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research and development

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.

Scientists Take One Step Closer to Medical Tricorder

April 2, 2013

The National Institutes of Health is funding the development of a medical instrument that will quickly detect biothreat agents, including anthrax, ricin and botulinum as well as infectious diseases. Scientists at Sandia National Laboratories are creating the first of its kind point-of-care device that could be used in emergency rooms during a bioterrorism incident. To design the device, which will be able to detect a broader range of toxins and bacterial agents than is currently possible, the $4 million project will include comprehensive testing with animal samples. According to Anup Singh, senior manager, Sandia biological science and technology group, this differentiates the work on this device, because toxins may behave differently in live animals and humans than in blood samples.

Sandia scientists will be collaborating with researchers from the University of Texas Medical Branch and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Western Regional Research Center, which will provide insights into toxins and diseases at animal laboratory facilities. Bio-Rad, which manufactures and distributes devices and laboratory technologies, is consulting on the project to evaluate product development, assist with manufacturers’ criteria and provide feedback when a prototype is built.

“We want dual-use devices that combat both man-made and nature-made problems,” Singh says. “We’re not just going to wait for the next anthrax letter incident to happen for our devices to be used and tested; we want them to be useful for other things as well, like infectious diseases.”

 

Link Warfighters to Technologists at the Lowest Possible Level

April 1, 2013
By Lt. Ben Kohlmann, USN

As conflicts become more complex and uncertain in the 21st century, quick pivots to new technologies will become increasingly important. The starting point for this rapid fielding must begin with more frequent, and more relational, lower level warfighter-technologist interaction.

The current system does this nominally, but the relationships usually are far removed from the waterfront or the front lines where many user-generated solutions could be discovered. Science advisers, often from places such as the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory or the Navy’s Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR), are stationed regularly at critical commands throughout the services. They provide a useful link between incredibly intelligent technologists and seasoned veterans.

Unfortunately, many of the interactions are only with senior officers and not the muddy boot or deckplate warriors who know best what is giving them day-to-day headaches. Additionally, many of the officers dedicated to acquisition programs are years removed from being actual operators. With the accelerating pace of technological change, even a year away from operational status can leave noticeable knowledge gaps.

Experience certainly is valuable, but after spending a long period of time in the same profession, a person’s creativity sometimes is lost. Even known innovators can get stuck in ruts when not exposed to different views of the world over sustained periods of time. Furthermore, as technology evolves, the quickest adopters usually are the younger generations. They often have better insights into how to integrate emerging, generationally ubiquitous trends to their professions than do their seniors who relied on legacy systems.

Consolidation Is 
the Course for Army 
Electronic Warfare

April 1, 2013
By Robert K. Ackerman

Melding the disciplines of spectrum combat will enable greater flexibility and more capabilities.

The growth in battlefield electronics has spurred a corresponding growth in electronic warfare. In the same manner that innovative technologies have spawned new capabilities, electronic warfare is becoming more complex as planners look to incorporate new systems into the battlespace.

No longer can electronic warfare (EW) function exclusively in its own domain. The growth of cyber operations has led to an overlap into traditional EW areas. EW activities for countering remote-controlled improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Southwest Asia led to an increased emphasis on EW defense and offense. It also exposed the problem of signal fratricide when those EW operations interfered with allied communication.

The U.S. Army sped many systems into theater, and now it is working to coordinate those technologies into a more organized capability. The effort focuses on an integrated EW approach that will reconcile many of the existing conflicts and clear the way for more widespread use of EW in future conflicts.

“The Army definitely has wrapped its arms around the importance of EW,” declares Col. Joe DuPont, USA, project manager for electronic warfare at the Program Executive Office (PEO) Intelligence Electronic Warfare and Sensors (IEWS), Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland.

The majority of the Army’s EW assets currently come from quick reaction capabilities (QRCs) that have been fielded over the past decade; these capabilities are attack, support and protection. The requirements largely came from theater, and the next systems due for fielding reflect those requests.

Marines Research 
Modernization

April 1, 2013
By Rita Boland

Looking past the alligators close to the boat, scientists prepare for the wars of tomorrow.

Distributed operations are the future of the U.S. Marine Corps, and its premier science and technology organization is laser focused on the capabilities to make such missions a success. Enabling communications for mobile troops across long distances is a priority as battles continue in Afghanistan while the focus shifts toward more maritime environments. Success will give lower echelons better access to command and control, enhancing the fight in any theater.

Brig. Gen. Mark R. Wise, USMC, commander of the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory (MCWL) and vice chief of naval research, explains that people usually think of modernizing a force as working on resources to be ready in five to 10 years, but efforts at the laboratory reach much further ahead. “We are influencing the very leading edge,” he states. The research helps define what times to come should look like for Marines and what they will need to operate effectively. This aim at the future influences the requirements that influence modernization.

“The MCWL is very focused on distributed operations right now,” Gen. Wise explains. Units in current conflicts already operate at great distances from other units or their own command and control (C2) elements. As operations shift to the Asia-Pacific, such distance problems are likely to increase. The MCWL is working on methods to sustain—through enhanced logistics—and command and control such a force. Researchers are exploring material and nonmaterial solutions to find the correct enabling capabilities.

One Small Step
 Toward Greater
 Interoperability

April 1, 2013
By George I. Seffers

An upcoming demonstration could lead to a giant leap in common electromagnetic components.

U.S. Army researchers intend to demonstrate in the coming weeks that some components, such as antennas and amplifiers, can perform two functions—communications and electronic warfare. The ultimate goal is to use the same components for multiple purposes while dramatically reducing size, weight, power consumption and costs. The effort could lead to a set of common components for electromagnetic systems across the Army, the other military services and even international partners, which would be a boon for battlefield interoperability.

Researchers at the Army’s Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center (CERDEC), Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, are discussing the concept with personnel from a wide range of organizations, including the Army Research Laboratory, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Navy and Air Force research laboratories, universities and other countries. The idea is for common components for command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) to serve multiple functions, such as communications and electronic warfare, possibly switching from one function to the other or even conducting multiple missions simultaneously.

“We work with a number of international partners—NATO of course,” points out Paul Zablocky, senior research scientist for electronic warfare within CERDEC’s Intelligence and Information Warfare Directorate. “The other one is The Technical Cooperation Program, which is called TTCP. That particular organization covers the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States.”

Sandia Starts Multiple High-Tech Projects with Caterpillar

March 27, 2013

Sandia National Laboratories has signed an umbrella Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with Caterpillar Incorporated that covers multiple projects over the next three years. Though Caterpillar is best known for large construction and mining equipment, the CRADA authorizes work in computer and computational science, information and data analysis, mathematics, engineering science and high-performance computing. Technical categories covered by the agreement include simulation design exploration, advanced analytics, multiphysics engineering modeling and simulation, and high-performance computing. Caterpillar is seeking help from Sandia to develop advanced modeling and simulation technologies for virtual product development. Sandia has several technology partnership options that industry, nonprofits, government and academia can use to access the laboratories’ resources.

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