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AFRICOM science advisors focus on solving warfighter challenges

By Robyn Mack | AFRICOM Public Affairs | March 22, 2017

Solar panels, photorefractive materials, and multi-modal communication aren’t just for scientists in Department of Defense labs. These emerging systems and advanced technologies are regularly used by warfighters in the U.S. Africa Command area of responsibility to ensure things like Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance, lasers, and communication tools possess the capabilities needed for the mission.

Helping to ensure that science and technology meet warfighter requirements are combatant command science advisory teams, like the one at U.S. Africa Command, that work to respond to command technology needs and close, minimize or mitigate capability gaps. 

“We [do] this by leveraging the resources of the DoD S&T enterprise and the DoD Research, Development, Testing and Evaluation programs and resources,” said Ricardo Arias, AFRICOM liaison officer to the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, who recently represented AFRICOM at the U.S. Pacific Command Operational Science and Technology Conference in Honolulu, March 6 to 10.

AFRICOM’s Science Advisor, Van Anderson, explained that the Science, Technology and Innovation Office serves as the link between the command's research, development, testing, evaluation, science, technology and innovation needs and organizations like the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, who is credited with the invention of the Internet and global positioning system.

“DARPA is one of 444 DoD entities that contribute to the department's $80 billion annual research and development enterprise that we can help AFRICOM connect with.”

The AFRICOM ST&I office, where Anderson and Arias work, then works to formulate material solutions to operational needs, demonstrations and validations of technology in operational scenarios, and the integration of mature technical capabilities into field activities.

They do this by coordinating and managing execution of science and technology activities that will fill U.S. forces’ capability gaps as well as enhance partner nation capability, Arias said.

One example is the Joint Advanced Video Activity Analytics Workflows project, which tailors the Advanced Video Activity Analytics processing framework to address AFRICOM needs for motion imagery analysis.  According to Arias, “It will develop a user interface that enables analysts to rapidly leverage custom Computer Vision Algorithms for automated video enhancement, like stabilization or de-hazing, and analysis.

This year's conference theme was “Partnering in Science and Technology to Ensure Peace and Stability.”

“The venue provided an excellent opportunity for DoD combatant commands to collaborate, share ideas, discuss operational requirements and capability gaps with the DoD S&T enterprise at large, and with solution providers to include the service labs, the private sector and academia,” Arias said.

One emerging solution is the Geospatial Capabilities for Security, Humanitarian Assistance, Partner Engagement developed by the Joint Capability Technology Demonstration program.

“GeoSHAPE enables creation and sharing of geospatial information between mission partners in connected – with internet – as well as disconnected – no internet – operations.  It was built utilizing open source software to make it available for partners and to maximize interoperability,” Arias said.

“S&T is a critical enabler for improving operational effectiveness and efficiencies,” he added.

Also during the conference, Arias served a panelist with other combatant command science advisors, highlighting AFRICOM technology focus areas. For AFRICOM warfighters that includes things like ISR, personnel recovery, counter-improvised explosive devices, enhanced operational energy, identity activities like biometrics, maritime domain awareness, communications, medical, and non-lethal systems.

AFRICOM's Science, Technology & Innovation office leads and manages the acceleration of capability development through activities that support the Command's vision, strategy, campaign plans, operations and exercises.