DoD Works to Save Lives on Battlefield, Improve Talent Pool
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Mar. 29, 2006 The Defense Department is working on ways to use technology to save lives on the battlefield, and has created a full scholarship program to increase its talent pool of scientists, engineers and mathematicians, a top official said here recently.
During DoD's Women's History Month observance at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial here earlier this month, Sue C. Payton, DoD's deputy undersecretary for advanced systems and concepts, spoke of technologies provided by "the best and brightest female scientists and engineers in DoD and the world." She noted that "dozens of exceptional women scientists and engineers" attended the observance.
She told of unmanned aerial vehicles flying into dangerous territory to obtain imagery of factories and garages where terrorists were making bombs, and about unmanned aerial vehicles firing weapons at vehicles containing terrorists fleeing attack sites. "With tiny sensors and tiny batteries, unmanned aerial vehicles are now able to hover for 25 minutes above a building and look for snipers that are attacking our coalition forces," Payton said.
Technology is allowing troops to analyze terrorist documents found in Iraq and Afghanistan, Payton said. "We're looking at terrorists' communications, computer files and all kinds of documents," she said. "We're able to translate truck loads of documents so we can determine where the terrorists have been, where they're going next, connect the dots and arrest the bomb makers."
Integrated biometric technology is helping connect the dots with fingerprints, iris scans, facial recognition and DNA analysis. "We could use information systems to pull together the forensics to track, locate and target terrorists," Payton said.
"Today, there are over 1,000 makers of bombs and IEDs in jail because of the technologies that females in this room are bringing to bear in DoD for our warfighters," she said.
Payton said DoD is developing a pathogen-detection system that could detect widespread epidemics and pandemics long before they endanger large populations. Work is also under way on a medical surveillance system using a diagnostic "zebra" computer chip that can test for engineered diseases before outbreaks are detected. "We'll be able to rapidly warn health care centers about man-made outbreaks," she said.
"In a few years we'll be able to detect over 500,000 pathogens with one computer zebra chip," Payton said. "We'll be able to look for smallpox, anthrax, plague, Ebola, West Nile virus, SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), bird flu and anthrax."
Payton said the more than 300 middle and high school students from throughout the country attending the observance represent "faces of the future."
"If you're a teenager now, in 30 or 40 years think of the opportunities you'll have to contribute to the freedom of the world," she said.
"The Greatest Generation -- my parents' generation -- defended the gift of freedom, and my generation is defending the gift for you," she said. "And I ask you, 'How will you defend the gift of freedom for those following you?'"
Payton told the students that continuing education in science, technology, engineering and math would keep doors open for possibilities.
She also spoke of the shrinking pool of American scientists and engineers. Payton pointed out that more than half of science and engineering graduates from American universities are foreign nationals. "Fewer American students are entering science and technology fields than ever before," she said. "Our nation is at risk strategically and economically. Educationally, the world is passing us up."
For example, she said, China, Japan and Korea added more than 360,000 new graduates in engineering in 2000 while the U.S. graduated less than 60,000. In the same year, China graduated more than 4,500 individuals with doctorates in engineering, while the U.S. graduated less than 2,200.
To make matters worse, she said, the American science and engineering work force is aging. "More than 50 percent of our (people with doctoral degrees) are over 50 years old and will be retiring soon," she said.
The crisis prompted DoD to fund an integrated effort to deepen its talent pool in science, technology, engineering and math -- or STEM -- fields. The goal is to improve STEM understanding and teacher ability and to stimulate youth for STEM studies and careers.
DoD's effort to build its talent pool includes investing in youth through the National Defense Education Program, which focuses on seven critical skills with a total of $155 million for 2006 to 2011. The money is earmarked for full scholarships in such subjects as physical sciences, physics, chemistry, applied mathematics, biology, hardware and software design, engineering, and languages.
"Your generation will take us places where exerting ourselves with bombs may never have to be an option," Payton told the students. "New technologies will help us understand cultures, and to communicate in many languages with automatic translation, and stabilize nations before they become petri dishes for terrorists."
Payton asked them to make a difference for their future and their country's future. "Because," she said, "America will need you to 'operationalize' future innovation, to be skilled and relentless in overcoming enormous technical challenges, to marshal resources, to build teams of experts with selfless dedication."
Payton encouraged the students to work toward gaining technical knowledge and passion for providing the nation's warfighters and defenders of freedom more options for peace.