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DEVCOM engages with African scientists on research and development

May 24, 2022

by Argie Sarantinos, DEVCOM Headquarters

(Left) Kedumentse “Ched” Liphi, a 31-year-old entrepreneur and Botswana Defense Force veteran, designed and manufactures backpacks for school children with a solar panel, small battery and light. He met with Dr. Patrick Fowler, DEVCOM Global Technology advisor at International Technology Center – United Kingdom, during a recent trip that a DEVCOM team took to South Africa and Botswana.

(Left to right) Matthew Hoare, Reuben Govender, Hollie Pietsch, Mamadou Diallo and Pierre Van der Merwe visited the University of Cape Town as part of the academic tour of the UC research facilities. They are standing in a blast chamber used to test the impact of explosive detonations.

Dr. Jonathan Brame, DEVCOM – Atlantic Basic and Applied Research team lead, presents information about the DEVCOM enterprise during a recent visit to South Africa and Botswana. Brame was part of a DEVCOM team that conducted 23 engagements with local Subject Matter Experts in academia, industry, government and military throughout Africa.

The military in South Africa and Botswana uses highly sophisticated anti-poaching operations, which include a network of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance to detect and identify animals at risk and suspected poachers. An eight-person team from DEVCOM-Atlantic, Army Research Office and Office of Naval Research Global recently visited South Africa and Botswana to discuss how this technology and other research and development projects may be beneficial to the U.S. military.

The team conducted 23 engagements with local Subject Matter Experts in academia, industry, government and military throughout Africa to discuss potential projects and establish ties in the region. This effort aligns with the U.S. strategic mission to be the partner of choice for research and development in South Africa and Botswana.

“Some of the university and industry research in Southern Africa is very advanced compared to technology in Europe and the U.S. This initial engagement will create opportunities for DEVCOM to collaborate with some of these researchers through grants, cooperative agreements, foreign technology assessment support and other relevant programs to further develop technology into fielded capabilities for Soldiers,” said Col. Michael Fleming, DEVCOM International Technology Center – Mediterranean director.

U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command, or DEVCOM, Atlantic headquarters is in London, United Kingdom, with subordinate offices strategically located in the United Kingdom, Europe and the Middle East. Africa is part of DEVCOM-ATL’s area of responsibility. Its four ITCs are located in London, Paris, Frankfurt and Tel Aviv. DEVCOM Americas and DEVCOM Indo-Pacific round out DEVCOM’s Global team.

Technologies of particular interest during the South Africa and Botswana trip include: helicopter-based radar to detect small arms fire; 4D food printing for highly portable, optimally nutritious food; solar power for Soldiers in austere environments; and big data research to predict geo-political events based on social media trends.

Academia

DEVCOM-ATL participated in Science and Technology invitational meetings at the University of Pretoria and the University of Cape Town that were hosted by the South African Department of Defense’s army procurement agency. Researchers from universities and small businesses across South Africa learned about opportunities to partner with the U.S. Army and Navy and share their research ideas. The team learned about Relentless, a small business that uses Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning to defeat nefarious activities, including hiding fraudulent business transactions in big data. An example is a poacher who hides activity about sanctions that were avoided, or information about tracking poached animals from the point of capture to the point of sale. Relentless is transparent to the end user, and it leverages AI/ML to reach a conclusion and offer suggested courses of action.

The team also visited faculty at the University of Johannesburg’s cyber defense program. Researchers presented a concept for a ’diplomatic toolkit,’ which would include relevant cyber laws and policies about nations that diplomats can read prior to their visit. The researchers also presented work on 4D food printing, which is food that can be printed in 3D and then further modified with water or heat. DEVCOM Soldier Center SMEs are discussing the technology with the UJ researchers.

Part of the visit included a kick-off meeting for an Army-funded effort to maximize solar energy in austere environments. The project, which is led by a researcher at the University of Pretoria, includes how to manage energy and electrical load requirements in areas where there are variable or no power sources. Off-the-grid power management is crucial for Soldiers in austere environments with limited resupply capability.

Industry

The tour included a visit to CubeSpace, which works with young entrepreneurs to commercialize their ideas. CubeSpace designs, builds, tests and supports miniaturized satellite components, and it is based in LaunchLab, a Stellanbosch University affiliate. LaunchLab has incubated more than 200 businesses and raised tens of millions of dollars to support the businesses. CubeSpace plans to open an office in the U.S. this year.

Rheinmetall Denel Munitions hosted a facilities tour and overview of its ammunition inventory, which includes high caliber rounds, 40 mm and above. RDM will participate with DEVCOM Armaments Center later this year in tests at U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona. RDM plans to become better stewards of the environment by transitioning to green hydrogen as their power source and using solar energy to produce hydrogen. RDM will use shipping containers to transport green hydrogen and power grids throughout South Africa.

Botswana averages 3,500 hours of direct sunlight each year, and a critical effort is harnessing the solar power. The team met with Botswana Institute of Technology, Research and Industrialization, a publically funded organization that conducts research on key priorities and transitions them to industry for commercialization. BITRI is working with Botswana to produce various commodities, including solar panels.

The team met Ched Liphi, a 31-year-old entrepreneur and Botswana Defense Force veteran who designed and manufactures backpacks for school children with a solar panel, small battery and light. The concept is that a child walking to school can charge the backpack, then study at night using the light or charge a tablet. Liphi is pursuing a BDF contract to adapt the product for anti-poaching patrols.

Government

The U.S. Embassy hosted a third S&T invitational at the Botswana Innovation Hub at the University of Botswana. Researchers from multiple universities presented their work, including a vision for a solar-powered smart city. Another researcher discussed the ability to predict geo-political events by analyzing open source big data from cell phones and social media.

The DEVCOM-ATL team met the Permanent Secretary of Ministry of Defense, Justice and Security and learned about a new research and development organization that the BDF recently stood up. The BDF staff was interested in learning how the U.S. Department of Defense supports S&T in the military and requested help in writing a S&T strategy, including how to execute S&T throughout the BDF.

The U.S. Embassy team invited DEVCOM to participate in the Africa Aerospace and Defense Air Show and Defense Exhibition in September in Johannesburg, South Africa. DEVCOM was also invited to participate in a conference hosted by ONR-G in Kenya in October/November, 2022.

Military

The BDF funded eight officers to pursue master’s degrees in engineering. The students collaborated on drone technology, optimizing the hardware design, electrical design and AI/ML for tracking, detection and identification. This work led to a follow-on proposal that the U.S. Army and Navy may fund in the future. The BDF plans to participate indirectly in the project and continue sponsoring students who participate in the program.

The South African National Defense Force military academy at Saldanha is a joint academy staffed by professors who are dual-hatted as officers at the SANDF and University of Stellenbosch. Saldanha has an agreement with the United States Military Academy at West Point for students to collaborate and participate in exchange programs. The DEVCOM-ATL team met with the faculty to discuss other opportunities, including research grants and participation in experimental activities with USMA and DEVCOM Command, Control, Computers, Communications, Cyber, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Center, who have a partnership.

“Our adversaries are active in this region, which is evident by the proliferation of Chinese technology, research and development. It is equally apparent that there is a strong appetite to partner with the U.S. and western nations, particularly because of the return on investment. Due to favorable exchange rates, $100K will fund six or more researchers in Africa, including equipment and overhead, versus one project in Western Europe,” said Dr. Jonathon Brame, DEVCOM-ATL Basic and Applied Research team lead.

The U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command — DEVCOM — is home to the Army’s largest pool of civilian scientists, engineers, analysts and technicians who are the bedrock for discovering and developing the capabilities Soldiers need to deter, and when necessary, defeat current and future adversaries.

DEVCOM is a major subordinate command of Army Futures Command, and together the Team of Teams provides the scientific and engineering expertise necessary to better integrate modernization priorities and give the Army, as part of the Joint Force, the ability to act faster and more effectively than the adversary.

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