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ORNL hosts Special Operations Command for opportunities to support special forces

ORNL's Brad Stinson, right, describes the laboratory’s autonomous systems research to visitors, from left, DOE Liaison to USSOCOM John Tanke, DOE Technology Liaison to USSOCOM Bart Graham and Science and Technology Director for USSOCOM Lisa Sanders. Credit: Genevieve Martin/ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy

Oak Ridge National Laboratory hosted Lisa Sanders, Science and Technology Director for U.S. Special Operations Command; Bart Graham, Department of Energy Technology Liaison to USSOCOM; and John Tanke, Department of Energy Liaison to USSOCOM, during a recent visit to East Tennessee. As head of USSOCOM S&T, Sanders is charged with deploying novel technologies to improve soldier protection and human performance while enhancing capabilities in areas such as data analytics, biomedical and advanced communications.

“We want to leverage the investment in national laboratories to drive scientific application,” Sanders said. “As we pivot to think differently about our adversaries, we’re looking to partner to find the right solutions.”

During the visit, ORNL scientists briefed Sanders on ongoing research projects related to resilient communications, vulnerability science, quantum, high-performance computing and natural language processing. A visit to the Autonomous Systems Laboratory highlighted opportunities where scientific solutions can support the missions of special forces.

“ORNL’s strengths in high performance computing, autonomous systems, sensing technologies and concepts, as well as expertise in applied and basic research, development, testing and evaluation can be applied to USSOCOM’s technical and scientific challenges to meet the warfighter’s needs,” said Rich Robertson, former U.S. Army special operations member and project manager for USSOCOM projects at ORNL.

From understanding language and culture through natural language-processing algorithms to using autonomous aerial and ground systems, ORNL technologies can help special operators in a variety of situations around the world.

ORNL and the Department of Defense have partnered on projects since the Manhattan Project, and this collaboration continues across multiple scientific domains including, but not limited to, high-performance computing, advanced manufacturing and materials and cyber security. Over the decades, ORNL’s ability to deliver unique scientific solutions to military mission needs has kept the relationship strong. While ORNL works through the Department of Energy to engage with the Department of Defense, having the visitors see the laboratory and connect with researchers is invaluable to finding the right capability or expertise for today’s emerging national security challenges.

“There are several opportunities for ORNL to apply its science and technology to USSOCOM’s hardest S&T challenges as new threats emerge to the nations’ security,” said Brooke Uzzle, project manager within the ORNL National Security Sciences Directorate’s program office for Intelligence and Special Programs. “These opportunities are being explored with the USSOCOM S&T office and will help foster an enduring relationship between the lab and the command.”

UT-Battelle manages ORNL for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States. The Office of Science is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit — Liz Neunsinger