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SIGNAL Online Exclusives

Secretary Hagel Commits to Resolving Medical Record Interoperability Issues

April 16, 2013
By George I. Seffers

Defense Department will decide on a path forward within 30 days.

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel told members of Congress on April 16 that he is personally committed to solving the database interoperability problems between the Defense Department (DOD) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) that have left thousands of veterans waiting months while benefits claims are processed.

According to VA officials, the agency has been breaking records in the number of claims processed, yet it now takes an average of 273 days to process a claim. The VA has fallen increasingly behind as veterans return from Iraq and Afghanistan, and that backlog is expected to increase as the drawdown in Afghanistan continues.

Part of the issue is that the VA uses an electronic processing system known as the Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture (VistA), while the Defense Department uses the Armed Forces Health Longitudinal Technology Application (AHLTA) for processing medical records.

Introduced in 1996, VistA offers an automated environment that supports day-to-day operations at local VA health care facilities. It is built on a client-server architecture, which ties together workstations and personal computers with graphical user interfaces at various VA facilities, as well as software developed by local medical facility staff. The system also includes the links that allow commercial off-the-shelf software and products to be used with existing and future technologies.

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.

DISA Lays Groundwork for Commercial Cloud Computing Contract

March 26, 2013
By Max Cacas

One of the U.S. Defense Department’s top information technology officials says work is beginning on a multiaward contract for commercial cloud computing services, but the official says he has no timeline or total value for the business.

Researchers Develop Technology for Tailor-Made, Multipurpose Robotics

March 25, 2013
By George I. Seffers

Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, are continuing to develop a robotic technology that can transform into a virtually infinite number of shapes. In fact, the breakthrough has led to some surprising spin-off projects, including research into aircraft control actuators and medical devices.

MIT first announced the caterpillar-size device last November after the original effort, which was funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), was completed. The original Programmable Matter project resulted in a device called a milli-motein, a name inspired by its millimeter-size components and a motorized design resembling proteins that fold themselves into complex shapes.

The technology could one day allow warfighters to design and build robotic systems on the fly to meet specific challenges—maneuvering through the space inside walls to gather reconnaissance information, for example. Now, the technology is being further developed in another DARPA project, the Maximum Mobility and Manipulation program, which seeks to improve the capability of robots to traverse tough terrain and to grasp or manipulate objects. “What our group has been doing is looking at how to apply our technologies for building structures from digital composite technology,” reports Ara Knaian, a visiting scientist at MIT, who helped design the unique electro-permanent motor that drives the milli-motein technology.

NASA Tests Biofuels for Environmental Effects, Performance

March 15, 2013
By Max Cacas

NASA is in the midst of its first phase of flight tests to determine the effects of alternative biofuels on the emissions and performance of jet engines flying at altitude.

The program is called the Alternative Fuel Effects on Contrails and Cruise Emissions, or ACCESS, according to Dr. Ruben Del Rosario, project manager of NASA’s Subsonic Fixed Wing project. The goal is to investigate how biofuels perform compared with traditional jet fuel and also to measure the environmental impact of biofuels. The results of the tests are significant because of the growing popularity of biofuels for both the U.S. Air Force and Navy as well as private sector aviation.

During the ACCESS tests, the space agency’s highly modified Douglas DC-8, which normally is used as a flying laboratory, will conduct a series of flights at altitudes as high as 40,000 feet, while a NASA Falcon HU-25 aircraft follows behind at distances of between 300 feet and more than 10 miles, according to Del Rosario. The flights will take place primarily over restricted airspace over Edwards Air Force Base in California.

ACCESS is the outgrowth of earlier preliminary research on biofuels and jets. “It was born out of two previous experiments that we conducted in 2009 and 2011 at NASA’s Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility,” Del Rosario explains. During those tests, ground-based instruments measured the exhaust emissions of the DC-8 while the plane was parked on a ramp at the Palmdale, California, facility.

“During the ground tests, we took very detailed emission measurements, measuring CO2 [carbon dioxide], different oxides, different particulates, measuring sulfur, all the different kind of emissions we could possibly measure with many other companies and institutions joining us, as well,” Del Rosario says.

Virtually Navy Education

March 11, 2013
By Rita Boland

The U.S. Naval Education and Training Command (NETC) is in the first stages of a five-stage plan to virtualize its computers at facilities across the globe in an attempt to save resources. Though the program itself has no direct connection to the recent sequester cuts that went into effect earlier this month, such projects could present possible cost-saving options to budget-constrained organizations.

U.S. Defense Science Board Calls for Segmented Force Cyber Defense

March 5, 2013
By Robert K. Ackerman

The United States quickly must adopt a segmented approach to its military forces to ensure that key elements can survive a comprehensive cyber attack, according to a recently released Defense Science Board (DSB) Task Force on Resilient Military Systems. This approach entails a risk reduction strategy that combines deterrence, refocused intelligence capabilities and improved cyber defense. The effort must constitute “a broad systems approach … grounded in its technical and economic feasibility” to face a cyber threat that has “potential consequences similar in some ways to the nuclear threat of the Cold War,” the DSB report says.

The report declares that the United States cannot be confident that its critical information technology systems will work under attack from sophisticated adversaries combining cyber capabilities with conventional military and intelligence assets. In particular, the Defense Department’s dependence on vulnerable information technology “is a magnet” to U.S. opponents. U.S. networks are built on “inherently insecure architectures with increasing use of foreign-built components.” The report states that the department and its contractor base already have sustained “staggering losses” of system design information representing decades of combat knowledge and experience.

No silver bullet exists to eliminate cyberthreats, the report allows. Instead, it recommends an approach analogous to that employed against U-boats in World War II. Risks are not reduced to zero, but the challenge can be contained and managed through broad systems engineering of a spectrum of techniques.

Two-in-One Unmanned Aircraft

February 25, 2013
By George I. Seffers

U.S. Navy technology may allow in-flight conversion from helicopter to fixed wing.

Researchers at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory are developing unmanned aircraft technology that will allow the conversion from a vertical take-off and landing system to a fixed-wing craft during in-flight operation. The conversion capability will provide the take-off and landing flexibility of a helicopter with the longer range, higher speeds and lower wear and tear of an airplane.

The technology demonstrator is referred to as the Stop-Rotor Rotary Wing Aircraft. It is capable of cruising at about 100 knots, weighs less than 100 pounds and can carry a 25-pound intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) or electronic warfare payload, such as the Expendable, Mobile Anti-submarine warfare Training Target (EMATT). “We decided to do a demonstration vehicle that could carry an EMATT. It’s like a little submarine that can generate sonar signals, and it’s for training anti-submarine warfare operators,” explains Steven Tayman, an aerospace engineer at the Naval Research Laboratory. “It’s a neat payload.”

The unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) includes a removable payload bay that is about 12 inches wide, 38 inches long and six inches deep with “bomb bay doors” for dropping payloads, such as sonobuoys. “You could use a UAV to deploy a sonobuoy field, which would be pretty exciting,” Tayman says. “There’s really no limit to the payload other than volume.”

Navy Hedges Bets on NGEN Contract

February 21, 2013
By Robert K. Ackerman

The sea service seeks to extend NMCI’s lifetime just in case its replacement is delayed.

Diving for Port Security

February 20, 2013
By George I. Seffers

The Long Beach Police Department dive team adopts new homeland security equipment.

The Long Beach, California, police department dive team is now using a newly acquired search and recovery system to help protect the local port, shipping lanes and critical infrastructure.

The Long Beach Police Department (LBPD) dive team has an atypical and varied mission along the port and in the city waterways. “We have the law enforcement responsibility as well as the homeland security mission, mostly dealing with the Port of Long Beach and protecting the port against any type of terrorist threat or action,” says Sgt. Steve Smock, LBPD dive team supervisor. “Everything that the police do on land, we do underwater.”

The mission can include body recovery after a shipping accident or searching for underwater mines attached to ships or piers. The LBPD works with U.S. Customs and Border Protection to search for and confiscate narcotics or other contraband being smuggled into the country. Additionally, the port is a potential terrorist target for several reasons, including the shipping lanes and some of the cargo coming into port.

“We have all these different wharfs and piers that these ships come up to and tie to. A good example is the oil exchange terminals where the oil container ships come in and offload their oil. These are, for obvious reasons, very sensitive. We do a lot to make sure that nobody gets in there to tamper with anything,” the sergeant states.

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