Science chief charts future technologies
February 17, 2011
WASHINGTON, Feb. 16, 2011 -- No one argues with the notion that the quality of its people makes the U.S. military the best in the world.
But the equipment servicemembers carry and the science backing them up are another reason for U.S. military pre-eminence, said Zack Lemnios, assistant secretary of defense for research and engineering.
Lemnios gave an overview of the Defense Department's science and technology effort at Aviation Week's Defense Technology and Requirements Conference here today.
The United States needs a stronger, more vibrant and reshaped defense industrial base, Lemnios said, and the nation must understand what lies ahead for science and technology and where to make investments.
"I want to make sure we have the science and technology underpinnings to support the department and the needs of the nation five to 10 years from now," he said.
The Fiscal Year 2012 defense budget request provides just over $12 billion for science and technology, a 3.6 percent boost, Lemnios said, adding that he sees his job as promoting research to leverage innovation.
The department needs to make science and technology investments long term, he noted, and in a fiscally constrained environment officials must learn to "do more without more."
Science can give warfighters the edge, Lemnios said, citing the first flight of the Global Observer at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., as an example. He said the aircraft is opening up new frontiers in high-altitude aviation.
"The investments that we made just a few years ago have opened up entirely new areas that are driving new technical concepts in unmanned air vehicles," he said. "I think you'll see over the next several years a larger degree of automation, and I think we will see the interoperability of these unmanned systems with manned systems."
The Global Observer has a wingspan of 175 feet, and a body about 70 feet long. The unmanned aerial system flies over 55,000 feet high and has a hydrogen-fueled engine. "The hydrogen propulsion system -- a very high-risk concept -- is really the keystone of this aircraft," Lemnios said. "It allows for very long endurance with zero emissions and the ability to stay on station for weeks or months at a time."
In all of these areas, DoD is looking for the best ideas and the best people, he said, and is working to find discriminators that open up the best capabilities for U.S. warfighters.
In the basic science area, Lemnios said, he asked his staff, members of academia and engineers what technologies or sciences have the potential change the landscape for the science and technology community.
"They may not be the natural areas for the department," he added, "but they will have -- or they could have -- big impacts on the way we think about projects."
The experts came up with six areas: synthetic biology, modeling human behavior, engineered materials, cognitive neuroscience, quantum materials and nano-science engineering. The department will spend just over $2 billion in Fiscal Year 2012 to research those capabilities, Lemnios said.