Defense R&D chief explains focus

DOD's R&D director puts emphasis on integrated, speedy development of tech for war against terrorism

The Defense Department's ongoing transformation has caused its research and development community to refocus its efforts on taking an integrated approach to technology and moving those tools quickly to warfighters, according to DOD's director of research and engineering.

Technology adviser Ronald Sega said many R&D initiatives have changed since Sept. 11, 2001—a day that Sega was in the Pentagon when the hijacked airplane struck it. Sega is the chief technical adviser to both the Defense Secretary and the undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, logistics and technology, for scientific and technical matters, basic and applied research, and advanced technology development.

Speaking today at a media briefing hosted by Defense Week magazine, Sega said DOD established a task force eight days after the terrorist attacks to help get needed technologies—including weapons systems, explosive-detection tools and enhanced communications programs—deployed faster.

The Combating Terrorism Technology Task Force (CTTTF) was formed Sept. 19, 2001, and includes representatives from all the military services, the Joint Staff, other DOD and federal agencies, industry, and academia.

The task force's objective is to rapidly identify, prioritize, integrate and deliver DOD technologies to help fight the war on terrorism. The CTTTF successfully accelerated three technologies—out of about 200 possibilities—into production within three months of the group's creation, Sega said.

Now, the CTTTF is targeting communications-related areas, including interoperable systems among the different levels of government and more effective communications with the United States' coalition partners, Sega said.

"We're pushing industry and academia to see if the technologies are ready for the field," he said, adding that the "push and pull" among the government and its partners is the best way to get new, useful tools in warfighters' hands. Industry has proven to be better for meeting DOD's near-term needs, but government and academia are better at long-term planning and engineering, he added.

When asked how the quick turnaround time the CTTTF demands is affecting DOD's acquisition processes, Sega said tools that are required in small numbers are not a problem, but the large requests are a "challenge." He added that DOD's Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration programs are helping bridge the funding gap so that technologies can be quickly produced and fielded.

Sega said that pocket "phrase-a-lators" are an example of a DOD program that was successfully accelerated to help fight the global war on terrorism. The devices can translate basic phrases in foreign languages and are being used in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the world

Sega, who also oversees the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Army Research Office, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, and the Office of Naval Research, said that DOD has organized its R&D efforts under three initiatives: the National Aerospace Initiative (NAI), energy and power technologies, and surveillance and knowledge systems.

The technology framework of the NAI is broken down into three areas:

* High-speed hypersonics, which include enhanced guidance, navigation and weapons systems. Hypersonics enable air travel and weapons that are several times faster than current technology can provide.

* Space access, which is devoted to vehicles used for space travel and is being done in collaboration with NASA.

* Space technologies, including communications and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems.

The energy and power technologies initiative is focused on enabling an "electric force" in power generation, energy storage, and power management and control, at sea, on land and in the air, Sega said. The surveillance and knowledge systems work includes sensors, information assurance, knowledge management and cyberwarfare, he said.

The three initiatives "should not be viewed in stovepipes" because they are tied together and focused on creating a departmentwide impact, Sega said.

He would not discuss DOD's R&D budget requests for fiscal 2004 in detail, but did say that he has been "battling" to keep basic research programs funded as more and more dollars are focused on operational capabilities related to the war on terrorism and a possible conflict in Iraq.

NEXT STORY: DOD buys high-speed ATM interface

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