Rensselaer Researcher Gets Firsthand View of Behind-the-Scenes Military Technology

September 17, 2007

Rensselaer Researcher Gets Firsthand View of Behind-the-Scenes Military Technology

Engineering professor Rich Radke participates in prestigious DARPA program

Troy, N.Y. — It’s not every day an engineering professor gets to rub elbows with top military brass, watch from a few meters away as three F-15 fighter jets refuel in mid air, and stroll through a “petting zoo” of Cold War era Soviet machines of war.

Richard Radke

ECSE Professor Rich Radke sits in the cockpit of a KC-135 Stratotanker refueling jet in June, during the second of four behind-the-scenes tours of U.S. military facilities he participated in as part of the Department of Defense's 2007 Computer Science Study Panel.
Photo Credit: Rensselaer/Richard Radke

But these adventures are only a sprinkling of what Richard Radke, a newly tenured professor in Rensselaer’s Department of Electrical, Computer, and Systems Engineering, experienced while touring the country’s military facilities as part of the Department of Defense’s Computer Science Study Panel.

Radke was one of a dozen researchers to participate in the 2007 CS Study Panel, a competitive program administered by the Institute for Defense Analyses for the DoD’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The training program aims to support university research in computer science and related fields, while informing a new generation of researchers about the needs and priorities of the nation’s defense agencies.

The multi-year program familiarizes up-and-coming faculty from American universities with DoD practices, challenges, and risks. Participants are encouraged to view their own research through this new perspective, and then to explore and develop technologies that have the potential to transition innovative and revolutionary computer science and technology advances to the government.

“The basic idea is to expose young faculty to Department of Defense-related activities, via briefings by military and intelligence officers and ‘field trips’ to military and industrial bases,” Radke said. “It is truly a hard-core experience filled with days of interesting briefings and up-close show-and-tell with vehicles and equipment.”

The program lasts about 20 days, split up into four sessions. In April, Radke and the group visited facilities around Washington, including the National Military Command Center at the Pentagon. The second trip took Radke to the U.S. Joint Forces Command in Norfolk, Va., Langley Air Base, and the Naval Network Warfare Command — where Radke toured the guided missile cruiser USS Monterey, the huge landing helicopter assault ship USS Nassau, and the nuclear attack submarine USS Albany.

Other highlights of the second session included a jump from the 34-foot training tower at the Advanced Airborne School at Ft. Bragg in Fayetteville, N.C., along with lying down in the back of a KC-135 transport jet and watching three nearby F-15 fighter jets refuel in mid-air.

In July, the third session included tours of Lockheed Martin’s Advanced Development Program, Northrop Grumman, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, and Edwards Air Force Base, which is the U.S. Air Force’s main site for fighter jet testing, test pilot education, and flight research. Other stops included the Nevada Test and Training Range and Nellis Air Force Base. One section of Nellis featured a threat training facility, called the “Petting Zoo,” filled with foreign tanks, missile launchers, helicopters, planes, and other equipment. Radke said the U.S. military studied the captured equipment to discover ways of exploiting its design quirks and weaknesses.

So far, Radke has visited seven of the nation’s nine military combatant commands. The fourth session, to take place in October, will include visits to the Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, and other high-level security organizations.

In addition to traveling on military aircraft, sleeping in military lodging and eating military food — which, according to Radke’s blog, is quite tasty — the professor met dozens of military personnel, as well as former officers who lead and work for the Institute for Defense Analyses. These connections will be beneficial as Radke moves forward developing and submitting a proposal to DARPA for applying his computer vision research toward new defense applications.

“Traveling with these people really opens up doors at places you visit,” Radke said. Plus, the experience afforded him a greater appreciation for the efforts of men and women in the U.S. military whose job is to keep the country secure. “Understanding what these people do on a day-to-day basis, you can’t help but be impressed.”

Radke and other CS Study Panel participants will submit their proposals in November, and successful projects will be eligible for further funding and DARPA support. Radke is planning to leverage his current research of combining laser range scanning with high-definition digital photography to create algorithms that can make reasoned decisions about 3-D objects in complex environments. Combing the two complementary technologies in a smart way will enable fast, robust decision-making and 3-D view synthesis that could be used in a number of defense, intelligence, and surveillance applications useful to the military, Radke said.

Radke’s blogs, which include a wealth of photos, can be found at: and

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