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 September 2008 

Lawrence P. Farrell Jr.Collaboration Is Key to Meeting War Fighter Technology Needs 

September 2008

By Lawrence P. Farrell Jr.

At a time when U.S. forces are heavily engaged in two major wars and preparing for an unpredictable future, it is more important than ever to make sure the nation develops the right technologies for its war fighters.

Science and technology organizations — both at the Defense Department and the Department of Homeland Security — are under enormous pressure to deliver not just relevant technologies but also cost-effective systems. Key to achieving these goals is the ability of government science and technology organizations to engaged in healthy collaboration with industry, academia and the operational users.

The collaboration must take the form of increased and direct communication between war fighters and technologists.

The U.S. Pacific Command has been among the most proactive organizations in reaching out to industry and tailoring investments to war fighter needs. Charles Kimzey, science and technology advisor to the Pacific Command, recently led PACOM’s second annual science and technology conference, which was organized by NDIA. Last year’s event drew around 300 attendees. This year, the conference was oversubscribed and had to be closed at 700 attendees. In addition to senior U.S. officials, the conference featured presentations by allied representatives from Singapore, Japan, South Korea, India and Australia. The audience heard talks from think tank researchers, futurists, and war fighters — including special operators — with recent combat experience. It is significant to note that all service science and technology leaders (at the two-star level) plus the director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency made presentations.

All agreed that areas such as persistent surveillance, reliable and secure communications, and alternative energy sources require more attention and investments. Speakers also called for further trust and cooperation among services and across international partners.

The allied participants expressed the need for access to secure trade routes, affordable technologies, collaborative networks, robust sensors, missile defense, advanced prototypes, cryptology, nanotechnology, micro-electromechanical systems, and cognitive training systems. The overarching premise was that equipping the man is the goal, not manning the equipment.

Futurists at the conference said a major challenge is to reset the forces for the future not the past. They also urged the Defense Department to come up with a “plan B” to cope with reduced future budgets.

This month NDIA is partnering with the Office of Naval Research to stage the fourth ONR Science and Technology Conference. This event has grown steadily and also was overbooked with more than 1,200 attendees. Its focus is outreach to industry — ONR for years has been a big promoter of government-industry dialogue. Among the technological focus areas for ONR are hypervelocity and speed of light weapons, next generation ship hulls, advanced power and propulsion, electromagnetic weapons, and littoral warfare.

Those in the science and technology business know that NDIA has for many years sponsored a Science and Engineering Conference and Symposium. The event though modest in size, has attracted an enthusiastic following. In the past, however, it lacked extensive war fighter participation and a critical mass of government and industry across wide-ranging operational requirements and needs. Since 2001, we have seen increasing interest in direct involvement of the operational commands, industry, and government research leaders. They want to learn what war fighters need as expressed by those with recent field and combat experience.

The Department of Homeland Security also has turned considerable attention to the business of science and technology, and has asked NDIA to organize numerous events so that government officials could learn more about the state of the industry. These events have been well attended — in several cases over-subscribed. Recently, DHS has decided to expand the dialogue overseas to tap the potential of allied technology.

Another example has been the recent growth in Small Business Innovation Research conferences where companies seek new opportunities in response to emerging war fighting and homeland defense needs.

The take-away from all this has been the increasing willingness of all parties — combatant commands, researchers, scientists and industry — to listen to each other and to include “boots on the ground” war fighters from all services as part of the discussion. This is proving to be a powerful formula that will benefit both industry and government.

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