DEFENSE DEPARTMENT

Office Seeks to Quickly Field Counter-Terrorism Technologies

7/1/2008
By Stew Magnuson

Ben Riley, director of the Defense Department’s rapid reaction technology office, wants to tell vendors, laboratories or anyone else who has a gadget that can help defeat terrorists, insurgents or other bad guys, that he’s here to help.

The office has two test beds available to those who want to try out technologies in a simulated urban or maritime environment.

About five times per year, the office opens up the national counter-insurgency counter-terrorism test site in the confines of the Yuma Proving Grounds in Arizona to those wishing to see how their technologies operate in a mock city.

The site is open to “small companies that might not have the resources to afford range time and test time,” Riley said in an interview.

The office will cover almost all expenses and include a test report on the data collected, he said. The site features roads, buildings, four-lane highways, including a cloverleaf turnoff, and simulates the electromagnetic environment found in major cities.

Companies developing intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance sensors, communication devices, and canine teams have used the facility.

The office will install culverts, dig ditches, and if truly needed, build a bridge — “within reason,” he added. “Your expense if you’re that company, is to get that system or whatever it is out there,” Riley said.

“If it absolutely does not work, we won’t hold it against you,” Riley said. Companies and labs are welcome to return after they make refinements. Many have done so, and he has seen how they have taken the data and improved their products, Riley said.

The office’s focus is on technologies that can mature in six to 18 months and be applied to the so-called global war on terrorism.

Bits and pieces of the now defunct office of force transformation were folded into the rapid reaction technology office. One of the programs inherited was Stiletto, an experimental boat that has found a second life as a platform for testing in sea environments. Like the Yuma site, the boat is available to labs and companies who wish to use it as a way to collect data.

“So we now have a maritime test bed,” Riley said.

Now based in Norfolk, Va., it is at sea 123 days per year to conduct tests.

The 80-foot long, 40-foot wide Stiletto vessel, developed by M Ship Co. of San Diego, was better known for its unique hull design that could reach speeds of 50 to 60 knots.

It recaptures the bow wave and uses its energy to lift the boat to create an air cushion, which cuts down on resistance. The boat allows for the easy installation of laptop computers and other systems.

It “enables us to very quickly plug in new capabilities and new technologies,” Riley said.

At least two technologies tested on Stiletto were later fielded. U.S. Southern Command and the Marine Corps are using the Silver Fox unmanned aerial vehicle manufactured by Advance Ceramics Research Inc. And the Naval Special Clearance Unit One in San Diego is using ARVCOP, a navigation system developed by Technology Systems Inc.

The Navy, Coast Guard or any other service has not yet adopted the M-hull technology for any of its watercraft, but last year the Office of Naval Research, through the Navy small business innovation research office, gave M Ship a $750,000 contract to continue work to validate the design, according to a company statement.

Another office of force transformation program that lives on is Project Sheriff, now named the full effects spectrum platform.

The OFT produced three vehicles, which have all been sent to Iraq, Riley said. Sheriff was designed to showcase nonlethal technologies that can give soldiers options other than bullets in crowd control situations.

Two of the featured technologies sparked controversy. The Trophy active protection system, manufactured by Israel’s Rafael Armaments Development Authority, was designed to protect vehicles using projectiles that knocked down rocket propelled grenades. Media reports questioned the Army as to why it was not fielding a technology that could be saving lives. That sparked at least one House hearing on the matter.

A representative of the office of the under secretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics in testimony responded that Trophy was not yet mature enough to fully integrate on to the Stryker.

RRTO is now funding Project Wolf Pack, a follow-on to Sheriff that also seeks to add innovative subsystems on to vehicles, however that program does not include Trophy.

Also not making it into the fielded version of the Stryker was the active denial technology subsystem, which uses millimeter wave technology to beam a painful, burning sensation at those who enter its range. The military has tread lightly with this technology, and other directed energy nonlethal weapons, because of health, safety and international treaty concerns.

In addition to the technology initiatives, the office of the secretary of defense also designated RRTO as the Defense Department’s lead agency for coordinating the services’ biometrics programs.

In June, President Bush signed a national security presidential directive to coordinate federal biometrics efforts. Biometrics is the science of identifying a person through his or her unique physical characteristics.

The Defense Department and federal law enforcement agencies are using identification methods, such as iris scans and 10-fingerprint reading machines, to identify potential terrorists.

With biometrics, Riley said the Defense Department can avoid the mistakes of the past — namely fielding systems that cannot operate with each other.

“From the onset in the biometrics area, there is an acknowledged need for coordination [and] interoperability,” he said.

Please email your comments to SMagnuson@ndia.org

Topics: Business Trends, Doing Business with the Government, Test and Evaluation

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