The Defense Department is expanding its search for new technologies beyond
traditional industries and government agencies.
Among the areas of interest are technologies to help detect and protect against
chemical or biological attacks.
“If someone has a good idea we are not closed minded,” said Dale
Klein, assistant secretary of defense for nuclear, chemical and biological defense
“We still need a lot of help from academia and industry in the weapons
of mass destruction arena. Government can’t solve it on its own,”
Klein said in a speech to the 2003 Defense Research and Engineering Conference
and Exposition, in Washington, D.C.
“There are more than 60 programs in the chem-bio area. It is a challenging
arena,” he said. “For example, as soon as someone develops a way
to deal with anthrax, we hear of a new strain.”
Developing less corrosive decontamination solutions is another national security
challenge, said Klein.
But before any new technology is rushed to the field, it must go though independent
government testing. In February 2003, Klein issued a new policy, after questioning
the reliability of untested equipment.
In some cases, untested chem-bio detectors were sent to Iraq in anticipation
of a WMD attack on American forces. “We couldn’t send a piece of
equipment to the field that was not reliable,” he told National Defense.
Other untested pieces of equipment included a small, unmanned aerial vehicle
and a decontamination solution that did not meet field conditions, Klein said.
Among the chemical-biological defense science and technology programs underway
are enzymatic decontamination concentrates, chemical imaging sensors (a sort
of electronic nose) and melt blown estane, (a coating for clothing to protect
personnel from chemical or biological agents currently used in the JSLIST suit).
Most new ideas are gathered through the traditional Broad Area Announcement
(BAA) process, but Klein said he receives many unsolicited ideas.
“One out of 20 goes for further development,” he said.
About a third of the ideas that cross his desk come from the legislative branch,
said Klein. “That was a surprise to me.”
Companies unfamiliar with how to do business with the Defense Department approach
their local congressman for help, said Klein. Those legislators then direct
companies or individuals to him.
Klein also tracks researchers who have published papers on new technologies,
much the same way the medical field finds new ideas.
Klein’s office often challenges researchers to come up with some technique
or solution, to defeat anthrax, for example.
The National Archives are a useful source of new technologies, said Teiji Epling,
of the Naval Operations Other Than War Technology Center, in Dahlgren, Va.
“Old concepts may be possible today,” he said during a panel discussion
at the conference. Epling said he searches Internet chat rooms, reads journals
and contacts professional organizations to find new technologies.
He said it is a losing battle trying to keep up with the latest developments
“It’s especially hard to find the small/low visibility innovators—they
don’t know who to approach,” said Epling.
Epling’s office only pursues technologies that can be matured in six
months or less, he said.
“After the USS Cole attack, we had to come up with what an asymmetrical
threat was. We worked closely with the intelligence community. Within six months
we developed technologies that could be put on ships,” he said.
On the domestic front, Harry Armen, director of technology development at Northrop
Grumman, said meeting homeland security needs requires collaboration between
the defense sector, universities and individuals.
One significant challenge is the need to stop nuclear devices from entering
the United States illegally, he said. Cargo ships must be monitored, he said.
The largest of those vessels can carry 7,000 containers.
“People on the front line in homeland security want a systems approach,
not products or devices,” said Armen.
The Defense Department is looking at existing radar systems to detect and distinguish
chemical and biological clouds from unharmful material such as dust, said Armen.
The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency, meanwhile, is looking for technologies
with tactical applications, such as sensors to help find targets and locate
friendly dismounted troops.
Anthony Tether, the director of DARPA, urged technologists with innovative
ideas to pursue employment opportunities now available at the agency.
“If you have an idea that can’t be done anywhere else, become a
DARPA program manager,” Tether said at the defense research conference.