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CHIPS Articles: SPAWAR's International Engagement Team Combing the World in Search of Cutting-Edge Technologies

SPAWAR's International Engagement Team Combing the World in Search of Cutting-Edge Technologies
By Tina Stillions - April 27, 2012
As the Office of Naval Research Global (ONRG) technical liaison for the Space and Naval Systems Center (SSC) Pacific International Engagement team, Chuck Mirable is a man with a passion for his work. Mirabile is responsible for supporting the chief of naval research's international offices by researching technical solutions and conducting technology searches across focus areas that align closely with SPAWAR's information dominance mission.

His work entails identifying and harvesting cutting-edge technologies from both international academic institutions and industry. "I have been involved with a lot of different technologies throughout my 25 years of international technology work," Mirabile said. "I would consider myself a technical generalist, which aligns perfectly with my responsibilities as the ONRG lead for the International Engagement team. I look at the research and development other countries are doing and then determine whether some of those technologies can support us here at SSC Pacific, and eventually transition to the warfighter. That responsibility takes me all over the world."

Ten percent of what Mirabile does supports data exchange agreement (DEA)/information exchange agreement (IEA) annexes, which are the bilateral agreements SSC Pacific has with other countries to exchange technology information.

However, the bilateral agreements are between navies and do not involve universities, industry, embassy offices of defense cooperation, and other federal agencies, such as the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD), ONRG, the U.S. Army's Rapid Equipping Force (REF), and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Because these other organizations have warfighter requirements, they often provide funding for Mirabile to support their interests as well as SSC Pacific’s.

"Ninety percent of what I do in technology identification and assessment does not involve the military, but focuses on industry and academia," Mirabile said.

"However, there is tremendous opportunity and research being done in so many areas in countries around the world that can provide the capability the Navy needs for information dominance and help us meet the constantly emerging requirements of today’s warfighter. That research ensures we have a knowledge base to pull from, and that we can obtain the latest technologies for some of our technology programs or add engineering upgrades to accelerate existing programs."

Mirabile used the triangle as a metaphor for how he vets new technology.

"First, I make a determination regarding the warfighter requirements and what areas need to be focused on. The second step is to decide what information dominance technologies are out there that can support those requirements. The third part of the triangle is to work with a funding organization, program of record, or S&T program that can make use of those technologies to enhance products they are trying to develop primarily in support of SSC Pacific programs," Mirabile said.

Mirabile spends a significant amount of time investigating different technologies; talking to warfighters; and meeting with sponsors and program officers who may be interested in taking some of the technologies and inserting them into their programs.

"I regularly talk to the project officers here at the center that have requirements or are interested in some new emerging technology," he said. "For example, AnaFocus in Seville, Spain, developed an artificial vision chip made out of an array of complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) sensors. You can use these sensors to build images at a fantastic rate of 100,000 images per second."

The SSC Pacific robotics team was approached about the CMOS technology. They wanted to take an aerial hover craft and land it on an unmanned ground vehicle to refuel it. However, there were issues that prevented the vehicle from landing safely. During the last 20 feet the vehicle could not land for refueling within the required geo-precision.

"The CMOS sensor chip resolved the landing issue," Mirabile said. "Through our joint effort with Spain, we were able to take their technology and apply it towards this problem we were having in our robotics program here at SSC Pacific."

Mirabile stressed that the Navy cannot afford to build everything from scratch. The "buy American" philosophy is changing rapidly, and it is economics that is driving it.

"Other countries are spending a lot of money coming up with new technologies. We can take advantage of what they've done and leverage what we can. That's what our international engagement program is all about."

What Mirabile does also aligns with SPAWAR's effort to be the Navy's information dominance systems command. Much of the work being done in a wide range of areas by the team is related to information dominance capabilities.

In the sensor world that means more data can be collected; then the data is turned into information and that information turned into knowledge. To that end, knowledge enables informed decision making.

"The better your sensors and the better the process for collecting that data, the better the quality and the more timely the information will be for the commander," Mirabile said. "Through the efforts of the international engagement team we put ourselves in a prime position to be a global knowledge leader. As Francis Bacon said, 'knowledge is power' and that's really the essence of information dominance."

Estonia – A Center for Cyber Excellence. Estonia is a state in the Baltic region of Northern Europe. The small state, flanked by the Gulf of Finland on one side and the Baltic Sea on the other, is recognized as a worldwide center of excellence for cyber technology. An onslaught of cyber attacks in 2007 forced the country to rally the state's science and technology (S&T) community to wage war against its cyber opponents. The International Engagement team is currently working with the Estonian technical community to obtain the knowledge and expertise necessary to resolve the growing cyber menace facing today's warfighter. The Estonian technical community is a critical component in the latest cyber research being done around the world and is an ally to the S&T community at SSC Pacific.

Russia's Siberian Technology Hub. In a remote area of Siberia, a city called Novosibirsk is home to 60 universities and 80 technical institutes. Dating back to World War II and once a closed city, it is now the hub for the country's research programs and industrial manufacturing base. Chuck Mirabile, from the SSC Pacific International Engagement team met with engineers and scientists at the first Russian science and technology innovation park in Siberia, an organization building some of the world's best seismic sensors. The Department of Homeland Security, the Army’s Rapid Equipping Force and SSC Pacific were all interested in the technology. Chuck Mirabile, Mark Berry and Steve Holste from SSC Pacific visited the science park to discuss the seismic technology and perform a field assessment on the seismic sensors. As a result of the initial tests, SSC Pacific is purchasing the sensors and will do additional testing for future applications.

Rapid Equipping for the Army. The Army's Rapid Equipping Force is charged with purchasing technology and equipment and getting it to the warfighter as quickly as possible. Terrorist activities and guerrilla factions in two theaters of war have brought to light the deadliness of the improvised explosive device (IED). The International Engagement team discovered research being done in Slovakia on a human presence sensor capable of detecting a human presence through walls and doors. Because of the Army's need to prevent the growing number of casualties caused by IEDs, the Army has supplied the SSC Pacific team with funding to purchase, modify and deploy the systems for use in Afghanistan.

All of these initiatives are a result of technologies identified and subsequently obtained through funding provided by SSC Pacific sponsors.

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