Laboratories, universities and defense contractors in the Delaware
Valley region are seeking to collaborate on a growing number of
defense and homeland security projects.
The Delaware Valley—which includes New Jersey, Pennsylvania,
Delaware and Maryland—is home to many high-tech firms, universities,
military research agencies and laboratories. In an increasingly
competitive environment for federal research and development dollars,
the region’s political leaders believe that the four-state
area is ideally suited to generate innovative products for the U.S.
military and for homeland security.
Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa) is an enthusiastic promoter of the technical
capabilities of the region. He sponsors an annual conference, called
Tech Trends, recently held in Baltimore, Md. “This year, we
have less resources and more needs, so it’s important that
we encourage institutions like those here to work together, to do
better work, so that we give a better and higher quality product
for the troops, but also in a more cost-effective manner,”
he told National Defense.
Technologies exhibited at the 2002 conference ranged from nuclear
detection devices, soybean-derived fuels, soldier systems research
advances to military ships.
To address a growing concern regarding the contraband of illegal
nuclear devices, a Princeton, N.J., laboratory is working to develop
a miniature nuclear detection system.
“We realized that we could differentiate between various
radionucleides—materials that are unstable, that emit radiation,”
said Charles Gentile, head of tritium systems at the Princeton Plasma
Physics Laboratory. Various radionucleides have distinct energy
spectra, and one can identify its nuclear signature, which is basically
a fingerprint of that material, Gentile said.
Plasma physics is the practice of using plasma for the production
of energy. Plasma is a type of matter that is neither solid, liquid
or gas—rather, it is the state in between solid or liquid
and gas, Gentile explained.
The ability to differentiate nuclear signatures could be helpful
for homeland security, he said. “We live in an area where
there are all nuclear materials going up and down the New Jersey
turnpike for peaceful purposes.” He noted that certain nuclear
devices are legal, such as those used to treat cancer and radiography
equipment for industrial purposes.
Current technology—the Geiger counter—detects radiological
materials, but does not distinguish between legal and illegal devices.
“We want (a nuclear detection device) to differentiate authorized
nuclear materials from unauthorized nuclear materials,” Gentile
A Dirty Bomb
“We don’t want an alarm (to ring) when we see one kind
of spectrum, but say we saw a spectra of a transuranic, which would
be indicative of a weapon, a dirty bomb, uranium or plutonium. That’s
what our device would actually scan for. … Say you’re
at the entrance of a tunnel, or bridge or any kind of portal where
there’s a natural choke-point for traffic. There are maybe
hundreds of people and packages. We don’t want to stop everyone.
But if we detect something with a different signature, it could
alarm silently, take a picture of the vehicle, or alarm in some
way, and notify the proper authorities.
“Right now, we have a conceptual design. One part of it we
use in demonstrations. We don’t have a full system in place,
that is why we need additional funding, to build and test a full
system,” Gentile said.
Another technology on display at Tech Trends was natural diesel
fuel made from soybeans. “It makes more sense for us to get
our energy from the Midwest than from the Mideast,” said Mike
Orso, a United Soybean Board spokesman. “Why should we depend
on such an unstable part of the world when we can depend on American
farmers for our energy?” he asked.
The Defense Department is the largest single purchaser of soybean-derived
fuel, or biodiesel, said Jenna Higgins, a spokesperson for the National
Biodiesel Board. Last November, the Defense Energy Supply Center
(DESC) purchased 1.5 million gallons of the fuel, she said. DESC
serves as a federal government clearinghouse and provides the fuel
to agencies that request it. So far, the Department of Energy, the
Department of Agriculture and the Postal Service have bought the
fuel, she said.
Biodiesel is poised to compete in the U.S. market for alternative
fuels, Higgins said. “We’re seeing diesel prices rise
again. … That highlights the need for domestically-produced
natural sources of fuel,” she said.
Last December, the American Society of Testing and Materials, the
standard setting organization for U.S. fuels and additives, issued
specifications for biodiesel fuel. Biodiesel successfully completed
the Environmental Protection Agency’s Tier I and Tier II health
effects testing, under the Clean Air Act. The tests conclusively
demonstrated biodiesel’s “significant reductions in
most currently regulated emissions as well as most unregulated emissions,
especially those associated with cancer and lung disease,”
said a promotional brochure.
The cost of biodiesel fuel is high compared to conventional diesel
fuel, Higgins said. That is why B-20, a blend of 20 percent biodiesel
and 80 percent petroleum diesel, is currently the natural fuel being
sold to the military. “It’s a way to get some of the
emissions effects of the biodiesel, while keeping the price down,”
she explained. However, with the rising cost of petroleum and unrest
in the Middle East, B-100, which is 100 percent biodiesel, might
eventually become the more affordable fuel, she said.
Also at Tech Trends was the Army Research Laboratory, based at Fort
Detrick, Md. Scientists at ARL are researching various aspects of
human performance on the battlefield. The idea is to “optimize
the soldier-machine interaction, so that the technology works for
the soldier. We’re trying to maximize his effectiveness,”
said ARL’s Wendy Leonard.
She explained that soldiers increasingly are being overloaded with
information on the battlefield, but they still have to do a basic
job: to locate the target and shoot. Cognitive load is an important
issue that must be weighed, she said, “because if you provide
too much information to the soldier, he could lose focus on his
“We also look at the interaction between physical and cognitive
load, because if you’re running and moving, you’re exerting
energy, and that makes people physically tired, but there’s
also the mental workload,” she said.
The Army Research Laboratory is using this information in many
ways. Perhaps most notably, the laboratory is providing it to the
Soldier Systems Center in Natick, Mass., which is investing in several
future soldier systems.
Ships for Littoral Combat
Among the industrial heavyweights at Tech Trends was Lockheed Martin
Corp., which has a strong presence in the Delaware Valley region.
The company was showcasing the so-called Sea Slice ship, a project
partly funded by the Office of Naval Research. The Slice—a
high-speed modular vessel—will participate later this summer
in Fleet Battle Experiment Juliet (FBE-J). “We want to demonstrate
a number of features,” said Dale Bennett, vice president of
Lockheed Martin Naval Electronics and Surveillance Systems, based
“Our vision is to be a ship that works in a littoral. It’s
got some speed and stability, a key attribute of the hull form,”
he said. With a modular platform, the ship’s components can
be added or removed as the mission indicates. To demonstrate the
“reconfigurability” of the Sea Slice, eight Lockheed
Martin companies are developing a number of products for the test.
For the FBE-J, “we’re putting on board fairly extensive
communication suites, with a network-centric sort of theme; we’re
putting a gun on board, and we’re focused on the anti-swarm
requirements that are associated with the littoral combat ship,”
The Sea Slice was designed and developed in cooperation with the
Office of Naval Research, but the company spent corporate research
funds on the program, without a guarantee that the Navy would ever
purchase it. “I don’t know how it’s going to turn
out,” Bennett said. “Is this the solution to the future
needs to the Navy? I don’t know. But I do know the Slice …
tries to add speed and stability.”