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SPIE Professional July 2010

Government research programs looking to fund solutions with optics

Special session at U.S. defense and security meeting focused on business opportunities.

Researchers and entrepreneurs in the security and defense industry learned the intricacies of doing business with the U.S. government and how to get their projects funded at SPIE Defense, Security, and Sensing in April. A special session on business opportunities brought together top U.S. officials who explained how to prepare proposals and which research areas that government agencies are most interested in funding.

Lisa PorterLisa Porter, founding director of the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Agency (IARPA), gave an overview of the agency’s mission, which is to invest in high-risk/high-payoff research with potential to provide the United States with an overwhelming intelligence advantage over its future adversaries.

IARPA funds projects that can take four to five years to complete and gauges success or failure at that juncture in order to move on to fresh projects, she said. The agency’s philosophy of forced turnover (of programs and program managers) and constant questioning of the status quo ensures that no programs get institutionalized, she said. That way the organization remains agile, fresh ideas are constantly being injected, and the best ideas will surface.

Porter noted that this method is good for businesses seeking funding, as IARPA is always looking for new proposals, particularly ones that improve data collection and analysis and security of networked data.

"e do not fund problems," she said. "We fund solutions."

Interest in sustainability

David HoneyThe office of the Director of Defense Research and Engineering (DDR&E) is also interested in receiving proposals from small and large business for its $80 billion research program, according to David Honey, its principal staff adviser on research.

This DDR&E is focused on cyber security also, but Honey said his agency is interested in funding proposals for science, technology, engineering, and math education as well as those involving environmental restoration after warfare and human social-cultural behavioral programs.

The government’s interest in environmental restoration after warfare includes programs for sustainable infrastructure so operations don’t permanently worsen the environment and munitions cleanup in waterways and land.

Zachary Lemnios, the DDR&E director and CTO of the Department of the Defense, spoke along the same lines in a plenary session at the symposium.

Zachary Lemnios
Zachary Lemnios at SPIE Defense, Security, and Sensing.

Lemnios noted that funding of past projects has been characterized by long-term developments such as the Stealth Fighter aircraft and satellite communications. However, he said, response to current known threats is not going to be sufficient in the future, and projects will need to progress on commercial timescales of weeks or months instead of years.

Lemnios identified four themes for future funding:

• Accelerate technical capability to the field: An 80% solution today is infinitely more valuable than a 100% solution next week, next month, or next year.

• Develop a strategy to address future uncertainties.

• Reduce costs, time, and risk: Increase funding for systems engineering topics.

Don Seeley

• Increase the human capital in science and technology through programs for engineering and math education.


Don Seeley, deputy director of the High-Energy Laser Joint Technology Office (HEL-JTO), also spoke at the special funding session and outlined the near-term goals for deploying high-energy lasers in the field.


Have a question or comment about this article? Write to us at spieprofessional@spie.org.


DOI: 10.1117/2.4201007.18

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