RESEARCHERS SHACK UP IN REALIGNMENT

Obviously, the big news today is the Pentagon's announcement of which military bases they'd like to pare back, and which ones they want to close down altogether (a complete list is here).scientist.jpgAlready, Senators are howling about the bases that might be shuttered in their home states. But lost in the shouting are some seemingly-small changes that have the potential to make an outsized impact on the future of the American military.Several of the Pentagon's most important centers of science and technology development -- including the mad scientists at Darpa, the Office of Naval Research, the Army Research Office, and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research -- are all going to leave their old offices behind, and become roommates at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.The moves will save a bit of money -- $573 million over 20 years, the Defense Department figures. And they'll probably help with security, by taking these groups out of leased office buildings, and onto a military base.More importantly, being neighbors might help these far-thinking research groups get rid of some overlap as they hand out grants to scientists and engineers. Recently, both Darpa and the Office of Naval Research launched undersea spycam efforts that sound awfully similar; the Army Research Office and Darpa are both funding a Duke professor's studies into "automated self-configuring surveillance networks."Maybe some of that duplication can be squeezed out, under the new plan. Darpa's been criticized, recently, for straying from its mandate to fund way-out, "blue sky" research. Having agencies nearby that are funding the here-and-now might help Darpa return to its mission.The Defense Department is also pushing to move all research into ground robots to Detroit. That's where the auto industry is centered, of course. And the Defense Department wants to better "leverage the worlds intellectual capital for automotive/ground vehicle research."Ft. Monmouth, NJ -- where the Army currently does a lot of its communications, sensors, and anti-IED research -- is slated to be shut down. Much of that work will go to Maryland's Aberdeen Proving Ground. In addition, the Pentagon wants to set up major research and development centers for things like airplanes, helicopters, air armaments, navy sensors, and guns and ammunition.Obviously, all this is extremely preliminary. There will be major fights -- within the services, among the military's branches, and between Congress and the Pentagon over nearly all of these changes. Stay tuned.

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