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Service science chiefs discuss technology, budget gaps

WASHINGTON -- In talks yesterday with science chiefs from the Air Force, Army, Navy and Marine Corps, House Armed Services Committee members targeted technology advances, cyber security and gaps left by mandated cuts in the 2013 defense budget.

The panel heard testimony from Dr. Steven H. Walker, the Air Force deputy assistant secretary for science, technology and engineering; Dr. Marilyn M. Freeman, the Army deputy assistant secretary for research and technology; and Navy Rear Adm. Matthew L. Klunder, the chief of naval research.

Also in attendance was Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Mark R. Wise, the commander of the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory in Quantico, Va.

Representing the Air Force, Walker said the science and technology program creates compelling air, space and cyberspace capabilities for precise and reliable global vigilance, reach and power.

The Air Force's science and technology budget request is about $2.2 billion, he added, "which includes nearly $200 million in support of developed programs consisting of high-energy laser efforts and (a) university research initiative."

Priority No. 1 is to support the current fight while advancing breakthrough science and technology for tomorrow's dominant warfighting capabilities, Walker said.

Blue Devil is an example of delivering combat capability to troops in the U.S. Central Command region, he added.

"This persistent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability demonstrated the first-ever integration of wide-area field-of-view and narrow field-of-view high-definition, day- and-night sensors, cued by advanced signals intelligence," he said.

"Warfighter feedback on the situational awareness provided by Blue Devil Block 1 has been overwhelmingly positive," Walker added.

The science and technology program supports Air Force capabilities aligned with priorities outlined in the defense strategic guidance, Walker said, including deterring and defeating aggression; projecting power and anti-access and area-denial environments; operating in space and cyberspace; and maintaining a safe and secure strategic deterrent.

What the Air Force had to decrease because of budget cuts, he added, "was work in micro UAVs, deployed airbase technologies, some thermal sciences and some plug-and-play activity for small (satellites) that we just never got the industry to buy into."

Freeman said her vision for Army science and technology is "to invent, innovate and demonstrate technology-enabled capabilities that empower, unburden and protect our Soldiers."

"I hear often ... from Soldiers themselves," she added, "that technology saved their lives and was critical to their remarkable accomplishments."

In 2011, for the first time, the Army science and technology enterprise collaboratively identified 24 challenges on which to focus near-term research efforts, Freeman said.

The scientists formulated several new programs to begin in fiscal 2013 that address the challenges, and plan to demonstrate the new technology-enabled capabilities by the end of 2017, she said.

Freeman said she intends to develop programs to better define and prioritize the rest of the portfolio this year, so that next year the Army will increase its investment in ground and aviation vehicle survivability, research and focal plane arrays, and alternative fuels for ground vehicles.

The Army must be capable of doing more with less and correctly managing the risks associated with shrinking budgets by identifying and focusing on the highest priorities, she said.

Freeman said while she is proud to represent the efforts of more than 12,000 Army scientists, engineers, technicians and researchers, her major concerns involve the long-term sustainability of the Army laboratory system's workforce and infrastructure.

"It's important that we keep the cadre of scientists and engineers in our laboratory systems to solve our problems," she told the House panel. "It is absolutely essential that we work on this problem together."

Because of the mandated defense budget cuts, Freeman said, "We did take a little extra risk in unmanned vehicles, the command and control of them, focusing the additional effort (it takes) to understand issues the Soldiers have with respect to trusting autonomous vehicles, trusting (autonomous) ground vehicles and being able to use them as team members."

Risks also were taken in unmanned aerial vehicle airborne radar "because we just didn't have enough money to focus on more than one radar at a time," she added.

Reporting on science and technology efforts in the Navy, Klunder said his team's objective is to support a Navy and Marine Corps capable of prevailing in any environment, understanding that anti-access and area-denial threats will increase.

"Our ability to support the warfighter ... depends on our ability to sustain a science, technology, engineering and mathematics, (or) STEM, workforce in our active and reserve ranks and our research laboratories," Klunder said.

"We believe the key to achieving this goal lies in supporting STEM education in the continuum of experiences," he added, "from kindergarten all the way through post-doctoral opportunities."

Klunder highlighted two of the Navy's technology programs: electromagnetic rail guns, which accelerate projectiles to very high speeds without using explosives; and the free-electron laser, which will give ships a speed-of-light fire capability.

"We have made significant contributions to the fleet and the forces' ability to share information across combat systems, command and control systems, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems," Klunder said.

"In the world of cyber warfare and information dominance," he added, "it is critical that we are able to integrate systems into a common information environment that is modular, based on open standards and automated," and helps reduce manpower requirements and acquisition costs.

One of the Navy's greatest challenges is to recapitalize the Naval Research Laboratory facilities to sustain the lab's cutting-edge work, he said.

Budget reductions also cut into the Navy's focus on anti-access and area-denial threats, the admiral said. When the Defense Department released its long-term strategic guidance in January, the Navy reduced from 13 to nine its focus areas for science and technology, he said. Of those nine, five are specific to anti-access and area denial.