ANAHEIM, Calif., Aug. 9, 2002 -- America's top general is urging small tech developers seeking U.S. Defense Department dollars to get out of the labs and make friends with the military's war fighters.
"If you are in the research and development business, or production business or whatever, your best friends ought to be a bunch of operators," said Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff. "You ought to make that your habit."
"Operators," Myers implied, means anyone -- from soldiers to military brass -- putting together the war on terrorism's game plan or architecture.
"If you just hang around the Air Force materials command center … and the labs and some of those places," said Myers, "you're going to go down a lot of rabbit trails that lead you nowhere."
Myers made the comments here at the recent DARPATech, a conference of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. DARPA is the branch of the U.S. Defense Department that helped jump-start the microsystems industry and now is heavily funding nanotechnology efforts.
"I agree whole-heartedly with the general," said George Kachen, vice president of business development for Triton Systems Inc. "To transition these new technologies to the war fighter as soon as possible, you really have to know what the war fighter needs. That means being in touch with operations."
Kachen said the general's message was nothing new to his company. "From the get-go of any program, we are constantly trying to be in contact" with military and prime defense contractors, such as Lockheed Martin Corp. and Northrop Grumman Corp.
Triton, based in Chelmsford, Mass., is developing nanoengineered materials to improve gas mask hoods for the U.S. Army. The company also has completed a program to develop scratchproof plastic nanocoatings for U.S. Navy helmet visors and jet windows.
Myers said that in many cases the military fails to keep track of the "joint operational architectures" that make the technologies tick. "So when some new thing comes along, we say, 'well, how does this fit?' " That's where private industry can step in, by asking the right questions and understanding what it is the military needs before developing a technology.
Paul West, chief technology officer of Pacific Nanotechnology, agreed with the general's idea that "companies must be market driven and not technology driven," so "we will not end up with a bunch of technology looking for a problem to solve."
So where can researchers and developers find military buddies?
Myers suggested the U.S. Joint Forces Command in Suffolk, Va., which organizes events around the country to help troops prepare for battle. "Ask somebody" the following question: "Where is your joint operational architecture work? What is it? Let me see it?"
If you get the runaround with a comment like, "Well, we're still working on it," Myers said to be persistent. The next question to ask is: "Well, of what's been developed can I see what you're thinking?" the general said. "People will be happy to share that with you."
"The entrepreneur is driven by patriotism after 9/11," said Lynn Foster, director of technology consulting for the Los Angeles Regional Technology Alliance (LARTA). Before joining LARTA, Foster was a software project leader at The Aerospace Corp. and has been a military "end user" of technology for years. Foster is a master sergeant in the U.S. Army Reserve.
"We are seeing a lot of companies trying to match up existing technologies into the new homeland defense market after September 11," Foster said. "The opportunity will be enormous, but the market and the federal government's ability to develop the architecture to handle it is developing slowly."
While Myers said the military needs to "make ourselves so much better," he also was confident that the United States and its allies "will win the war on terrorism. We have no choice."