American Forces Press Service

Developing Tomorrow's Military Capabilities

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 12, 2002 -- In a war, commanders need capabilities and they need them fast.

That's the idea behind the Defense Department's Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration program. Without ACTD, the Predator unmanned aerial vehicle, a star in the war in Afghanistan, would probably still be in testing. Thermobaric bombs used against Al Qaeda and Taliban cave sanctuaries would still be on the drawing board.

Under the ACTD program, Defense officials speak with the services and combatant commanders and find out what capabilities they need. The officials then look at what is available that can fulfill these needs.

Need better command and control programs? Perhaps an Army project can help. Need better ways to detect mines? Perhaps this civilian program can be adapted. Need better chemical and biological agent detection systems? Perhaps officials can focus another program to fit the bill.

"The ACTD program really exists so that we can marry operational requirements, on one side, with new technologies and solutions," said Sue Payton, deputy undersecretary of defense for advanced systems and concepts. "This is one of the few programs in which ACTD products are really demonstrated for military utility by the warfighter, and the warfighter actually writes concept of operations in the context in which he needs the technology."

The ACTD program puts promising technology on the fast track. The department's fiscal 2002 budget for the program is $159 million. But this money is leveraged by what the services and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency add. Payton said that in years past every $1.20 the program spent on ACTDs was matched by $4.26 from partners and agencies. If that trend holds, more than $500 million are spent on these promising technologies.

This year department officials chose 15 projects for the program. Payton said 11 directly address capabilities needed for the war on terrorism. Among the projects are capabilities to protect information among coalition partners. Another is a system that would quickly translate captured documents into English or tasking orders into foreign languages. Still another is a system that provides information and technical expertise to explosive ordnance disposal experts from many lands.

The department is also investing in 6-to-9-inch-long micro air reconnaissance vehicles equipped with tiny cameras. Infantrymen or special operations forces could launch the vehicles to see what's over the next hill or what's on the next street.

The Pathfinder ACTD would integrate information from unmanned aerial and ground vehicles and remote sensors to help commanders and units engaged in urban combat.

Other ACTDs examine better transportation tracking, chemical and biological agent contamination detection and avoidance technologies, homeland security command and control, and a penetrator warhead for thermobaric bombs.