Air Force adviser looks to tech for savings

By Tom Roeder Published: February 16, 2014 | 7:10 am 0

The Air Force's chief scientist is thinking cheap.

While pursuing breakthrough weapons and satellite technologies, Mica Endsley also wants brainpower dedicated to fuel efficiency, improving airman productivity and other cost-saving plans.

Endsley is the Air Force's top adviser on all things scientific, including bombs and space travel.

She left SA Technologies, a Georgia-based research firm and defense contractor, to become the first female to lead the Air Force's scientific endeavors.

And she's looking to leverage technology to save dollars.

"I see science and technology as a big part of the solution for a diminishing budget," she said.

Congress has blunted some threatened defense cuts but remains on track to carve $900 billion from Pentagon spending over the next decade.

The Air Force has plans to cut about 9 percent of its force by 2019, trimming 25,000 airmen from its roster.

Endsley wants to give the Air Force methods to get more out of fewer airmen.

Ideas include using automation to allow pilots to control multiple drones or Space Command airmen to manipulate several satellite constellations from a single console.

"A lot of it comes down to the design of the user interface," she said.

That same thinking applies to a growing Air Force problem.

The proliferation of drones, computerized intelligence gathering, battlefield computers and other systems has led to gridlock.

"Data overload," Endsley called it.

The Air Force wants to solve some of that issue with intelligent software that can wade into a sea of information and parse it into sensible packets that are useful to commanders.

"We still have to bring those systems to bear in useful ways," she said.

Endsley visited the Air Force Academy this month to review cadet research programs and see how work at the school can play into the Air Force's science plans.

Cadets working under Air Force research grants are studying items including drone technology and the behavior of troops on the battlefield.

The pace of science is changing the future of warfare, Endsley said.

Tiny nations have launched sophisticated computer warfare programs and have the potential to attack targets with the click of a mouse.

"To me, the big game-changer is probably cyber," Endsley said, noting how countries can get big battlefield impacts at a low cost.

And other nations, especially on the Pacific Rim, are ramping up military research programs to improve their weapons.

"A lot of good research is being done in other countries," Endsley said.

For more than a decade, America has focused on low-tech battles with poorly equipped insurgents. That overseas research could mean that in its next war, America will face an enemy with high-quality planes, anti-aircraft systems, satellites and computer-connected troops.

"Countries we face in the future will be peer opponents," she predicted.

And, at best, America will counter those threats with a stagnant science budget.

But Endsley is an optimist.

"They say that flat is the new up," she said.

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