Archive for the ‘Disruptive Tech’ Category

‘SWAT Team of Nerds’ Tackles Tough Tech Challenges

Tuesday, October 27th, 2020

WASHINGTON — The Defense Digital Service is a team of 82 engineers, data scientists and computer scientists, working on some of the hardest problems in the Defense Department.

Brett Goldstein, DDS director, said they’re a “swat team of nerds.” He spoke remotely today to the Center for a New American Security in Washington, D.C.

A big advantage of DDS, he said, is that it reports directly to the secretary of defense.

That means the team is able to quickly answer the call if any tech issue arises. He also said that they could work on large projects rapidly when needed.

DDS has worked on the much-publicized “hack the Pentagon” program, which looks for vulnerabilities in the department’s information technology systems and comes up with ways to fix them, as well as to improve software and hardware.

Currently, DDS is partnering with the National Security Agency to cyber-protect Operation Warp Speed’s search for a COVID-19 vaccine, he said.

DDS has also partnered with the medical community to develop COVID-19 symptoms checkers, which DOD personnel and their families can use to figure out if they need to get medical care, he said.

Another important ongoing program is the counter-unmanned aerial systems initiative, which addresses the problem of being attacked by swarms of small, hard-to-detect unmanned aircraft systems. Goldstein said that a rapid response team is on standby to fly out to remote areas should the problem arise.

For example, when the USNS Comfort and Mercy hospital ships were aiding in the COVID-19 effort, DDS personnel were helping to ensure small UAS were not being used to attack them.

DDS is also working with the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center to advance AI and machine learning, he said.

Most DDS employees recruited are civilians coming for two- to four-year terms, from the Silicon Valley world. The selection process is very rigorous, he said, because those who are selected will be working on the hardest problems in the department.

Goldstein said the team members are given the most “wicked” projects to work on and they’re okay with that because “engineers love challenges.”

Some advice Goldstein has for information technology leaders in the department: “We need to sometimes talk a little less and execute a little more. Sometimes we’ll be dead-on and sometimes we’ll fail, learn from the failure and then be okay with the failure and just try again. Like that’s the type of environment we need to encourage. Americans are innovative. We need to foster that innovation here.”

By David Vergun,

RCO Delivers Department of the Air Force Capabilities

Monday, October 5th, 2020


Less than 200 personnel assigned to the Department of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office rapidly develop capabilities to outpace and counter the increasing threats of adversaries.

Their primary focus incorporates cutting-edge approaches to standard acquisition processes to produce capabilities for both the Department of Defense and the DAF, which includes the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Space Force.

The mission of the DAF RCO is to expedite development and fielding of select DoD combat support and weapon systems by leveraging defense-wide technology development efforts and existing operational capabilities.

“Built on using speed and efficiency, we expedite the fielding of critical capabilities to the warfighter,” said Randy Walden, director and program executive officer for the DAF RCO. “This includes operators in both the United States Air Force and the United States Space Force in support of the National Defense Strategy.

Originally activated in April 2003, one of its first projects was to deploy significant upgrades to the Integrated Air Defense System, now operational around the National Capital Region, to meet critical counter-terrorism objectives before the January 2005 Presidential Inauguration Day.

Today, the DAF RCO portfolio includes several high priority developmental and experimental programs.

For example, the X?37B Orbital Test Vehicle program is an experimental test platform that supports the U.S. Space Force to meet DAF objectives. Space Professionals conduct X-37B launch and on-orbit operations, and the DAF RCO program office team will include Space Force members as the new service continues to stand up.

The X-37B is an experimental test program to demonstrate technologies for a reliable, reusable, unmanned space test platform. The primary objectives of the X-37B are twofold: reusable spacecraft technologies for America’s future in space; and operating experiments, which can be returned and examined on Earth.

Currently, the X-37B is conducting on-orbit operations in its sixth mission.

The DAF RCO is also home to the B-21 Raider program. The B-21 is a U.S. Air Force priority, which will provide critical operational capability and flexibility across a wide range of military objectives, providing both conventional and nuclear capabilities in fulfillment of national objectives.

The B-21 is being designed to be highly survivable with the ability to penetrate modern air defenses to strike any target, anywhere on the globe in a contested area of operations.

The program plans to deliver the first B-21 aircraft to operational bases in the mid-2020s.

“The DAF RCO is a unique organization because it supports priorities for both the Space Force and Air Force,” Walden said. “The office is staffed with a variety of functional DAF specialists who form a collaborative melting pot of expertise built specifically to operate within the gray areas of the standard acquisition processes.”

The DAF RCO conducts streamlined acquisitions in response to Air and Space Forces and Combatant Command requirements. It reports directly to a board of directors comprising of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment; Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering; Secretary of the Air Force; Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics; U.S. Space Force Chief of Space Operations; and Chief of Staff of the Air Force.

“Whether it’s digital engineering, prototyping or modern software development, the DAF RCO is committed to advancing the capabilities of the Department of the Air Force,” Walden added.

By Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs

SOFWERX – Austere 3D Printing Assessment Event 28-29 October 2020

Sunday, September 6th, 2020

Manager – Expeditionary Support (PM-ES), will conduct an Austere 3D Printing Assessment Event (AE) to identify 3D printer capabilities designed to meet the unique requirements of Special Operations Forces (SOF) Operators in austere environments.

Current U.S. commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) 3D printers are not designed to meet the unique SOF requirements (i.e. size, weight, power, mobility, survivability, etc.) needed in support of USSOCOM SOF missions.

the USSOCOM MTRC program is interested in assessing 3D printer technologies ranging from small – single SOF Operator portable systems with niche capabilities that can be hand-carried and/or transported via non-standard commercial vehicles, to moderate – SOF Team portable systems with robust adaptive manufacturing capabilities that can be palletized and/or transported by C-130 aircraft.

They desire the following system attributes:

-U.S. 3D printer technologies designed, developed, produced, manufactured, and/or supported predominantly in the United States.
-U.S. 3D printer technologies that are self-contained, ruggedized, mobile, and capable of printing at SOF point of need in a wide array of environmental conditions.
-U.S. 3D printer technologies that allow for forward deployment, into the field, at the point of SOF equipment failure, reduce hardware replacement times, enable SOF Operator innovation, are reliable, and/or are easy to operate and maintain.

Interested parties must submit, NLT 30 September 11:59 PM ET. Visit for full details and to enter.

Purdue University – New Explosive Materials to Usher in Nontoxic Ammunition

Sunday, July 19th, 2020

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Every time a gun fires, lead leaches into the air. A scientific advancement could provide a comparable replacement for lead-based explosive materials found in ammunition, protecting soldiers and the environment from potential toxic effects.

Purdue University researchers, in collaboration with the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Army Research Laboratory, developed two new lead-free materials that function as primary explosives, which are used to ignite powder inside a gun cartridge.

The work, funded by the Army Research Office, appears in a paper published in Chemistry – A European Journal.

“Right now, whenever you are shooting, you’re going to be spreading lead into the air around you,” said Davin Piercey, a Purdue assistant professor of materials engineering and mechanical engineering. “Any use of lead is going to end up polluting the environment in small amounts. The more lead you remove, the better it is for the environment.”

A past study found that people who have been shooting a lot could have elevated lead levels. But so far, the use of lead in explosives has been inevitable.

Matthew Gettings, a Purdue Ph.D. candidate, holds a cup containing silver salts, a new lead-free explosive. (Purdue University photo/Jared Pike)

When a gun trigger is pulled, a metal firing pin strikes a cup containing a primary explosive. The force from the firing pin deforms the cup, crushing the primary explosive and causing it to detonate. This explosion sets off a secondary explosive that burns and helps complete the rest of the firing sequence, accelerating the bullet out of the gun.

An experimental test shows the ability of silver salts to detonate just as well as commonly-used primary explosives. (Purdue University video/Jared Pike)

Because primary explosives are found in the cartridge of just about anything that fires a bullet, the Army has been searching for solutions for many years to develop lead-free versions of these explosives that satisfy environmental regulations associated with lead contamination.

“The development of these materials provides a potential pathway toward lead-free technology,” said Jesse Sabatini, an Army researcher who led the project’s investigation of which molecules to use for these new materials.

What enables the materials to be lead-free is a chemical structure that has not been used in primary explosives before. One material is made of silver salts while the other material contains no metal at all – just the basic ingredients for an explosive. These ingredients include carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and oxygen.

“Toxicity-wise, silver is an improvement over lead, but it’s still a little toxic. So we also made a nonmetal material that does not have heavy metal toxicity associated with it. Metal is dead weight, energetically speaking, and doesn’t contribute much to an actual explosion,” Piercey said.

The chemical structure used in these materials makes them very dense, meaning that only a small amount of either material would be needed to create an explosion.

Researchers at the Army Research Laboratory modeled these materials to get a sense of how explosive they would be. Piercey’s lab at the Purdue Energetics Research Center (PERC) made the materials and conducted experimental tests demonstrating that they work as primary explosives.

According to the researchers’ calculations, the materials they created have a detonation performance similar to or higher than commonly-used primary explosives.

The CCDC-Armaments Center at Picatinny Arsenal, New Jersey, is interested in exploring these compounds for primary explosive-based applications for bullets and gun propellants. Purdue and Army researchers will continue to gather the data needed for determining which lead-based weapons systems these materials can replace.

“At PERC, our theme is ‘molecules to munitions.’ Our labs can do everything from designing and testing molecules to formulating and manufacturing those molecules into a useful compound,” said Steve Beaudoin, director of PERC and a Purdue professor of chemical engineering.

“Our partners can then take that useful compound and put it into a warhead, missile, rocket or whatever it needs to be.”

A provisional patent has been filed for this technology (track code 2020-PIER-69143) through the Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialization.

New Army Funded Solar Material Could Clean Drinking Water

Tuesday, July 14th, 2020

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. (July 13, 2020) – Providing clean water to Soldiers in the field and citizens around the world is essential, and yet one of the world’s greatest challenges. Now a new super-wicking and super-light-absorbing aluminum material developed with Army funding could change that.

With funding from the Army Research Office, an element of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Army Research Laboratory, researchers at the University of Rochester have developed a new aluminum panel that more efficiently concentrates solar energy to evaporate and purify contaminated water.

“The Army and its warfighters run on water, so there is particular interest in basic materials research that could lead to advanced technologies for generating drinking water,” said Dr. Evan Runnerstrom, program manager at ARO. “The combined super-wicking and light-absorbing properties of these aluminum surfaces may enable passive or low-power water purification to better sustain the warfighter in the field.”

The researchers developed a laser processing technology that turns regular aluminum pitch black, making it highly absorptive, as well as super-wicking (it wicks water uphill against gravity). They then applied this super absorptive and super-wicking aluminum for this solar water purification.

The technology featured in Nature Sustainability, uses a burst of femtosecond (ultrashort) laser pulses to etch the surface of a normal sheet of aluminum. When the aluminum panel is dipped in water at an angle facing the sun, it draws a thin film of water upwards over the metal’s surface. At the same time, the blackened surface retains nearly 100-percent of the energy it absorbs from the sun to quickly heat the water. Finally, the wicking surface structures change the inter-molecular bonds of the water, increasing the efficiency of the evaporation process even further.

“These three things together enable the technology to operate better than an ideal device at 100 percent efficiency,” said Professor Chunlei Guo, professor of optics at University of Rochester. “This is a simple, durable, inexpensive way to address the global water crisis, especially in developing nations.”

Experiments by the lab show that the method reduces the presence of all common contaminants, such as detergent, dyes, urine, heavy metals and glycerin, to safe levels for drinking.

The technology could also be useful in developed countries for relieving water shortages in drought-stricken areas, and for water desalinization projects, Guo said.

Using sunlight to boil has long been recognized as a way to eliminate microbial pathogens and reduce deaths from diarrheal infections, but boiling water does not eliminate heavy metals and other contaminants.

Solar-based water purification; however, can greatly reduce these contaminants because nearly all the impurities are left behind when the evaporating water becomes gaseous and then condenses and gets collected.

The most common method of solar-based water evaporation is volume heating, in which a large volume of water is heated but only the top layer can evaporate. This is obviously inefficient, Guo said, because only a small fraction of the heating energy gets used.

A more efficient approach, called interfacial heating, places floating, multi-layered absorbing and wicking materials on top of the water, so that only water near the surface needs to be heated. But the available materials all have to float horizontally on top of the water and cannot face the sun directly. Furthermore, the available wicking materials become quickly clogged with contaminants left behind after evaporation, requiring frequent replacement of the materials.

The aluminum panel the researchers developed avoids these difficulties by pulling a thin layer of water out of the reservoir and directly onto the solar absorber surface for heating and evaporation.

“Moreover, because we use an open-grooved surface, it is very easy to clean by simply spraying it,” Guo said. “The biggest advantage is that the angle of the panels can be continuously adjusted to directly face the sun as it rises and then moves across the sky before setting – maximizing energy absorption.”

The Army and Guo are exploring transition opportunities to further develop this technology within DOD laboratories and private industry.

In addition to the Army, this research received funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the National Science Foundation.

By U.S. Army CCDC Army Research Laboratory Public Affairs

Photos courtesy of University of Rochester.

Epirus Wins Contract to Develop Counter Convoy Capability for Department of Defense

Thursday, July 2nd, 2020


Los Angeles, June 30th, Epirus Inc. received a Small Business Innovation Research Phase Two contract to develop a directed energy prototype for the US Navy. The system will support efforts to deploy non-kinetic capabilities for stopping nefarious vehicles or vessels. This increases stand-off ranges for US service members performing security missions, and minimizes collateral damage caused by other methods such as lasers or small arms.

“This win helps validate Epirus’ approach and advances directed energy technology into the digital age. Challenging the status quo of directed energy has been an uphill battle, but I’m glad to see the work of our engineering teams pay off by providing new data and demonstrated capability,” said Bo Marr, Chief Technology Officer at Epirus.

“Whether it’s checkpoint activities or performing a vehicle interdiction, things can get real dangerous real quick in close quarters with potentially hostile motorists. Increasing stand-off ranges is always a plus for operators on the ground,” commented Aaron Barruga, Epirus team member and Special Forces combat veteran.

Epirus’ approach to electromagnetic pulse utilizes commercial semiconductor technology to deliver unprecedented reduction in size and weight. Their flagship product—Leonidas—delivers a counter drone capability and is also in development for the Department of Defense.

New research advances Army’s quest for quantum networking

Saturday, June 27th, 2020

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. — Two U.S. Army research projects advance quantum networking, which will likely play a key role in future battlefield operations.

Quantum networks will potentially deliver multiple novel capabilities not achievable with classical networks, one of which is secure quantum communication. In quantum communication protocols, information is typically sent through entangled photon particles. It is nearly impossible to eavesdrop on quantum communication, and those who try leave evidence of their tampering; however, sending quantum information via photons over traditional channels, such as fiber-optic lines, is difficult – the photons carrying the information are often corrupted or lost, making the signals weak or incoherent.

In the first project, the University of Chicago research team, funded and managed by the U.S. Army’s Combat Capability Development’s Army Research Laboratory’s Center for Distributed Quantum Information, demonstrated a new quantum communication technique that bypasses those traditional channels. The research linked two communication nodes with a channel and sent information quantum-mechanically between the nodes—without ever occupying the linking channel.

“This result is particularly exciting not only because of the high transfer efficiency the team achieved, but also because the system they developed will enable further exploration of quantum protocols in the presence of variable signal loss,” said Dr. Sara Gamble, program manager at the lab’s Army Research Office and co-manager of the Center for Distributed Quantum Information. “Overcoming loss is a key obstacle in realizing robust quantum communication and quantum networks.”

The research, published in the journal Physical Review Letters, developed a system that entangled two communication nodes using microwave photons—the same photons used in cell phones—through a microwave cable. For this experiment, they used a microwave cable about a meter in length. By turning the system on and off in a controlled manner, they were able to quantum-entangle the two nodes and send information between them—without ever having to send photons through the cable.

“We transferred information over a one-meter cable without sending any photons to do this, a pretty unusual achievement,” said Dr. Andrew Cleland, the John A. MacLean Sr. Professor of Molecular Engineering at Pritzker Molecular Engineering at University of Chicago and a senior scientist at Argonne National Laboratory. “In principle, this would also work over a much longer distance. It would be much faster and more efficient than systems that send photons through fiber-optic channels.”

Though the system has limitations, it must be kept very cold, at temperatures a few degrees above absolute zero, the researchers said it could also potentially work at room temperature with atoms instead of photons.

The team is now conducting experiments that would entangle several photons together in a more complicated state, which could ultimately enable enhanced quantum communication protocols and capabilities.

Entangled particles aren’t just limited to photons or atoms, however. In a second paper published June 12 in the peer-reviewed journal Physical Review X, the same Chicago team entangled two phonons—the quantum particle of sound—for the first time.

Using a system built to communicate with phonons, similar to the photon quantum communication system, the team entangled two microwave phonons, which have roughly a million times higher pitch than can be heard with the human ear.

Once the phonons were entangled, the team used one of the phonons as a herald, which was used to affect how their quantum system used the other phonon. The herald allowed the team to perform a so-called quantum eraser experiment, in which information is erased from a measurement, even after the measurement has been completed.

“Phonons give you a much bigger time window to do things and relieve some of the challenges in doing a quantum eraser experiment,” Cleland said.

Though phonons have a lot of disadvantages over photons—for example, they tend to be shorter-lived—they interact strongly with a number of solid-state quantum systems that may not interact strongly with photons. As a result, phonons could provide a better way to couple to these systems.

This coupling is a critical capability for many quantum networking applications, and may also benefit other quantum information science applications such as quantum computing. Additionally, the wavelengths of phonons are shorter than those of photons for the same frequency, potentially enabling smaller quantum circuits.

“Together, these experiments provide multiple avenues for future research into how we construct quantum networks that function in non-ideal environments, and reliably transfer quantum information between systems,” said Dr. Fredrik Fatemi, researcher at the laboratory and co-manager of the Center for Distributed Quantum Information. “Both are critically important for developing future quantum technologies.”

By U.S. Army CCDC Army Research Laboratory Public Affairs

The Catalyst Accelerator Unveils Next Cohort: Cyber for Space Applications

Wednesday, June 17th, 2020

Discovering Innovative Tech to Keep our Nation’s Cyber-Physical Systems Secure
Colorado Springs, Colo – June 11, 2020 – The Catalyst Accelerator (CA) announced its next cohort, Cyber for Space Applications, launching September 1, 2020.  The goal of the CA is to increase Space  Force [TS1] awareness and rapid acquisition of commercial, dual-use space technology by providing relevant business development training to Accelerator companies and connecting these entrepreneurs with users, decision makers, and potential new customers in the DoD and commercial realms. Eight companies will be chosen to participate in the program held at Catalyst Campus in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

“How might we apply cyber technologies to secure the next generation of space operations and increase resiliency?” the problem statement poses.  Cyber-physical systems are becoming more integral than ever before, introducing new sets of unique problems in both public and private sectors. It is vital that we come together to identify, understand and limit areas where threats could arise before they are exploited. The Cyber for Space Applications Accelerator, powered by the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Space Vehicles Directorate, will be a 12-week, semi-residential program. Participating companies will receive a $12K-grant through the Catalyst Accelerator’s Corporate Sponsor, Booz Allen Hamilton, with an additional $3K available at the end of the Accelerator program when all deliverables have been met.

At the end of the program, all participating companies will have the opportunity to pitch to government stakeholders, industry leaders and commercial investors during a demonstration day. This enables cohort companies to raise awareness of their capabilities in order to solicit additional capital or follow-on government funding for further technological development.

KiMar Gartman, the Catalyst Accelerator Program Director, states, “We are excited to assist the Air Force and Space Force in finding companies with unique cyber solutions that will secure the next generation of space operations and increase resiliency.  We look forward to collaborating with our dynamic space community to offer the very best program possible!”

Captain Keith Hudson, Government Lead for the Cyber for Space Applications cohort, stated, “As we face increasing cyber resiliency challenges in space, the upcoming Accelerator provides an opportunity for the USSF and AFRL to connect with small businesses to develop the necessary solutions to those challenges.”

Applications for the Cyber for Space Applications Accelerator will be closing August 3. The Catalyst Accelerator will be holding “Ask Me Anything” sessions on June 18 and July 23 to address inquiries related to the current CA Problem Statement along with other general program questions potential applicants may have.

For updates and other relevant announcements regarding the Cyber for Space Applications Accelerator, follow this cohort on social media with #CACSA. Interested applicants may learn more about the program and apply on the Catalyst Accelerator’s website, CatalystAccelerator.Space/Cyber-for-Space-Applications/.