Correction to This Article
This article incorrectly said that the Stiletto experimental naval craft could travel up to 50 knots-per-hour. A knot means one nautical mile per hour, so the correct description of the craft's speed would be up to 50 knots.

Fine Print: Increasingly sophisticated weapons featured in Defense Dept's special projects

Stiletto is an experimental craft of carbon-fiber construction, designed to handle speeds up to 50 knots for military operations.
Stiletto is an experimental craft of carbon-fiber construction, designed to handle speeds up to 50 knots for military operations. (Courtesy Of M Ship Co.)
By WALTER PINCUS
Tuesday, November 10, 2009

America's genius for innovation continues to be directed toward increasingly sophisticated weaponry.

Take Bluegrass and Stiletto, two projects from the Defense Department's Quick Reaction Special Projects Program, which next year will divide $108 million among three of its research and development offices "that provide rapid funding to expedite new development and transition of new technologies to the warfighter," according to Pentagon material.

The mission of one of those, the Rapid Reaction Technology Office, is "accelerating the development and fielding of affordable, sustainable transitional and nontraditional capabilities for the warfighter," according to a National Research Council study released this summer. It focuses "primarily on technologies that can be matured in six to 18 months for purposes of counterterrorism" by partnering with "other government agencies, industry and academia."

The experimental Bluegrass project is a good example of how the office works: It blends two surveillance systems to get a new product.

The project grew out of the development, beginning in 2004, of aerial surveillance systems used to fight roadside bombs. One was JSTARS -- the Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System -- a modified Boeing 707 carrying a joint surveillance and target- acquisition radar that beamed to command posts on the ground videos of still and moving targets in narrow areas, often within Iraqi cities. The videos were stored and later used to look back at places where makeshift bombs exploded, to see who had been at the site and to identify the perpetrators.

Another military system being used against such bombs, Constant Hawk, consisted of a piloted plane carrying multiple electro-optical radars that provided wide-area surveillance.

There was no organized effort to develop a computerized means for merging the mainly urban-area product of the JSTARS and the wide-area product of Constant Hawk. So the Rapid Reaction Technology Office initiated Bluegrass, which it describes as assembling the data "that will allow the handover of vehicle tracking from one system to another; in that way, continuous tracking is provided" between urban and rural areas, according to the Research Council study.

With the approval of the CIA, the information was provided to government laboratories and industry to help develop the capability.

This year and into 2010, the office will work on a follow-up to Bluegrass called Thunderstorm. The project will involve testing an enduring multisensor surveillance and reconnaissance system and developing a capability for next-generation detection, monitoring and tracking of targets, along with their handoff to friendly forces. The tests will be carried out by the Southern Command's Joint Interagency Task Force-South in Florida. The area was chosen because the hunt for drug cartels there is similar to the search for insurgents and other enemies in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Stiletto is an experimental naval craft of carbon-fiber construction designed for 50-knots performance in military operations. Jointly funded by the Rapid Reaction Technology Office and the Special Operations Command, its electronic keel allows rapid plug-in testing of various data-communication technologies. Its M-shape hull permits testing of stealth, speed, wake creation and the ability to operate in shallow waters. With a deck area that can launch and retrieve unmanned aerial systems, the Stiletto was originally seen as a prototype for the next-generation Special Forces boat.

A test version was turned over to the Southern Command in June 2008 to demonstrate its usefulness in counternarcotics operations, with Homeland Security and Colombian navy personnel aboard. In March, an 88-foot version headed out for its second operational deployment with a crew of Navy and Army personnel aboard.

The Rapid Reaction Technology Office has also sponsored the development of a facility at the Army's Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona, where prototypes for systems being developed for use in Iraq and Afghanistan are tested. Also, on a biweekly basis, the office leads secure videoconferences in which cleared government and private organizations share feedback and ideas for future experiments.

Approximately 50 percent of the projects that the office has pursued have resulted in fielded systems or changes in other systems, according to testimony in Congress last year by Benjamin Riley, the office director. "Approximately one-third of the projects initially experience resistance from combat command staff or subordinates, who often believe that an idea will not work and that it does not have an application," he told lawmakers.


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