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AF showcases game-changing technologies at DOD Lab Day

By Brian Ripple | U.S. Air Force | May 19, 2017

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Scientists and engineers from the Air Force Research Laboratory presented 16 technology research projects in various stages of maturity during the second biennial Department of Defense Lab Day May 18, 2017, in the Pentagon center courtyard.

AFRL scientists and engineers from across the country joined more than 60 Army, Navy, and medical labs and engineering centers at the event which featured more than 100 exhibits.

The DOD Lab Day was hosted by Mary J. Miller, the acting assistant secretary of defense for research and engineering, with a theme of “DOD Labs and Warfare Centers: Solving Problems Today – Designing Solutions for Tomorrow.”

Air Force scientists and engineers are advancing technologies and designing solutions for tomorrow through game-changing technologies such as autonomy, unmanned systems, hypersonics, directed energy, and nano-science, all in an effort to ensure Airmen never enter a fight without an advantage.

“Our Airmen have been leaders in innovation for more than a century,” said Jeff H. Stanley, the deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for science, technology, and engineering. “Today we had the great opportunity to showcase many of our science and technology efforts. AFRL is truly at the forefront of helping ensure our nation maintains technological superiority.”

One AFRL exhibit, called Military Applications of Gene Editing Technology, highlighted research into how geneticists and medical researchers edit parts of the genome by removing, adding or altering sections of the DNA sequence in order to remove a virus or disease caused by harmful chemical, biological or environmental agents a warfighter may have contact with.

Another, known as the Ninja Counter–sUAS System, is developing solutions to identify drones, determine the source, and offer a counter measure when necessary. The Ninja solution has been developed to match the pace of commercial drone development and keep warfighters safe.

The Low Cost Attritable Aircraft Technology Program (LCAAT) is a research area that seeks to introduce an unmanned aerial vehicle system to support warfighters with a lower cost than traditional manned aircraft, while meeting capability requirements for support in contested areas. Lower productions costs associated with the LCAAT program will allow different classes of UAVs to augment manned weapon systems and have highly optimized roles for specific missions including weapons delivery, locating targets, or communications.

“The basic problem that we’re trying to work is to address the continued escalation of costs associated with exquisite aircraft systems and when we look to the future, that trend is not going to change,” said Bill Baron, from AFRL’s Aerospace Systems Directorate at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, and program manager for the LCAAT initiative.

According to Stanley, “Combining low cost attritable unmanned aircraft systems with autonomy will provide a game changing capability that transforms the way we build and buy and the way we fly and fight. The design, logistics, and operations philosophy of an attritable system with autonomy is revolutionary.”

Advancements in the area of directed energy were also on display, including one that will eventually add to the self-defense capabilities of Air Force tactical aircraft.

The goal of the Self-Protect High Energy Laser Demonstrator Advanced Technology Demonstrator (SHiELD), is to combine an agile, small, high-power laser system on a tactical aircraft to demonstrate an advanced self-defense capability to defend against missile threats and enhance survivability.

“Aircraft have been working to maintain air superiority since aircraft were invented and we’ve been trying to shoot down aircraft since then, so there’s an ever-present need to improve the survivability of our airframes,” said 2nd Lt. Tyler Brewer, a laser defense physicist from AFRL’s Directed Energy Directorate at Kirtland AFB, New Mexico. “In that interest, we are trying to supplement the defensive measures that aircraft already have such as flares and chaff. With SHiELD, they will have active laser systems.”

Exhibits were open to members of Congress, high schools with STEM programs, Pentagon employees, media and special guests.

AFRL is the service’s only organization solely dedicated to leading the discovery, development, and integration of warfighting technologies for the nation’s air, space, and cyberspace forces.