Latest DAU magazine cover story highlights DoD tech transfer successes

Latest DAU magazine cover story highlights DoD tech transfer successes

March 17, 2021

Technology transfer success stories from the Department of Defense (DoD) labs were featured in the cover story of the March-April issue of Defense Acquisition magazine, illustrating how transferring innovations to industry for final development and manufacture helps DoD accomplish its mission.

The article was authored by Brett Cusker, TechLink Executive Director; Austin Leach, TechLink Associate Director; and Will Swearingen, TechLink Senior Advisor. It describes in detail three representative examples of technologies developed in DoD labs—one each from the Army, Navy, and Air Force—that were successfully transferred to industry and subsequently converted into products supporting the DoD mission.

Army: New Miniature Laser Resonator for Rangefinders/Target Designators

To reduce the size, weight, and cost of laser rangefinders and target designators, enabling their use on individual soldier weapons, the Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (DEVCOM), C5ISR Center, Night Vision and Electronic Sensors Directorate in Fort Belvoir, Virginia, invented a small monoblock laser resonator. This invention combines several laser components into a single strong structure (“monoblock”) that produces short-pulse, eye-safe lasers. Most notably, it is able to operate in harsh environments and withstand enormous shocks, such as those generated by the weapon systems to which the monoblock lasers are attached.

After this novel laser was patented, the Army licensed it to Scientific Materials Corporation in Bozeman, Montana, which used its unique capabilities to manufacture the needed laser crystals and components for use in the U.S. Army’s Small Tactical Optical Rifle Mounted (STORM) Micro Laser Rangefinder (MLRF). Subsequently, Scientific Materials was acquired by FLIR Systems of Wilsonville, Oregon, the world’s largest designer and manufacturer of thermal imaging cameras, components, and imaging sensors.

The Army laser invention now is widely deployed throughout the U.S. military on weapon systems ranging from special operator rifles to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), attack helicopters, and armored fighting vehicles. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) also uses this laser to assist docking on the International Space Station.

Air Force: Communication Systems Interference Minimizer and Clarity Enhancer

The Air Force Research Laboratory, 711th Human Performance Wing at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, developed and patented a unique spatial processor to address an operator problem in command and control centers throughout the U.S. military. The challenge involves monitoring multiple, often overlapping conversations and making split-second decisions based on what is heard. The Air Force invented a device that creates the sensation that the multiple voices being monitored come from different spatial locations. This optimally differentiates these voices, making them more readily understandable and reducing operator stress and fatigue. The invention allows operators to effectively monitor five to eight conversations at once, compared to a maximum of three without the technology.

The Air Force licensed this unique spatial processor to Compunetix of Monroeville, Pennsylvania, a leading developer and manufacturer of digital collaboration systems. The company used the invention to develop state-of-the-art voice communications systems designed specifically for mission control centers.

Today, these systems are widely used for mission-critical operations by all branches of the U.S. military. In addition, they are used by NASA, the Department of Homeland Security, Drug Enforcement Agency, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Federal Emergency Management Agency, and other federal agencies. Outside the U.S. government, these spatial processors are used by oil, gas, and power companies; airlines, railroads, and mass transit organizations; and major manufacturers needing to monitor large-scale industrial processes.

Navy: Detection Kit for Improvised Explosive Devices

The Naval Surface Warfare Center, Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technology Division of Indian Head, Maryland, developed a deceptively simple invention to address one of the most challenging problems in modern warfare—the constant threat of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), which are deployed using roadside bombs, car bombs, or suicide vests. One reason for their prevalence is that IEDs can be made using low-tech methods and readily available materials. To counter this threat, the Navy invented a simple, rapid, low-cost way to detect the basic energetic materials used in IEDs. These “explosive precursors” include ammonium nitrate, urea nitrate, potassium chlorate, and sodium chlorate.

In areas where IEDs are prevalent, such as Afghanistan, these materials, although illegal, flow freely through the local economy and are difficult to detect. They are easily disguised as bags of cement, sugar, flour, or other bulk goods. Also, they are difficult to differentiate from legal fertilizer materials. Further complicating matters, combat zones often are highly contaminated with explosive residues, making trace-detection methods, such as the sample swabs used in U.S. airports, virtually useless.

The Navy invention enables an easy rapid test that requires little training: a pea-sized sample of a suspected explosive material is placed in a test tube containing a small amount of water, the tube is shaken, and a test strip is inserted into the tube. If the test strip turns red or purple within 5 seconds, nitrate is present. If it remains white, a different test strip is combined with a reagent to test for chlorate, which turns the strip blue or black within 10 seconds if this chemical compound is present.

This Navy invention was licensed to American Innovations, Inc. of Monsey, New York, which used it to produce the Bulk Homemade Explosives (HME) Precursor Detection Kit, known as AiHME. Each AiHME kit is able to perform 33 full detection tests and has a shelf life of at least three years. It weighs only 6 ounces, and can be strapped onto Modular Lightweight Load-Carrying Equipment or attached to a belt. The kit comes with simple illustrated instructions in 25 languages, including Dari, Pashtu, Arabic, Somali, and Urdu, to enable use by partner-nation security forces. The AiHME kit is credited with detecting 440 tons of illegal IED component materials in Afghanistan in 2012 alone. By helping collapse the supply-chain for IED source materials, this Navy lab invention has substantially increased safety in conflict areas for U.S. troops, coalition forces, and civilians.

Read the full article, including descriptions of six more DoD T2 success stories, at the Defense Acquisition University website: