Program Encourages Scientific Collaborations
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 23, 2007 As panel members convene for the organization’s 50th annual meeting, a five-nation program geared toward collaboration in defense science and technology is looking at its past and charting its future, a senior Defense Department official said.
Andre van Tilborg, deputy undersecretary of defense for science and technology, is hosting the Technical Cooperation Program’s meeting here this week. Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States are the group’s member nations.
The Canadian embassy will host a banquet for the members on Oct. 25 – the date that President Dwight D. Eisenhower and British Prime Minister Harold MacMillan signed the memorandum to create the group in 1957. Van Tilborg said the science group is as relevant today as it was when it was founded.
“The world in which we live requires us to cooperate,” he said. When Eisenhower and MacMillan created the program, it was to increase cooperation in the face of a challenge from the Soviet Union. Both men realized that “none of the nations involved have a monopoly on smart people, resources, facilities and experimental assets,” van Tilborg said. “So there is a great benefit to sharing the knowledge of people and the availability of experimental assets.”
Though it spends many times the amount of money the group’s other nations spend on military research, the United States is getting value from the alliance, van Tilborg said. “There are many examples of important research programs that have reached fruition because of the combined efforts of U.S. and partner scientists, engineers and technologists,” he said.
Much of the cooperation among the nations is motivated by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the overall war on terror. “One of the best examples I’ve seen … is regarding helicopter flight,” he said.
Chopper pilots in Iraq and Afghanistan face bad weather, sandstorms and flying at night. He said that many aircraft crashes are caused by the loss of situational awareness – not knowing how close the aircraft is to the ground or to objects.
“Eight years ago, a (Technical Cooperation Program) project started to develop new hardware, software and techniques that actually resulted in a helmet-mounted display that fuses information from all types of sensors,” he said. The sensors measure how far the chopper is from the ground and how close objects are and can display that for the pilots.
What’s more, these sensors operate in the dark, in poor weather and in sandstorms, he said. “They integrate all this information, and allow the pilot to have a much better grasp of the relative position of the rotorcraft,” the scientist said. “There’s an enormous impact on our operations, because our warfighters prefer to fight at night – it’s less risky. And they prefer to operate in bad weather because the adversary prefers not to operate in bad weather. So this technology developed jointly shows the potential for enormous impact for operators.”
Another project involved a joint research development effort to help cut civilian deaths and damage. The program helps planners estimate what collateral damage a bomb or missile would cause to a target.
“If we’re intending to blow up a tank, we fire the missile at the tank and we don’t want it to adversely affect any nearby buildings or the civilian population,” he said. “Our nations have worked for five years to develop extremely sophisticated software tools and techniques that allow operators to understand, before they shoot the weapon, how they can absolutely minimize the impact of collateral damage – so that it’s not a guessing game.”
These tools wouldn’t have been developed by one of the partners working in isolation, and certainly not as rapidly as they have been developed, van Tilborg said.
The program host said he sees the basic collaboration among the nations continuing.
“The threats are different in today’s world, but that underlying motivation is unchanged,” he said. “Although we’re at the 50-year mark for the (Technical Cooperation Program), it’s as fresh as ever, because the work that needs to be done to make our nations safer, to develop the technologies that make our nations safer, is still required.”
Van Tilborg said he sees the program moving toward more net-centric research. “Each of our nations intends to network the weapons and the sensors and the weapons and the people and the platforms into an Internet kind of structure,” he said. “I think we all believe that kind of a network is the best way to defend against the kind of threats we will face currently and in the future.”