June 20, 2014, RUSTON, La. (AFNS) – Air Force Global Strike Command and Louisiana Tech University recently signed a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement which will allow the two to work together to develop new defensive systems for the bomber fleet based on nanoengineered graphene.
“Graphene is a relatively new form of carbon, first synthesized in 2004. It’s a single layer of carbon atoms arranged in a repeating hexagonal pattern–like chicken wire,” said Air Force Deputy to the Chief Scientist Lt. Col. Dennis Rand. “Because it’s only one atom deep, graphene is essentially a two-dimensional material, and as a result it has unusual properties relating to things like heat conduction, electrical conductivity, and optical density.”
Currently, aircraft use little metal strips, called chaff, as a defensive system to help prevent the aircraft from being targeted by anti-air defense systems.
“It is our hope that chaff based on graphene will provide improved defense against IR and RF-based systems,” Rand said.
The CRADA covers the first stages of a project to develop this system, and subsequent phases will be covered by amendments to the agreement, Rand said. However, the hope is that this initial agreement between AFGSC and Tech will lead to other research and development projects, said Air Force Global Strike Command Chief Scientist, Dr. Christopher Yeaw.
“The most important milestone we’re trying achieve is the first formal linking of La Tech’s strong technical expertise with AFGSC’s compelling mission to deter would-be aggressors and assure allies and partners,” Yeaw said. “This is a natural marriage, and we hope that this first CRADA will prime the pump for wider cooperation, bolstering the local capability to tackle these types of mission challenges.”
“Louisiana Tech University has a wide range of cybersecurity and electronics protection research projects and technologies that may be of interest to AFGSC,” Dr. Stan Napper, Vice President for Research and Development at Louisiana Tech University, said. “Through the new CRADA, we hope to contribute more significantly to scientific and technical developments that will assist AFGSC in achieving its mission.”
Yeaw said the CRADA is a new chapter in the Command’s relationship with Louisiana Tech. While the partnership goes back to the establishment of AFGSC in 2009, “This is really the first formalization of that cooperation,” he said.
“The importance of this type of partnership cannot be overstated. Both institutions have compelling missions, and they hold common interests not just in research and development of innovative technologies for eventual incorporation into the Command’s portfolio of assets, but also in the development of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) professionals, some if whom we hope might consider working for the Air Force after they graduate,” Yeaw said. “The development of STEM professionals coming out of La Tech is strengthened by affording students meaningful and potentially impactful research and development projects.”
Yeaw said a partnership with Tech will benefit more than just bombers and missiles.
“I’m also thinking of secure and reliable communications, security infrastructure surrounding our core assets, and even energy management at our bases, among other things,” he said.
Even if the ultimate goal of producing an operational defensive system is not realized, Rand said the research conducted towards that end will add to the Air Force’s overall body of scientific knowledge.