The weapons of war typically associated with U.S. Pacific Command are big-ticket military machines such as nuclear submarines, missile-guided destroyers and aircraft carriers.
But PACOM is also interested in less glamorous but increasingly needed resources in the areas of undersea surveillance, humanitarian assistance, disaster relief and fuel efficiency, according to a briefing to industry delivered this week by Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Thomas L. Conant, deputy commander of U.S. Pacific Command.
Conant was the keynote speaker at the National Defense Industrial Association’s “Pacific Operational Science & Technology” conference in Honolulu, Hawaii.
According to Conant’s briefing charts, PACOM is looking for industry innovations in maritime security.
The hottest new technology that the Navy is pushing in this area is undersea robots that can supplement or in some cases replace conventional submarines. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan W. Greenert told reporters in Washington, D.C., last week that autonomous vehicles will be “key in the undersea domain.” A career submarine officer, Greenert said the Navy is looking to create a broad network of submarines and small undersea robots — both autonomous and tethered — that would dramatically amplify a commander’s visibility of a region and provide better tactical intelligence. Several prototypes are being tested, but these systems still need to improve, including longer-lasting engines, fuel safety and miniaturization of components, Greenert said.
In the area of humanitarian assistance and disaster response, Conant cited recent exercises in the Philippines that seek to improve the teamwork between U.S. PACOM and regional allies during crises.
The approximately 13,000 U.S. Marines who are based in Okinawa, Japan, are “generally our first responders in the region” when disaster strikes, former PACOM Commander Adm. Robert Willard, told the House Armed Services Committee before his retirement earlier this month.
PACOM responds to natural disasters in the Asia Pacific region on the average of once every eight weeks, Willard said. Marines recently were in Thailand to help cope with that country’s worst flooding in 50 years. A year ago, when Japan had its epic series of disasters, Marines were first on the scene, Willard said.
In the area of energy efficiency, PACOM is testing new technologies that help deployed forces use less fuel. A new project known as “transformative reductions in operation energy consumption,” received $3.85 million in seed funding from the Defense Department. So far most of the funded projects are for systems that can power cooling and heating units far more efficiently than current generators.
Chief of Naval Research Rear Adm. Matthew Klunder will brief the PACOM conference March 22 on recent advances in fuel cell vehicles. The Office of Naval Research has five Hawaii-based hydrogen-powered fuel cell vehicles. They were designed and manufactured by General Motors for an FCV program at Marine Corps Base Hawaii. The vehicles are being tested for possible use at Navy installations, an ONR news release said. Fuel cell technology also is being considered as a potential power source for unmanned undersea vehicles, auxiliary power units, pier-side generators and other applications.
The U.S. Navy expects its presence in PACOM’s area of responsibility will grow between now and 2020, Greenert said. There are currently 50 ships deployed there. The plan is to increase that number to 55 by 2017 and 60 by 2020.
“Our best cruisers and destroyers are operating out of Japan,” Greenert said. “The air wing there has the best ordnance, the aircraft have the best upgrades, and the aircraft carrier [based there] is one of our most ready.”