ORNL's National Security Directorate is solving an array of technology challenges for the Department of Defense.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory is the Department of
Energy's largest multipurpose research facility. Part
of the Laboratory's research agenda includes the National Security
Directorate's Department of Defense organization, designed
to make ORNL's research and technology capabilities available
to solve specific technical challenges for the Department of Defense.
The directorate is organized to match DOD needs with ORNL capabilities in two fundamental ways: Applying ORNL technologies to specific DOD needs, gaps, or shortfalls, and making DOD aware of evolving ORNL capabilities that might be of benefit to one or more military services. To accomplish these tasks, the Laboratory's DOD organization has a unique blend of joint military experience representing more than 400 years of military service. This combination of military experience and technological expertise represents a broad and unique collection of talent available to address scientific challenges for the Department of Defense.
Getting Out of a Jam
The opposition in Iraq is a "thinking enemy." As the American military has become increasingly adept at developing countermeasures for the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), the enemy in turn has responded with equally creative ways to deliver the devices, says Mike Kuliasha, the NSD's chief scientist.
"This past year I have spent a good portion of my time on IEDs," he says. "I've put together a consortium of five Department of Energy national labs, including ORNL, to demonstrate to the Department of Defense how to take a systematic approach to solving the IED problem."
A technology that may make U.S. radios much more difficult
to jam is currently under development. The U.S. military
is working with Boeing to upgrade its radio technology to a modern Joint Tactical Radio System. The base technology of JTRS is software-defined radio (SDR), in which software modifies
characteristics of the system's radios at specified times. For example, software could periodically change the fundamental characteristics of the radio waveforms, making it difficult
for the signal to be jammed.
"Our SDR focus is different from the mainstream JTRS approach," says Mark Buckner of ORNL's Engineering Science and Technology Division. "We have developed a dynamic, software-reconfigurable, computing, communications, and sensing platform. Although this platform could support military waveforms and provide an anti-jamming capability, our primary focus has been on tagging, tracking, and locating, as well as logistics applications."
The platform that Buckner and his colleagues in ESTD have developed has reconfigurable digital and analog/radiofrequency circuits. Also, they have designed software that reprograms the circuits, enabling the device to assume a new personality. Thus, the platform could be a global positioning system (GPS) device, cell phone, satellite phone, or secure first-responder radio. In the future, if insurgents in Iraq or Afghanistan attempt to jam the U.S. communication channel, a new set of parameters to switch the radios to different modes of communication could quickly be pushed out to radios using this technology.
This research is part of ORNL's Cognitive Radio Program. The program's mission is to integrate SDR, sensors, and computational intelligence capabilities to address both government and commercial problems in a manner that enhances U.S. national security. A cognitive radio uses sensors to gain awareness of its radio environment and surroundings, including the identity and health of the user.
"We're in the process of embedding sensors, cameras, and microphones into our cognitive radio to increase its awareness," Buckner says. "Our long-range plan is to program our radio to sense and sound an alarm when a soldier or first responder wearing it approaches an area where chemical, biological, or radiological hazards exist.
"Our current cognitive radio platform, about the size of a tissue box, is a nexus of reconfigurable computing platforms and sensors. Our vision is to use this technology as the first step toward developing a cognitive sentry for soldiers and first responders. The radio will get your attention, provide the needed information, and assist you in performing required actions."
In another laboratory, ORNL researchers are developing technologies to help soldiers navigate their way around the battlefield. Soldiers equipped with ORNL's Triply Redundant Integrated Navigation and Asset Visibility (TRI-NAV) system can determine their precise location regardless of foliage, terrain, buildings, and attempts by the enemy to jam GPS signals. The key to the proprietary system, which requires very little power for the user's unit, is the seamless combination of a highly advanced GPS, an inertial navigation unit, and the new ORNL-developed Theater Positioning System (TPS). The TRI-NAV system also features precision timing to ensure that the three systems work together to provide instant and highly accurate location information, which is critical to soldiers in combat situations. A novel spread-spectrum, radiofrequency scheme for the TPS signals makes it difficult to jam TRI-NAV. Researchers expect the final soldier unit to be about the size of a cellular telephone and accurate to less than one meter.
In 2003 Frank Akers decided that ORNL's growing technology
capabilities made it practical to reach out beyond the
Army to all the DOD services. He appointed Richard Snead,
a native of Clinton, Tennessee, and a former commander of
a squadron of six attack submarines near Hawaii, as head of
NSD's Navy programs.
Researchers are seeking to develop coherently combined beams from large arrays of high-powered semiconductor lasers that could be used for directed energy sources and underwater communication in support of ForceNet. Snead is also enthusiastic about research on metal fuels that he believes could offer a much higher energy density than today's batteries for unmanned submersible vessels (see Article 18 - Running On Iron).
Expanding NSD's outreach to the Air Force and Marines is the assignment of Tim Vane, director of NSD's Thought Leadership Programs Division. ORNL has established research and training programs with the USAF where three uniformed officers spend 10 months at ORNL learning about Laboratory capabilities.
According to Vane, ORNL has a unique combination of facilities and talent to help the Air Force monitor the condition of a fleet that includes B-52 bombers that date to the 1950s, as well as the most sophisticated airplanes ever built. ORNL's materials researchers, he says, can detect early signs of corrosion in aircraft frames that could lead to failure, especially in fighter jets and helicopters that undergo sustained stress from numerous takeoffs and landings in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Soldier of the Future
In 2001 ORNL's Roger McCauley persuaded Department of
Defense leaders in the Pentagon to come to Oak Ridge National
Laboratory for a brainstorming session. The topic: fielding a
technologically advanced army consisting of faster, tougher,
smarter soldiers integrated into a networked, computerized
war-fighting system. Citing ORNL's Manhattan Project legacy
and the Laboratory's comprehensive research and development program, McCauley convinced staff in the Office of the Undersecretary
of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics
that ORNL could lead a process to envision the soldier of the
future, or Objective Force Warrior.
Frank Akers, ORNL's Associate Laboratory Director for National Security, asked George Fisher, director of NSD's Department of Defense Programs Division, to lead this effort. Army leaders told Fisher they wanted to put the Objective Force Warrior concept out for bid to private industry but needed help building a technologically feasible vision and architecture.
"The Army had lots of questions about the soldier of the future," Fisher says. "How is he going to be outfitted and armed and how is he going to communicate? What sensors will be embedded in the uniform or helmet? We get all kinds of lists but we need someone to put the military requirements and technology developments together to make a feasible architecture by 2012 that challenges the bounds of science."
In 2001 Fisher's team agreed to take on DOD's mission and called in nationwide panels of experts, some of whom had no experience with the military. "We brought to Oak Ridge the head ride designer for Disney, the chief of surgery at Yale, the head scientist for NASA, and lots of military experts and scientists," Fisher says. "We closed the doors and challenged the panelists to come up with a vision of the soldier of the future. The product we gave the Army went out as part of the solicitation to industry."
ORNL's recent work with the Department of Defense is the latest in a series of collaborations that date to the Laboratory's inception in the 1940s. In 1999, intelligence analysts working for the U.S. military's Pacific Command asked ORNL for assistance in a unique category of research. As a result of time limitations, analysts charged with scanning newspapers and summarizing articles for their commanders about potential threats were able to read only 10% of the region's newspapers. Thomas Potok and his colleagues solved the Pacific Command's problem.
"We created software agents that could sort through all the region's online newspapers in one minute and pull down the desired information," Potok says. "Then we got our intelligent agents to work together to organize the documents based on their similar text features and to present the similarities visually as tree structures to the analysts. Now the analysts spend substantially more time on analysis and much less time on gathering information. Our challenge is to examine the roughly 10,000 documents being published per day and help the analysts identify the 5 or 10 threat scenarios with which they should be concerned."
Potok's information technology, called Virtual Information Processing Agent Research (VIPAR), has been licensed to TechConnect, an Oak Ridge business that matches government requirements with the capabilities of the private and public sectors.
One tactic for slowing down an advancing military unit is to spread on the ground chemical warfare agents, such as toxic Sarin or VX, to force the unit to circumvent the contaminated area. The U.S. Army has long sought an accurate detector for each of its reconnaissance vehicles to spot quickly any contamination zones.
Responding to the challenge, ORNL researchers have developed the Block II Chemical Biological Mass Spectrometer (CBMS II), which the Army plans to deploy on the Stryker and Joint Services Lightweight reconnaissance vehicles for detecting toxic chemical contaminants on the ground. Army tests show that CBMS II can distinguish between chemical warfare agents and diesel fuels or oil fire fumes, meeting the Army goal of an instrument that sounds fewer false alarms than the detectors used in the 1991 Persian Gulf war.
Hamilton Sundstrand, a subsidiary of the United Technologies Corporation, is building prototype CBMS II units for testing. In 2006 the Army will complete tests of CBMS II's ability to detect biological warfare agents (bacteria, toxins, and viruses) and liquid toxic industrial chemicals, such as nitric acid, that troops might encounter when approaching a bombed factory or stockpiles of chemicals encapsulated in drums. The Army will also test an ORNL-developed application probe that safely picks up a chemical sample from a drum for a controlled transfer to the sampling probe and mass spectrometer for analysis.
In DOD's vision, future soldiers will wear a sensor that can detect a very low level threat, such as a nerve agent or other toxic gas, and evacuate the area in time to survive. In a project funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), ORNL is teaming with Honeywell to develop a microgas analyzer the size of a cell phone that combines a very small gas chromatograph and mass spectrometer. Researchers are testing the analyzer's ability to detect trace amounts of dimethyl methylphosphonate, a nerve gas simulant.
Similarly, the U.S. military services, joined by elected and public health officials, are concerned about the possibility of municipal drinking water supplies being poisoned by terrorists. ORNL scientists have developed a technology that provides early warning of contamination in primary-source water supplies. Called AquaSentinel, the device collects real-time data in the field and transmits the data to a remote computer to provide almost instantaneous warning of potential contamination problems, some of which can be addressed effectively by early remediation. ORNL's AquaSentinel monitors light emitted by healthy freshwater algae during photosynthesis in their natural habitat. If the algae are exposed to a toxin, the nature of the emitted light changes, providing a signature for the toxin and a warning to security officials. The ORNL technology has been licensed to United Defense (BAE Systems), which markets a device called WaterSentry™.
Getting There Faster
The Department of
Defense must be able to deploy troops and equipment rapidly anywhere in the world.
Moving massive amounts of equipment and supplies involves loading carefully weighed
trucks on cargo aircraft so that the plane is balanced and within safe weight limits.
As each DOD service endeavors to improve the ability to move not only troops and equipment but also large amounts of fuel, food, and ordinance to operational locations around the world, military planners hope to benefit from ORNL's Collaborative Force-Building Analysis, Sustainment, Transportation (CFAST), a web-based, collaborative tool for such complex logistics. CFAST, which has its roots in ORNL's JFAST, could assist commanders in making collaborative decisions, both in deliberative planning and during crisis actions.
A Growing Partnership
Taken together, an expanding collection of new technologies represents a steadily growing partnership between ORNL and the nation's military services. In ways that soldiers of past wars could never have imagined, these technologies will shape the nature of future conflicts by redefining the capabilities of the American combatant. By continuing to provide our troops with a critical technological edge, we are contributing to the ultimate goals of reducing casualties and securing our nation's freedom.
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