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research and development

Intelligence Taps Industry for Essential Technologies

May 22, 2013
By Robert K. Ackerman

James Bond’s U.S. counterpart may be equipped more with commercial technologies than with systems developed in intelligence community laboratories. The private sector will be called upon to provide even more capabilities to help keep the intelligence community ahead of adversaries and budget cuts.

Nanosatellites STARE at Space Junk

May 17, 2013
By George I. Seffers

 

 

 

NIST Releases Latest Catalog of Security and Privacy Controls for Federal Systems

May 3, 2013
by Max Cacas

A government-wide task force led by NIST is out with the latest catalog of security and privacy controls for federal information systems, including some new thinking when it comes to addressing insider threats that go beyond technology.

Nations Strive for 
Interoperability

May 1, 2013
By Max Cacas

A military exercise designed to refine and improve the way coalition partners share vital information will, for the first time, include the network that is supporting troops in Afghanistan. Scheduled to take place in Poland next month, the event will feature military command and control communications experts from NATO, partner organizations and nations who share the goal of rigorously testing communications interoperability among coalition members. But one of the largest of those partners, the United States, is not taking a leading role in one of the newest, and most challenging areas, cybersecurity.

The Coalition Warrior Interoperability Exploration, Experimentation and Examination Exercise (CWIX) is held annually by NATO’s Military Committee and overseen by NATO’s office of Allied Command Transformation (ACT) based in Norfolk, Virginia. This year’s exercise will take place June 3 to 20, with its primary execution site at the Joint Forces Training Center in Bydgosczc, Poland.

Meet 
Laser-Triggered, Origami-Like Pixie Dust

May 1, 2013
By George I. Seffers

U.S. Army researchers have developed micro materials that fold when hit with a low-intensity laser. The advance may eliminate the need for relatively bulky power systems—such as battery packs—on tiny robotic systems. It also could enable robotic microthrusters, unattended ground sensors, or even—theoretically—programmable, easily changeable camouflage patterns.

The microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) are shaped like stars with four, six or eight legs. The legs fold—like origami—when heated slightly with light from a low-level laser. That folding action is accomplished without the materials being tethered to batteries, wires or other any other power supply.

One of the most likely applications would be a new kind of switch that prevents electricity leakage when a device is turned off. “You could turn on a structure or turn off a structure from a distance by shining a light on it,” explains Chris Morris, an Army Research Laboratory (ARL) electronics engineer who leads the On-chip Energetics and MEMS team. “And when the structure is in an off state, it would be truly off, unlike a solid-state electrical switch where there’s always some leaking through even when it’s off.”

Microrobotic applications are more futuristic. “I could see this as potentially being a way to enable very, very small robotic-like platforms where you have little legs that would move in response to light—and potentially even different colors of light, so they could be directed to walk in one direction or another depending on what color of light you’re flashing at them,” Morris explains. “That’s one interesting aspect that circumvents the current power supply challenge with small-scale robotic systems for surveillance and reconnaissance. The power supplies are so bulky and heavy that in order to get something big enough to carry the power supply, you no longer have a small, cheap, disposable package. You have something the size of a kid’s remote-control car.”

Navy Launches 
New Experiments

May 1, 2013
By Rita Boland

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.

Second Skin for 
a Lighter Warfighter

May 1, 2013
By Max Cacas

Academic, research and industry teams join forces to improve uniform materials.

New fabrics now under development will one day relieve troops from the burden of wearing additional garments to protect from chemical and biological attack. The effort, dubbed Second Skin, is being led by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency’s Chemical and Biological Technologies Department. The goal is to weave a new generation of multifunctional materials that can be manufactured into everyday military uniforms but use molecular-level technologies to protect against such attacks as soon as the wearer enters a contaminated area. The program is budgeted for $30 million over the next five years.

Hooded, heavy and cumbersome suits in hot desert climates worn in anticipation of possible chemical attacks and the accompanying discomfort would become a thing of the past if the Second Skin program is successful, according to Tracee Harris, science and technology manager for Novel Materials, Chemical and Biological (CB) Technologies Department, at the Defense Threat Reduction Agency. “The vision of dynamic multifunctional materials for Second Skin technology is to enable the manufacture of autonomous protective garments—in other words, garments that can respond to a CB threat by optimizing the balance between the CB protection that the garment can offer and thermal comfort for the wearer,” she explains.

Harris cites studies performed by the U.S. Army Research Institute for Environmental Medicine that show a physiological effect that current suits have on soldiers’ abilities to perform their mission. “They’re performing moderate work, marching under those conditions, under high relative humidity, and high temperatures,” she says, adding that in normal use, soldiers usually must rest after wearing the suit for one hour. Generally, suits are issued to troops for use only in situations where they may be marching into a known threat.

Forward Deployed 3-D Printers Might 
Be the Next Warfighter Innovation

May 1, 2013
By Lt. Ben Kohlmann, USN

Additive manufacturing, more commonly understood in the technology world as 3-D printing, is here to stay. Integrating this technology into our fleet and logistical supply chains now could provide incredible benefits, even though the technology still is relatively nascent. The Economist calls this “the third industrial revolution,” and, indeed, these techniques could transform the way we supply materiel in the wars we fight.

Imagine you are a supply officer on a minesweeper and a relatively simple plastic gas cap disappears. Or as the commanding officer of an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, you discover that a small part of your close-in weapon system breaks and the supply chain has no more. As a submariner, you are on station for three months of deployment only to discover a malfunctioning inexpensive butterfly valve may necessitate aborting the whole mission. What do you do?

These are all true stories. In the first, the Navy spent $400 to ship that $7 gas cap halfway around the world. The destroyer’s commanding officer was forced to complete his deployment without a key defensive system. For the submarine, some enterprising machinist mates found solid copper and banged out a replacement in a matter of minutes that lasted through the end of deployment. All these situations had solutions, but none of them was ideal.

What if each of these vessels had easy access to a 3-D printer or an additive manufacturing capability organic to the ship? What if, instead of waiting six months or more for a high-fail, high-demand plastic part, a replacement could be printed instantaneously, tested and then implemented immediately?

U.S. Army Announces Federal Virtual Challenge Winners

April 25, 2013

U.S. Army Research Laboratory officials have announced the winners of the 2013 Federal Virtual Challenge at the Defense Users’ GameTech Conference in Orlando, Florida. 


The challenge featured two distinct focus areas for entries. The first required training critical thinking and adaptability skills in an immersive environment and measuring learners’ progress. The second focused on improving user interfaces in virtual environments, specifically for individual and group navigation.


The winner of the first focus area and $10,000 was Virtual World Activities—“Compound” from Alice Hayden of H2IT Solutions Incorporated, and Dr. Filomeno Arenas of the U.S. Air Force Squadron Officer College. Compound is a virtual team-building game developed for the college’s Virtual World Activities. Students learn how to lead a team, best delegate and communicate tasks, work together to analyze and adapt to the situation, and make decisions to accomplish a mission. Trainees must be able to communicate effectively with one another and to their navigator—the only person with access to the map showing the location of mines. 


The winner of the navigation focus area and $10,000 was VIPE Holodeck—Navigation Interface by Ryan Frost of the Virtual Immersive Training Team at Northrop Grumman Technical Services. VIPE Holodeck explores the use of the low-cost, commercial off-the-shelf motion capture system, resulting in a method for the user to move easily through a virtual environment that feels natural and is easy to adapt to and learn. This entry provided navigation strategies that support a first-person shooter environment. The user can duck, jump, dodge, run and stop with impressive response time.

Advanced Capabilities Required for Future Navy Warfighting

April 4, 2013
By Robert K. Ackerman

Future conflicts likely will be fought in degraded information technology environments, which will require the U.S. Navy to develop and exploit new capabilities to continue to operate in contested cyberspace. Technologies such as a flexible information grid, assured timing services and directed energy weapons must be part of the naval information system arsenal if the sea service is to maintain information dominance through the year 2028.

These were just a few of the findings presented in the Navy’s Information Dominance Roadmap 2013-2028, which was released in late March. Presented by Rear Adm. William E. Leigher, USN, the Navy’s director of warfighter integration, the report outlines the growing challenges facing the fleet and how the Navy must meet them.

The report divides information dominance challenges into three areas: assured command and control (C2), battlespace awareness and integrated fires. While the United States will continue to maintain supremacy in those areas, that supremacy is shrinking as more nations are closing the gap between U.S. capabilities and the ability to disrupt them.

Among the advanced capabilities the Navy will require toward the end of the next decade is assured electromagnetic spectrum access. Achieving this will entail fielding greater numbers of advanced line-of-sight communication systems; being able to monitor combat system operational status and adjust it using automated services; having a real-time spectrum operations capability that enables dynamic monitoring and control of spectrum emissions; and generating a common operational picture of the spectrum that is linked to electronic navigation charts and displays operational restrictions.

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