Agency Cooperation Vital in Counterterrorism Technology Advances
By Sgt. 1st Class Kathleen T. Rhem, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Apr. 11, 2002 One of the America's greatest strengths is the ability to develop and deliver new, effective technologies to the battlefield, but experts in various agencies need to coordinate their efforts better, Sen. Mary Landrieu said April 10.
A member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Landrieu chaired an Emerging Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee hearing on uses of technology in homeland security. She and other subcommittee members heard testimony from several DoD experts on science and technology.
"This complex homeland-security mission involves military and civilian agencies at the federal, state and local level and is now, in many large and small ways, a great challenge to the way that we have traditionally been organized," Landrieu said in opening the hearing. "It was not even easy to coordinate that among the Defense Department, but now homeland security gives us even greater challenges."
Ronald Sega, director of defense research and engineering, told the committee DoD's goal is to have 3 percent of its fiscal 2003 budget allotted for science and technology issues. The president's current fiscal 2003 budget request would allot about 2.6 percent.
Sega said DoD approaches science and technology "in an integrated way." Research is coordinated across the services and defense agencies and also reaches out to universities and large and small businesses, he said.
DoD convened the Combating Terrorism Technology Task Force Sept. 19, drawing representatives from each service, the Joint Staff, and defense agencies with responsibilities in research and counterterrorism. Two days after that first meeting, the task force had identified 150 technologies that were good candidates for use by the military, Sega explained. Three were chosen for accelerated fielding.
One of those was the thermobaric weapon that has been used in Afghanistan in recent days. Thermobaric weapons are modified fuel-air explosives that are used to kill people sheltered in cave and bunker complexes. Sega explained the thermobaric weapons program was identified for acceleration Sept. 21. A flight test occurred Dec. 14, and the weapon was certified for use a few days later.
"This illustrates a couple of points," he said. "Technology transition can and should occur rapidly, and that collaboration among agencies and services is the way to go."
It's also important to "revitalize laboratories, in terms of people and infrastructure," he said. "The people part is very important. Without the people, there isn't innovation, and that's our future."
In October, DoD's Technical Support Working Group asked the public for ideas on how best to fight terrorism. The department received more than 12,500 submissions in two months. Team members have sorted through about three- quarters of those so far, he said.
He said DoD's challenge now is sorting through those ideas, taking the ones that show promise and translating them into "things that actually work to save lives or destroy the enemy."
Increasing funding to the Quick Reaction Special Project Fund would allow promising submissions to be brought to fruition sooner. "A quick-reaction type of approach would favor those that have the innovation and the speed to react, and that tends to be the smaller businesses," Sega said.
"If we could identify the right things, we can save a lot of money, save a lot of time, save a lot of lives, and bring security to the American people, which they are really very much longing for," he added.
The Rand Corp. is working on a report that will inventory programs and activities in each federal agency that relate to terrorism, said John Marburger, director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, Executive Office of the President. Marburger said the report will "enable us to identify overlaps and gaps in our coverage."
Sega showed the committee members examples of three innovations the Combating Terrorism Technology Task Force has been working on that have uses in Afghanistan. The first is a device that converts pictures taken by aerial vehicles into three-dimensional images displayed on a device looks like a hand-held pocket computer. Sega said it can be used by service members to understand the terrain around them.
Another device Sega demonstrated for the senators is a translator that converts commonly used phrases into Pashtu, Urdu and Dari, the common languages used in Afghanistan. He said the first of the devices were delivered to U.S. forces in Afghanistan earlier this week.
The third device Sega demonstrated is also being used in Afghanistan. It is a pen-sized device that contains a disinfectant to make water suitable for drinking in 15 minutes. He said one of these "disinfectant pens" can be used to treat up to 300 canteens full of water.
DoD is also working closely with other federal agencies to "ensure a well-coordinated response to terrorist threats," said Dale Klein, assistant to the secretary of defense for nuclear, chemical and biological defense programs.
"We will continue to work closely with other agencies to ensure that the warfighter is protected with the best available technologies," he said, "and that U.S. citizens are provided as great a degree of protection as possible."