Proof of concept

Demonstration program puts new technology on a fast track

This is try before you buy.'

'DOD's Sue Payton in describing the ACTD program

Helene C. Stikkel

Technology funded through the Defense Department's Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration program saved the lives of 13 soldiers in Iraq last year.

When the soldiers' convoy came into an ambush, they sent distress messages back to mission management using the Joint Blue Force Situational Awareness tracker, said Sue C. Payton, deputy undersecretary of Defense for advanced systems and concepts.

'Within two minutes, they were able to tell the convoy was under attack,' Payton said.

Mission management dispatched help, and the soldiers made it to safety.

The Iraq incident illustrates the 'huge successes' of the ACTD program since it was started in 1995, Payton said. It runs in tandem with a similar program, the Joint Capability Technology Demonstration. The Blue Force tracker, which integrates information from stovepipe systems over a common architecture, has been in the ACTD program since 2003.

The goal of both programs is to get advanced technology into the hands of warfighters in the field as quickly as possible. To date, 76 percent of all the projects completed in the ACTD program are now part of a program of record or have provided critical support to the warfighting mission, according to an internal DOD study.

Every year, service and combatant command leaders come together and propose projects that are aimed at addressing some vital need, such as a weakness in operations. Usually, more than 100 projects are proposed. They are reviewed for technical soundness and operational utility and the 10 best are selected for funding.

Here is a look at four of the programs the Defense Department selected this year for funding.

Intermodal LEGO

The Joint Modular Intermodal Distribution System (JMIDS) is aimed at alleviating problems in transferring cargo between vehicles of different services. For example, cargo going from a docked Navy ship to an Army truck and then driven to an Air Force plane can be delayed substantially because of differing cargo regulations, officials said.

'You can't imagine how long that takes, and how difficult that can be,' Payton said. 'Grass grows a lot faster than that.'

Enter JMIDS, which provides an intermodal container system for automated handling, storage and tracking. The concept is relatively simple'a universal container ('like Lego,' Payton joked) with a smart chip for tracking purposes.

'You can speed up getting water to your troops and food to your troops,' Payton said. Total planned funding for the project is estimated at $27 million.

The complete picture

In crises, the military services generate a lot of information on domain conditions, such as where specific incidents are occurring and evacuation route traffic. But integrating that information quickly, to give decision-makers a comprehensive view, has been an operational weakness.

As a result, military IT specialists have proposed a project called Event Management Framework. EMF uses sophisticated software programs to share, integrate and analyze information generated by different responders.

With EMF, 'you can kind of connect the dots. It's a matter of correlating and just being aware of things,' Payton said. Total planned funding is $21 million.

Speeding up intelligence

The Sept. 11 attacks clearly showed how critical intelligence gathering is to national defense. But making intelligence available to analysts and decision-makers in a timely manner is still a challenge, Payton said.

In some instances, intelligence reports still are processed using old-school methods.

'A week later, you get a piece of critical information,' said Charles W. Perkins, principal assistant deputy undersecretary of Defense for full spectrum dominance.

To address this, DOD proposed the Counter Intelligence-Human Intelligence Advanced Modernization Program/Intelligence Operations Now (CHAMPION) project.

CHAMPION, which runs software on PCs or notebooks, is designed to better connect intelligence collectors with analysts, reducing reporting times and providing additional expert access. Total planned funding is $21 million.

Mountains of information

Like many other large data-gathering organizations, the military faces the challenge of managing a mountain of information collected year after year. Terabytes are beginning to seem like small quantities, and accessing such a high volume of data'and transferring it'is a daunting task.

'You don't want to send a couple of terabytes by e-mail,' Perkins said.

Thus, the Large Data project, to be developed under the JCTD program, provides systems that make it possible to aggregate and make visual huge amounts of data, such as bandwidth-heavy geospatial information.

Such a system, for example, might be used to store and make available several years worth of satellite imaging information, to be used in intelligence assessments. Total planned funding is $32 million.

Overall, Payton said, Congress has been very supportive of the ACTD and JCTD programs, in large part because they are based on need and their competitive structure breeds successful projects.

'This is try before you buy,' Payton said.

Mark Tarallo is a freelance writer in Washington, D.C.

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