Despite Tight Budgets, Growth Expected in Sensor, IT Research

By Stew Magnuson
Defense Department budgets are expected to shrink, and there is great uncertainty on how deep cuts will go, but the Air Force Research Laboratory sees growth in at least one realm, battlefield sensors and the information technology backbones that support them.
Jennifer C. Ricklin, chief technologist at the AFRL, said overall research and development budgets are expected to take cuts in the upcoming funding battles.
“If there is a growth area in DoD — and in research and development — this in my personal opinion is about the only one in the next five years,” she said of the field, collectively known as C4ISR, command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.
“It’s the only place where anything really new and meaningful is going to be coming out in terms of programs, activities and requirements,” she said Dec. 1 at a National Defense Industrial Association C4ISR division breakfast.
The Air Force Research Laboratory currently has a $2.2 billion budget spread out over eight divisions. Two of those divisions — sensors and information — concentrate on C4ISR technologies and account for about one-third of the lab’s annual expenditures.
The military is said to be “swimming in sensors and drowning in data.” That refers to the explosive growth in battlefield ISR capabilities and the failure to keep up with the means to sort through all the information they are collecting in a timely manner. Analysts are in short supply, and the services have been looking for automated methods of shifting through the information it truly needs.
Furthermore, the proliferation of sensors, many of them mounted aboard remotely piloted aircraft, has also taxed the communications backbones that transmit the data. Radio spectrum is in short supply, and the Air Force must often rely on expensive commercial satellite communication services to fill its bandwidth gaps.
One field of growth will be “smart sensors” — ones that know what information to gather before pushing it back to where it is stored and analyzed, Ricklin said.
“You don’t have to collect everything all the time. Are there ways you can adaptively change on the fly what it is that you’re looking at so you only collect the information that you really need at that particular point in time?” she asked.
As far as specific budget numbers, Ricklin said current spending projections are either “pre-decisional” or “no longer relevant.”
“I think that pretty much summarizes where the planning processes are right now,” she added.

Topics: C4ISR, Intelligence, Sensors, Infotech

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