Nontraditional Partners Sought for Defeating Roadside Bombs, Enemy Drones

By Jon Harper

Photo: Getty

FORT BELVOIR, Va. — The Joint Improvised-Threat Defeat Organization, also known as JIDO, is looking far and wide to find better ways of thwarting enemy unmanned aerial systems and other improvised weapons, its director said Oct. 17.

Militant groups such as ISIS have employed numerous types of improvised explosive devices to attack U.S. troops and allied forces. They include vehicle-borne, personnel-borne, boat-borne and drone-borne bombs, as well as booby-trapped buildings and tunnels, Army Lt. Gen. Michael Shields noted during a meeting with reporters at a media day in Fort Belvoir, Virginia.

The threat posed by enemy UAS has grown significantly over the past two years, and Shields’ team has been charged with finding solutions.

“That is a natural synergy for us in that they are an airborne IED,” he said.

JIDO has been working with its traditional partners such as national laboratories, federally funded research-and-development centers and university research centers, and the defense industry. But the organization is also reaching out to nontraditional groups including tech accelerators, venture capitalists, startups, the Defense Innovation Unit-Experimental in Silicon Valley, the Hacking for Defense program, and the Department of Homeland Security’s science and technology offices, Shields noted.

“That might help us solve some of our … foundational science problems or challenges,” he said.

The organization is co-sponsoring a focus challenge and “hackathon,” which are slated to take place early next year. The aim is to find advanced artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies. The outfit wants to tap into the innovative thinking and talent of millenials, Shields said.

“With the speed at which commercial industry is bringing what I would call disruptive technology to the forefront, we have to leverage almost a generational way of thinking about a problem that we perhaps haven’t invested in so heavily before,” he said.  The projects that students and others are working could be “game changing,” he added.

JIDO isn’t just looking for new materiel solutions to detect and neutralize IEDs, but also tools that could help derive insight and gain situational understanding about threats, he said.

One example is machine learning algorithms. “I would be very interested in investigating the ability to send a platform into a building that can leverage machine learning algorithms to classify objects, to warn us that there’s actually an IED in that building,” Shields said. The technology might be able to recognize dual-use components, triggers or other elements of improvised explosive devices, he said.

Improving analytics through the use of advanced computational capabilities and neural networks is another area of interest, he noted.

Militant groups are innovating rapidly. JIDO is engaged in a cat-and-mouse game to counter new enemy tactics, techniques and procedures. Leveraging commercial off-the-shelf technology and rapid prototyping could help the organization deal with the challenge, Shields said.

“This is one of those industries where if you’re not getting better, you’re only getting worse,” he said. “And so staying abreast of current emerging disruptive technology is important. And that includes closer relationships with startups … not only large companies but also small companies who may have a niche capability that could really make a difference for us.”

When it comes to engaging with traditional and nontraditional industry, JIDO doesn’t necessarily want to buy full systems from vendors. In some cases, it might just want one component, he noted.

To illustrate his point, Shields used a writing pen metaphor. “You may market a capability … it’s the ink, it’s the stylus, it’s the pen casing, it’s the pocket clip and it’s a cap,” he said. But the pocket clip might be the only item of interest.

Turning back to JIDO-related technology to complete the analogy, Shields said that in some situations his organization might only want to buy a company’s algorithm, rather than a full, “black box” counter-IED system that includes hardware.

“How do we work a business relationship where I can leverage that niche specific capability that you have and then the ability to leverage open architecture?” he said. “That’s really important as we move forward.”


Topics: Robotics and Autonomous Systems, Emerging Technologies, Land Forces

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