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Iowa wants high-tech war lab By WILLIAM PETROSKI Register Staff Writer 03/13/2000
Iowa National Guard officials are asking Congress for $80 million to establish in the Des Moines area a high-technology research and development laboratory for the U.S. Department of Defense.
The project could help create hundreds of high-tech civilian jobs with U.S. military contractors in Iowa, said Col. David Raes, director of the Iowa Guard's technology center in Johnston. Some likely prospects would include companies such as military giants Lockheed Martin Corp. and Raytheon Co.
"We are hoping to develop partnerships and that contractors will reposition some of their field offices to Iowa," he said.
The plans call for Iowa to become a digital warrior technology hub with links to military bases and research facilities nationwide. The goal is to develop better soldiers and methods of operating on the global battlefield of the future.
For example, computer experts at the Iowa Air National Guard unit in Fort Dodge might use high-tech systems to observe a battlefield thousands of miles away and give targeting data to Air Force commanders directing bombing missions. For training, F-16 jet pilots in Sioux City and Des Moines could fly simulated combat missions together in a "virtual environment" without leaving their Air Guard bases.
The Iowa Communications Network, a state-owned fiber-optic system, would play a key role in the program, integrating federal, state, academic and industry programs, officials said. Some of the federal money would be used to link the network to research facilities and military bases in other states.
U.S. Rep. Greg Ganske, R-Ia., made a formal request for the $80 million to the U.S. House Armed Services Committee on March 3. He asked for the money to be spread over three years for development of an integrated research, development, test and evaluation program for the National Guard. Other members of Iowa's congressional delegation also have backed the project.
"This is a tremendous opportunity to help the military," Ganske said. "In the past, National Guards have not been that involved in research, so this is kind of an exceptional circumstance. I think it has a huge opportunity to save the military some money because you could do some simulations that would be very cost-effective."
Guard officials said that the laboratory would be located at a site to be determined within the Des Moines area.
The technology push within the 9,500-member Iowa National Guard has been getting widespread attention within the military. Army Magazine featured an article about the proposal in January. Army News Service carried a report in February. U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Richard Hamre, at Ganske's invitation, is scheduled to visit Iowa National Guard headquarters in Johnston for a briefing and tour Friday.
The key to the proposal is Iowa's $350 million fiber-optic network, which is hooked to each of the Iowa Guard's 54 armories and air bases. The 3,300-mile system, plus about 1,100 miles of leased fiber-optic connections, reaches into all 99 Iowa counties, serving schools, colleges, prisons, hospitals and other public facilities.
The Iowa network provides a much better research tool for the military than does the Internet, said Raes, the Iowa Guard's technology official.
The Internet is often congested and frequently has security problems, Raes said. In contrast, the Iowa Communications Network is more reliable, more secure and, with its very high bandwidth and growth potential, can operate much more efficiently for military researchers, he said. The system offers one of the world's largest, full-motion interactive video networks.
"Technical experts from the Department of Defense who have visited Iowa estimate that we are five to seven years ahead of the rest of the country," Raes said. He added that the Iowa National Guard is working closely with researchers at Iowa State University, which has been designated as one of seven centers of excellence for information assurance by the National Security Agency.
The Iowa National Guard already has been making some strides into high-tech research and development that would likely be expanded under the proposal to Congress.
At the Guard's Camp Dodge base in Johnston, 40 workers are creating about $10 million worth of software annually for the U.S. Army and Marine Corps. The software, on topics ranging from maintaining a Bradley Fighting Vehicle to adjusting the sights on M-16 rifles, can be used with CD-ROMs or the Internet. Most of the workers are civilian employees of Virginia-based Universal Systems & Technology Inc.
At the Fort Dodge airport, the 133rd Air Control Squadron of the Air National Guard is transforming from a traditional radar unit to a Space Age test and evaluation squadron for the U.S. Air Force, said Lt. Col. David Ott, the unit's commander. The unit has 132 members, including 32 full-time airmen and 100 part-time Guard airmen.
The Fort Dodge unit has been working with the Air Force research laboratory in Mesa, Ariz., as well as Iowa State University's Virtual Reality Application Center, said Maj. Richard Breitbach, the 133rd's operations officer.
Last summer, Guard members from Fort Dodge went to Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, where they performed a major role in a nationwide battle simulation. The Iowans worked with military contractors to develop technology for a battle control center. Then they helped to staff the battle center and a radar operation.
The Iowa unit will return to Nevada for more war games this summer. Guard officials hope the squadron eventually can participate directly in nationwide battlefield simulations from Fort Dodge, using the Iowa Communications Network and other data links.
At Camp Dodge, Guard officials see a big potential to develop new military education programs, especially for long-distance learning. For example, armored officers at an Army National Guard unit in Sioux City can train at home through the Internet and through the state's fiber-optic network in a Guard classroom. The instructors are based at Fort Knox, Ky.
"We have calculated the savings in travel and living costs at Fort Knox to be about $10,000 per soldier," Raes said. "For our soldiers who have a civilian job, that fits very well. They don't have to be away from home for nine weeks or 15 weeks, whatever it is. They can do it from their home station."
GOAL: Iowa's National Guard wants to become a high-tech hub for training or observing a battlefield across the globe.
GROUNDWORK: The state's fiber-optic network would play a key role, being linked to military facilities around the nation.
COMING: A top Pentagon official will tour Iowa Guard headquarters this week.
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-- suzy (firstname.lastname@example.org), March 14, 2000
Money for research is a good thing wherever it goes. And with no offense to the Iowans out there, I never would have guessed that the Iowa National Guard was a technology frontrunner.
Good luck guys,
-- Someone (ChimingIn@twocents.cam), March 14, 2000.