.

This change in research and development tactics is motivated by the transformation in defense planning. Current initiatives will restructure both warfighting capabilities and doctrine. In the past, strategies were designed to combat distinct adversaries or fight in specific locations. However, military leaders predict that threats in this century are likely to include more than large-scale conventional conflicts. As a result, the military must identify capabilities that can deter and defeat enemies who employ surprise, deception and asymmetric warfare.

According to Dr. Ronald M. Sega, director, Defense Research and Engineering (DDRE), Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, Washington, D.C., his group has crafted several comprehensive goals for the coming years. Work in three specific scientific exploration areas will facilitate achieving these objectives.

The first goal will be to integrate the research and engineering program to focus on transformation. Toward this end, the DDRE is examining its operational goals and the Defense Department’s capabilities approach. It will then align research and development programs with those objectives in mind. The staff is exploring work with the military services and department agencies as well as key partnerships with other federal agencies.

“We are looking at the investments that we are planning and continuously assessing how we’re doing against these general goals. We’re not only trying to transition technologies in the near term, but also ensuring that we have an investment portfolio that has the next generation and the one after that and the one after that considered in our investment strategy,” Sega says. To accomplish this task, it is important to balance basic, implied and advanced research demonstrations, he adds.

Collaboration between academia and government laboratories has become crucial in the research and development arena. More than 50 percent of basic research is conducted at universities, and government laboratories, industry and nonprofit institutions provide the other 50 percent. The commercial sector is a major player in the final development stages, and it plays a vital role, Sega states.

The DDRE’s second goal is to accelerate technology transition. Several approaches are being employed to achieve this goal. One is evolutionary acquisition and spiral development. The user, acquisition, logistics and technology communities are tied together from the beginning through the life cycle of a specific system. “I believe those four communities are pulling together, and we see evidence that it’s working,” Sega states.

Although it is a logical approach, the sheer number of technologies, the changing nature of threats and the fast pace of technological changes challenge the ability to follow this path, he relates. These conditions exist not only in the defense community, but also in the world at large, he adds. As a result, the DDRE cannot work independently and stay on top of the changes. Instead, it relies on key partnerships with industry and other federal departments.

One indication of how the DDRE is helping to push technology to the warfighter is the formation of the Defense Department’s Combating Terrorism Technology Task Force (CTTTF). The group, which was created on September 19, 2001, comprises the technical leadership from the services, agencies and Defense Department who determine which technologies can be brought to bear on the current situation.

Working groups were organized functionally into four broad areas for combating terrorism: deterrence and indications and warning; survivability and denial; consequence management and recovery; and attribution and retaliation. Within days, the group identified more than 150 candidate technologies that, if considered a priority, could be accelerated and potentially fielded within a few months. “Working with the users—certainly U.S. Central Command and Special Operations Command—helped prioritize the efforts that we would accelerate,” Sega explains. Three of the areas that moved ahead quickly were the thermobaric weapon, the nuclear quadrupole resonance detection system and a penetrator version of the conventional air-launched cruise missile.

Language translation technologies in both the spoken and written communications areas continue to be a focus topic. In addition, the group examined capabilities that could be used in Iraq, and Sega shares that it was successful in accelerating the development of technologies that were made a  priority in 2002 and 2003.

Fiscal year 2003 funding is supporting several new programs. The first project helps finance the transition of proven technologies into fielded systems. The second, the Quick Reaction Special Projects Fund, supports testing for less mature systems to help move them forward. The third program is called the Defense Acquisition Challenge. It primarily examines programs of record. If there is a technology that a developer believes will fit into and improve the program in some way, it is explored, tested, then may be transitioned into the existing program. “These are relatively new programs and small at this point, but are helping in the technology transition,” Sega says.

The Advanced Technology Concept Demonstration program also has grown, and the DDRE is working with the combatant commands and technology community to assess the value of those capabilities to the warfighter.

Although not strictly a technical capability effort, the work force issue is being addressed by the DDRE as well. Sega has been very impressed with how his team has met the challenges they have faced since the terrorist attacks. However, he emphasizes the need to engage younger generations in the research, development and engineering fields.

To meet the demand for scientists and engineers, the DDRE continues to involve academia in its programs and has begun introducing its programs at the undergraduate level. Sega’s organization also is working with government laboratories to offer technical assistance to instructors at the kindergarten through high school levels so that teachers have the knowledge they need to interest students early in the education cycle.

In addition, the DDRE is examining recruiting and retention of scientists and engineers in the laboratories. It is providing tools so that combatant commanders and laboratory directors can track and retain the best and the brightest in the laboratory system, Sega relates. This is critical, he adds, not only in terms of providing challenging technical work for current employees, but also to ensure national security by advancing technology.

Another of the DDRE’s goals is to increase interaction with the combatant commands and the intelligence community. To accomplish this task, the DDRE is working directly with combatant commanders and the Joint Staff to identify requirements. These insights are put into the assessment mix to determine where to invest research and engineering dollars, Sega says.

After examining the Quadrennial Defense Review from a science and technology perspective, the DDRE identified three specific areas that required special attention to support transformation, Sega relates. Surveillance and knowledge systems, energy and power technologies and an integrated national aerospace framework have broad implications in the military’s transformation efforts.

The current initiatives contribute to the primary goals in some way. Work in the surveillance and knowledge systems area will provide the technical foundation for integrated command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) capabilities in the future. “We made this a fairly broad area, on purpose, so that it spans a large portfolio. It involves sensing, networking, information management and information security,” Sega explains.

The systems would support seamless, interoperable, knowledge-based, assured joint and coalition network-centric operations of warfare. The challenge, Sega points out, is to take into account the work that the commercial sector and other federal government organizations are doing and focus the Defense Department’s investments so they complement and support the department’s warfighting community.

“The way we are moving forward is that it is crucially important that we have information assurance, that we provide advanced technologies in sensing, that we have a reliable network, that we are able to derive from the information the knowledge to make good decisions in a timely way,” Sega offers. The rate of change in technology mandates that this work be done almost daily to stay current, he adds.

Work in this area involves hardware, software and systems engineering. In addition, systems’ testability must be built in so that, as modules grow, they are compatible, and testing is efficient. Open architecture approaches are important to future systems, he says. In this area, Sega believes that addressing problems early leads to a higher rate of success.

Energy and power technologies are the second of the three crosscutting initiatives for the DDRE. It involves power generation, energy storage, management and directed-energy systems.

The final piece of the triad of efforts is the National Aerospace Initiative, a government and industry collaboration designed to renew U.S. leadership in the aerospace arena. The initiative comprises three areas: high-speed and hypersonic technologies, access to space capabilities and space technologies. In the future, hypersonic military aircraft will provide information about an adversary’s activities nearly instantaneously. This capability also has nonmilitary applications such as intercontinental travel that is faster than today’s domestic flights. The goal is to reach Mach 12 by 2012.

Improvements in space access will benefit scientific and commercial endeavors as well as support security activities. The capability will ensure routine travel to the International Space Station. Low-cost launch technologies will enhance competitiveness and growth for the aerospace industry, initiative leaders say. And, the military will be able to launch resources quickly for a full range of space-based activities.

New space technologies, specifically satellite systems, will form the backbone of new networks so that space, air and ground assets can be integrated and provide new capabilities such as on-demand intelligence information. In addition, these technologies will allow more precise studies of the Earth to assist in weather and natural hazards prediction and response.

Sega strongly believes in investing in these three initiatives and contends that they are equally important. “If you look at what these three areas do, surveillance and knowledge enables integrated C4ISR. This is critically important. Energy and power helps enable an electric force for the future. The National Aerospace Initiative adds speed and increased space capabilities to the Department of Defense. All three of those are going to be critical to our future,” he states.