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Newsmaker Profile: Ken Bowra

As joint warfighting requirements emerge, the military is looking more and more toward scientists and engineers for technological solutions. Some of these solutions have come to fruition through partnerships with the Department of Energy's national laboratories. Ken Bowra, who works for Oak Ridge National Laboratory, is USJFCOM's national laboratory liaison and is focused on facilitating understanding and communications between the command and the national laboratories. He works to deliver cutting-edge technology to the joint warfighter.

Suffolk VA (SPX) Aug 18, 2005
Today's security challenges demand an integrated military with streamlined capabilities and access to cutting-edge technologies.

Charged with transforming the military, U.S. Joint Forces Command (USJFCOM) works tirelessly to ensure that these cutting-edge technologies reach the warfighters.

Ken Bowra, in his role as USJFCOM's national laboratory liaison, plays a major role in harnessing the new and emerging technology by maintaining strategic partnerships with the nine major national laboratories operated by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

By sharing capability requirements as USJFCOM identifies issues impacting the military's ability to perform joint missions, he ensures that cutting-edge research and technology from the DOE's national laboratories are complementing USJFCOM's research and experimentation efforts and make difference on the battlefield.

With the specific mission of serving as a window into the DOE laboratory system, Bowra, a retired U.S. Army major general, has a lot to say.

Q: As an Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) employee assigned to USJFCOM as the liaison for ORNL and other national labs, what is your role?

A: The national labs have an annual budget of approximately $10 billion and when you look at the research and development (R&D) capabilities of these national labs, there's a lot of technology that is available which could be leveraged to meet the Department of Defense's (DoD) requirements.

In my duties here at USJFCOM, I serve as a "window" to the major DOE national laboratories. I also provide real-time reach back to Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the other labs.

For example, as emerging requirements are released, I can pick up the phone and call Oak Ridge or any other national lab contact to provide immediate assistance to USJFCOM.

This could be an assessment of a technology requirement or to bring a specialist to USJFCOM, to participate in key activities or to assess current capabilities or technology gaps.

I'm here to assist with "the art of the possible." That's important because the labs have tremendous capabilities and experiences. They can rapidly assess whether or not a technology can meet a requirement. If one lab doesn't have the capability, it will know which lab might provide the best possible solution.

In summary, being here gives USJFCOM a technology center of excellence through Oak Ridge and the other national laboratories.

Q: Could you identify these national labs?

A: There are nine major Department of Energy national laboratories that I coordinate with: Oak Ridge, Brookhaven, Argonne, Los Alamos, Sandia, Lawrence Livermore, Lawrence Berkeley, Pacific Northwest, and Idaho National Engineering Lab.

Q: What do you see as your biggest challenge now and in the future?

A: The biggest challenge is to be aware of technology requirements within USJFCOM. The way to meet that challenge is to be engaged on a daily basis here with all elements within the command. I need to be proactive with all of the components of USJFCOM to fully understand their requirements.

How do you, and your position fit into the "big picture?" What is your definition of the "big picture?"

A: We strive to assist USJFCOM in meeting its technology requirements and that equates to helping the warfighter, combatant commanders, and all the service members who are out there serving our nation. We provide them technology solutions for near and long-term requirements. If we can provide immediately technology solutions that will make a difference to them in the Global War on Terrorism, there is nothing more important.

Q: Do the national labs work on different things?

A: Each lab has unique and different strengths. The key is to have an understanding of where their expertise lies. But, the goal is to also make the labs familiar with requirements and processes here, so I facilitate and support visits by the national laboratory representatives here to USJFCOM.

The goal is to have a focused itinerary that will give them the best snapshot of the command and its requirements.

Also, when the command produces a list of outstanding technology requirements, I forward an "All Hands" message to the major labs, stating the requirements and the USJFCOM points of contacts. Then, I try to get feedback, to see if they have capabilities that can be leveraged.

Q: Will the establishment of the Office of Research and Technology Applications (ORTA) impact the command's relationship with the labs?

A: ORTA is a tremendous initiative. In fact, it's brilliant.

The Technology Transfer office will provide industry and government a focal point for entry into USJFCOM to be able to rapidly transfer technology and to better understand requirements as the ORTA team gets the word out. It will eliminate stove pipes to bring everything into one focused office, which has the capability to properly assess and take the appropriate actions. My role is to provide ORTA links to the national labs.

Q: What is the next step for USJFCOM and the national lab partnership?

A: The next step involves reinforcing what is being done with the tech transfer office and to stay engaged. Visits are critical for promoting two-way understanding of joint warfighting requirements and technology capabilities.

When lab representatives visit USJFCOM, they can brief the command on lab capabilities and limitations. Then the command ascertains a better understanding of that lab's expertise.

It's also critical to bring components within USJFCOM to the various national labs to see the capabilities firsthand and to listen to the experts. The labs develop amazing technologies for other applications; yet, they may be applied to meet DoD requirements.

Q: How does ORNL and other labs' cutting-edge research complement USJFCOM's research and experimentation efforts here? A: We don't want to duplicate available technologies. The labs will address the toughest technology challenges. The national labs, with their uniqueness in science skills, will take on challenges that often cannot be handled by others.

The best thing about the relationship between the national labs and DoD, is that it is a government to government relationship.

We are currently working within several areas of the command and are assessing technology gaps that may be solved by current or near-term technologies available at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Some of these may be leveraged for rapid solutions.

Q: I know that in some recent wargames and experiment, the command has had interagency groups participate, are the labs participating or will they in the future? A: We actually did that in support of the Joint Experimentation Directorate last year at the Bolger Center in Potomac, Md., during Joint Urban Warrior 04. We brought in two technical experts from Oak Ridge National Lab and placed them in the blue cells.

As blue developed a course of action, it now had its own science and technology expert to explain why it could or could not do certain things to targets. The ORNL technology experts were able to bring the right detail and ground truth to the exercise. So, this time it wasn't magic dust solutions. The technology was a factor in the courses of action development.

Also, I recently was able to assist in the science and technology (S&T) cell during Joint Urban Warrior 05.

Q: What resources are national labs dedicating to joint warfighter objectives?

A: The national labs are working to make a difference on the battlefield of today and in the future. The tremendous capabilities in the national laboratories can help contribute to support the joint warfighters, and meet their toughest technology requirements

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