ONR funds basic science in support of counter-IED efforts

Nancy McGuire
Office of Naval Research
Corporate Communications Office
Phone: 703-588-1279
Fax: 703-696-5940
E-mail: Nancy_McGuire@onr.navy.mil


2004, Secretary of the Navy Gordon England met with Nobel Laureate Jerome Karle of the Naval Research Laboratory and his wife and fellow researcher Isabella Karle, Captain David Schubert (Commanding Officer of the NRL), and Rear Admiral Jay Cohen (Chief of Naval Research). All agreed on the need for a comprehensive program to counter the growing use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

Regarding this meeting, Dr. Starnes Walker, Office of Naval Research Chief Scientist, later stated, "They hoped to energize scientists around the world to look at far-reaching discoveries." Walker explained that, in a manner similar to the Manhattan Project during World War II, they wanted to bring together teams of scientists from many disciplines to work together for the first time, exercising their creativity "at the seams of their disciplines". Researchers from the social and behavioral sciences, as well as the physical sciences, would be included.

At the time, Walker explained, counter-IED efforts had been focused on present needs and single events. The new program would employ basic scientific research to increase the predictive capabilities of counter-IED efforts—to detect, defeat, and destroy IEDs at a distance and speed, to "move up the kill chain toward prediction”, in Walker´s words. An emphasis would be placed on accomplishing this "at speed and at range". This would enable vehicles or ships moving at full speed to detect and disable or destroy  IEDs in their path before they can cause harm.

Moving farther up the chain, other  research projects will focus on preventing the manufacture and deployment of IEDs, by identifying the people most likely to be involved in this type of activity or by detecting evidence of the manufacturing process itself. Instead of requiring action in a matter of seconds, this research effort would endeavor to increase the reaction time to months, by going after the factories where the bombs are made, learning to spot behavioral changes in potential bomb-makers or users, and employing decisive interdiction measures "on our terms—changing the calculus."

Why is Naval Research involved in this effort? Although IEDs are commonly associated with Army and Marine Corps troop movements and convoys, the Navy has not been unscathed. The Navy SEALs, Doctors, Nurses, Corpsmen, and SeaBees face the same dangers in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Navy ships have been attacked.  "Look at the Cole incident," Walker noted. "The Navy has suffered. Talk about a vehicle bomb or the Marine barracks. It can be a swarming threat of jet skis around ships. All these things can place our ships, Sailors, and Marines at risk."

The Concept
Walker summed up the motivation behind the program: "What we´d like to be able to do is not only deny access to the use of IEDs as a terrorist tool, but also to dissuade their use from a behavioral standpoint, that this is no longer tolerable within their own culture, society, religion. Likewise, the risk to you [the terrorist] far outstrips any risk that you could convey to someone else to do harm and create carnage among the innocent population of the world."

Unlike many previous attempts to counter the IED threat, this program will solicit a significant contribution from the human and social sciences, as well as the physical sciences. Research into human behavior will be used to identify atypical or suspicious behavior in the context of a local culture. "I´d like to be able to pick the terrorist out. I´d like a detector ´tricorder´ for intent or evil. I´d like to know ahead of time that this person is planning to hurt other people with the use of IEDs," said Walker.

Physical science research could focus on detection at a distance, perhaps spotting radio or magnetic signals originating from explosive devices. Up close, detectors could identify trace amounts of volatile compounds associated with explosive materials clinging to a person´s clothing or skin. Jamming devices might prevent an explosive device from detonating, or IEDs could be exploded from a distance, before a convoy reaches that location on a road, for example.

Interaction With Other counter-IED Efforts
Although ONR has taken the lead on long-term basic counter-IED research, they maintain a close collaboration with other branches of the military and with other government agencies working on more immediate solutions and more developed technologies. 

The ONR-led “manhattan” basic science program is a subset of the Joint IED Defeat Task Force (JIEDD TF), which started as an Army task force in 2003 and was expanded by the Department of Defense to include all branches of the military in 2004. The JIEDD TF is led by Brigadier General Joseph Votel, U.S. Army, and it reports to the Deputy Secretary of Defense. The Joint IED Defeat Integrated Process Team (JIEDD IPT) acts as an advisory body to the JIEDD TF.

In addition, ONR has maintained an active role in the Combat Terrorism Technology Task Force (CT3F, or "Team Tango"). Marine Corps personnel working for ONR are eligible to apply for 90-day internships at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and ONR program personnel maintain close communications with DARPA researchers.

August 2004
Several companies received Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) awards to develop technologies that could detect, avoid, or disable IEDs. The technologies funded by these awards included various types of sensors, some of them airborne or mounted on remotely-operated vehicles (ROVs). Other SBIR awards focused on destroying or neutralizing IEDs and rocket-propelled grenades. Modeling studies were funded to discover methods of minimizing ship vulnerability to undetected or detected mines or IEDs.

September 2004
Dr. Starnes Walker was put in charge of ONR´s counter-IED basic research program.

March–April 2005
A request went out to ONR´s University-Affiliated Research Centers (UARCs) to contact their researchers and colleagues in other universities, and to solicit white papers. Approximately 180 white papers were submitted and reviewed by a panel of researchers from the UARCs and program officers from ONR. 

ONR Global, with offices in London, Tokyo, Singapore, Chile, and Australia, was pressed into service, contacting research organizations in colleges and universities worldwide.

The ONR UARCs are the Applied Physics Laboratories at Johns Hopkins University and the University of Washington, the Applied Research Laboratories at Pennsylvania State and University and the University of Texas at Austin. Discussions are in progress for establishing a UARC at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

May 2005
One of the Phase I SBIR grants awarded in 2004 was approved for Phase II, with funding extended through May 2007. The grant would extend work on identifying IEDs on or under the ground.

July 2005
At the 2005 Navy–Industry R&D Partnership Conference, a broad agency announcement (BAA 05-024) was presented. This announcement requested white papers from research organizations wishing to obtain monetary grants for basic research projects related to anti-IED efforts. Grants will typically run for 2–3 years at $200,000–300,000 per year. Over a three-year period, ONR anticipates the total budget (category 6.1, basic research) to run about $30,000,000. Awards will be made in early 2006, subject to the availability of funds.

August 2005
The UARC–ONR review panel selected 38 particularly promising white papers from the March–April request for proposals and cross-correlated them to identify groups of researchers who could collaborate on common projects. Grants were awarded to research groups from each of the UARCs, based on the results of this evaluation.

The Applied Research Lab at Pennsylvania State University received a grant to study how people detect anomalies and changes. Humans are very good at detecting changes in small areas that are familiar to them, such as their homes, according to Dr. Douglas Todoroff, Director of ONR´s Sensing and Systems Division.

The Applied Physics Lab at the University of Washington received a grant to study pattern and change recognition. Basic modeling studies will help identify items of interest that may be obscured or distorted by packaging materials or other surrounding materials.

The Applied Research Lab at the University of Texas, Austin received a grant to predict and model events more reliably. Other research at this university is focused on developing body armor to protect warfighters from flying fragments.

The University of Hawaii received a grant to miniaturize instruments that detect materials of interest.

The Johns Hopkins Advanced Physics Lab received a grant to conduct theoretical and experimental investigations to develop the basic science for long range detection of IEDs, the prediction of the occurrence or potential occurrence of IED events, and to prevent IED events.

September 2005
A few of the SBIR grant projects from 2004 have entered Phase II.

BAA white papers were due on September 1. Evaluations of the BAA white papers will be issued via e-mail notification on or about October 31.

December 2005
Full proposals for BAA grants are due December 16.

January–February 2006
BAA grants will be awarded, subject to availability of funding.

Nancy McGuire
Office of Naval Research
Corporate Communications Office
Phone: 703-588-1279
Fax: 703-696-5940
E-mail: Nancy_McGuire@onr.navy.mil


* Some pages on this website provide links which require a plug in to view.