Just before resigning, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel launched a “third offset” strategy whose purpose was to invite DoD and civilian resources to identify future technologies that would allow the US to maintain and renew its military technological superiority. Senior DoD officials such as Frank Kendall had been fretting for months about the challenge posed by rising technical savvy from the likes of China, whether developed locally or through spying. This is a legitimate concern, and continuity should be insured after Hagel’s departure by Defense Deputy Secretary Bob Work, who was named as the point man for this initiative.
Indeed by early December 2014 this strategy was couched into a Long Range Research and Development Plan (LRRDP) Request for Information (RFI). But this document lacks specifics or attractiveness for the type of organizations DoD would most like to hear from.
The USA’s University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System conducts research throughout the world’s oceans, and their fleet has shifted to 4 basic research vessel types: Global, Ocean/Intermediate, Regional and Coastal/Local. From 2014 onward, new Ocean Class ships will replace aging Intermediate Class ships in current use, and serve alongside the new SWATH-hulled RV Kilo Moana [T-AGOR 26]. Growing trends towards larger, interdisciplinary science teams, using more sophisticated research equipment, means a need for larger and more sophisticated ships. They new Ocean Class will provide parties of up to 25 scientists with an advanced blue-water platform that can stay at sea for up to 40 days, and cover up to 10,000 nautical miles.
Can they be built affordably? The US Navy is managing the competition, construction, and chartering process, and the 1st build contract was issued in October 2011.
The Pennsylvania State University Applied Research Laboratory serves as a U.S. Navy UARC (University Affiliated Research Center) in Defense science and technologies, with a focus in naval missions and related areas. In September 2012, they were awarded a 5-year, maximum $415 million cost-plus-fixed-fee indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity task order contract. in return, they’ll provide up to 2,060,076 staff hours for research, development, engineering, and test and evaluation. An option for an additional 5 years could bring the maximum value to $853.3 million, and the cumulative staff hours to 3,935,759.
PSU’s ARL will work on guidance, navigation and control of undersea systems; advanced thermal propulsion concepts and systems for undersea vehicles; advanced propulsors and other fluid machinery for marine systems; materials and manufacturing technology; atmosphere and defense communications systems; and other related technologies. Individual task orders will be issued as needs arise. Work is expected to be completed by September 2017, or September 2022 with all options exercised. This contract was not competitively procured by US Naval Sea Systems Command in Washington, DC (N00024-12-D-6404).
Readers who follow the tech press may be familiar with the concept of quantum computing. Computers use binary bits: on/off, yes/no, represented by 0 or 1. A quantum bit, or qubit, can be 1, or 0… or both. Whereas 111 = 7 in binary, and each number is a single choice among all the possibilities in the number of binary digits, 3 qubits can hold all 8 possibilities (0-7), which means you can do calculations on all of them at once. The more qubits used, the more computation, so 32 qubits theoretically gets you 2 to the 32nd power computations (about 4.3 billion) at once – much more power than conventional computing, and it keeps on rising exponentially.
It’s worth noting that quantum computing has limits, and areas where it will not be suitable for computing tasks. They are not fully understood yet, but have been shown to exist at the theoretical level. So far, all we can say is that certain kinds of problems will be solved much, much more quickly. The uses of such a system for searching large domains of information, cracking codes, creating codes, or running simulations that include the quantum level (as a number of modern physical and medical science applications do) are clear. As an additional benefit, quantum cryptography methods benefit from quantum principles. Eavesdropping is not only incredibly difficult, it will create noticeable interference.
Various American agencies continue to be interested in the field, which has also begun finding commercial applications.
It’s 2020. A US soldier sits down with a village sheikh, with an unusual robot in tow. The sheikh greets him courteously, respectfully, in flowing Arabic. At the appropriate time, the robot offers the same speech in English. The soldier nods, speaks, and gives a command, whereupon the robot offers dependable translation that’s even customized to the local dialect. Offshore, an intelligence analyst sorts through a combination of intercepted emails, recorded cell phone conversations, and document archives, looking for patterns and connections. She’s not fluent in Arabic, but the same technology used by the soldier is providing usable translations for her searches – asking her questions as needed, and helped by embedded clarifications and tags.
Thanks to a 2003 DARPA program, The world got to know Siri, the show-stealing component of Apple’s iPhone 4S. DARPA’s 2011 BOLT program aims to take the next step, from a silicon intermediary between man and machine to an intermediary between people. Even as it also provides a powerful back-end translation system for traditional intelligence tasks. It’s one of a family of ongoing translation research efforts, all aiming to solve a persistent and expensive problem for the US military.
Aug 16/11: U.S. Army Contracting Command, Natick, MA issues a multiple-award 5-year umbrella framework worth up to $497 million, implemented as a firm-fixed-price, cost-plus-fixed-fee indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract between 26 (23) contractors. Winners will compete to provide US Navy Medicine Research and Development services with personnel, materials, equipment, facilities, science, and technology “that will sustain an acceptable level of medical research.” They included…
Significant progress at AVI Biopharma? (Aug 22/10)
The Defense Threat Reduction Agency at Fort Belvoir, VA is awarding contracts to find new anti-viral compounds that are effective against hemorrhagic fever viruses, a class that includes Ebola and other diseases.
Drug development is a long and expensive process ($100 million is often mentioned as the table stakes to get a drug through approvals), and promising therapies do not all make it through the research and testing stages. Even so, the research is interesting:
Four teams get up to $100 million in DARPA funding to develop superfast supercomputers. (Aug 6/10)
The US Department of Defense (DoD) High Performance Computing Modernization Program (HPCMP) was set up in 1992 to modernize DoD’s supercomputing capabilities. The HPCMP was assembled out of a collection of small high performance computing departments run by the services, each with supercomputing capabilities independent of the others.
The HPCMP brings these capabilities together. The program provides supercomputer services, high-speed network communications, and computational science expertise that enables the DoD labs to develop new weapons systems, prepare US aircraft for overseas deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq, and assist long-term weather predictions to plan humanitarian and military operations throughout the world…
Kirkland AFB, NM recently entered into a cooperative effort with the University of Hawaii of Honolulu, Hawaii under the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System (PanSTARRS) multi-year program.
PanSTARRS will address numerous science applications ranging from the structure of the Solar System to the properties of the Universe of the largest scales. It will also be able to detect and catalog large numbers of earth-orbit crossing asteroids, or near earth objects (NEO) that present a potential threat to mankind. That last component to the mission is especially intriguing, as there is a long history of partial efforts in this direction within the US and elsewhere. So, where does this award fit in?