November 27, 2004
According to a U.S. Department of Defense Industrial Base Capabilities Study, six technology areas need to be targeted for further investment while two others need close monitoring. There is also a proposal for an investment fund of $20-30 million to stimulate technical innovation. Various military customers have expressed in certain areas, such as high-altitude endurance UAVs, but none of them are willing to put up the funds necessary to further develop the technology.
Six of the watch areas are places where the industrial base is "insufficient." It recommends the Small-Diameter Bomb (SDB) program find a second supplier. Currently, the 250 lb GPS-guided weapon is only made by Boeing. The Pentagon has given up on competition and innovation by letting a single manufacture build the munition. Instead, Lockheed Martin should continue to be used as a second-source at least through the development phase of the program and the Pentagon should also make sure there are multiple second-tier parts suppliers. The SDB program is already under review by the Pentagon's Inspector General since Boeing is alleged to have received favorable treatment from former DoD acquisition official Darleen Druyun.
The U.S. only has one supplier for hypersonic propulsion systems, another critical problem, given the desire by the military to build high-speed missiles to strike time-critical targets. Further, U.S. hypersonics technology is defined as being on par not superior to other countries. The study calls for more research and development funding to establish multiple suppliers.
Other areas of concern include plasma thrusters for spacecraft propulsion, small-caliber projectile control surfaces to control ammunition in flight, and chemical oxygen-iodine lasers (COIL). There is also a Russian warhead concept called self-propagating high-temperature synthesis (SHS). These devices have both intense blast and thermal effects and can also disable electronics operation. In the U.S. there's only one company of 13 people is looking at SHS devices, while an international consortium made up of South Korea, Japan, Singapore, and Europe are investigating the company in addition to China and Russia.
In addition, the Pentagon needs to watch the progress of a electro-hydraulic cavitation device and Australian-designed Metal Storm technology. Electro-hydraulic cavitation creates intense and focused pressure waves in order to track and destroy targets and could be a potential threat to U.S. submarines and underwater sensors. Metal Storm can theoretically fire over one million rounds a minute and there are no existing countermeasures that would be able to defeat the system. Doug Mohney