Physics and physicists are central to the nation's security. This partnership between government and physics includes important areas such as the design of optics for reconnaissance satellites, new forms of cryptography, the aging of the nuclear stockpile, communications electronics, counter-terrorism, and ballistic missile defense. Rapidly evolving fields, such as the physics of new materials, and various applications of physics, ranging from physical oceanography to remote sensing, now are crucial for national security.
Many of the technical breakthroughs that have contributed to national security have their roots in advances in basic physics research. Recent military actions in the Gulf War and in the Balkans showed the extent to which warfare has been transformed by technology. Technical superiority shortened the duration of these actions and helped to minimize the loss of life. Physics was involved directly, as in laser guidance and satellite technology, and indirectly, by virtue of the many areas of basic research that underpin modern electronics, optics, and sensing systems. Scientists engaged in basic research also play a crucial role in evaluating new threats and opportunities arising from technical advances. Scientific risk/opportunity assessment increases the chances the nation will invest its defense resources wisely and avoid reactions to misperceived threats.
Physics research relevant to national defense involves a host of agencies, university connections, and industrial links; each could be the subject of a dedicated report. The committee focuses here on two broad areas that touch on many of these fields: basic physics research at the national laboratories of the Department of Energy and at the Department of Defense.
THE DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY
An important national legacy of the government-science partnership that grew out of World War II is the national laboratories operated by the
Department of Energy's Office of the Deputy Administrator for Defense Programs (hereinafter called the Office of Defense Programs): Los Alamos, Livermore, and Sandia. These laboratories today have a central mission—reducing the global nuclear danger—that involves extraordinary challenges in stockpile stewardship, in nonproliferation and arms control, in nuclear materials management, and in the cleanup of the environmental legacy of nuclear weapons activities. They have also shouldered other important responsibilities as the government has recognized new issues that affect the nation's physical and economic security and that require technological solutions. Examples include global climate dynamics, new energy sources, counterterrorism (including chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction), environmental protection and remediation, and biomedical technologies.
To succeed in their missions, it is essential that the laboratories have access to excellent science and technology. The core technical competencies that have been established in crucial areas such as high-energy-density physics, nuclear physics, hydrodynamics, computational science, and advanced materials are the cornerstones supporting the laboratories. The facilities and scientific manpower concentrated in these areas are the result of years of government investment. The laboratories are also supported by a network of contacts to the outside world, including university researchers, industrial partners, and Department of Defense scientists. These interactions are important both in leveraging scientific strength and in recruiting new talent to the laboratories.
The Laboratories and Global Nuclear Dangers
The invention of nuclear weapons was one of the defining events of the 20th century. The political and military legacy of this invention is now exceedingly complex. The underlying physics of atomic weapons is widely understood and accessible to the scientists of many nations. Indeed, the original technology dates to more than 50 years ago, when most movies were black and white, telephones needed operators, and radio had not yet been supplanted by television. Fissile material, once a great barrier to entering the nuclear community, now exists in great quantities in the United States, the former Soviet Union, and elsewhere. Estimates of this stockpile range from 100,000 to 1,000,000 kg, while the amount needed for a bomb is about 10 kg. There is great concern that not all of this fissile material is confined to politically stable parts of the world.
The rapid lowering of the barrier to the nuclear club led the United
States and other nations to enter into the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty to limit the spread of nuclear weapons. The effort to stem proliferation while maintaining national security poses new challenges to the Office of Defense Programs' national laboratories, one of them being that the most advanced weapons in the U.S. arsenal are now about a decade old. The laboratories have the congressionally mandated duty of verifying the readiness and reliability of the weapons stockpile, as well as responsibility for maintaining the capability to resume underground testing, to execute new designs, and to understand the nuclear weapons capabilities of other nations.
In the absence of nuclear testing, the laboratories rely increasingly on laboratory experiments and computer simulations to predict the behavior of weapons. Uncertainties that previously could be handled empirically—through ad hoc adjustments of codes to reproduce the results of tests—must now be handled quantitatively, through ancillary physics experiments or improved theory. The physical data effort is being aided by high-energy-density research devices such as the Z-pinch at Sandia and the Omega laser at the University of Rochester, in which conditions almost as extreme as those produced in the explosion of a nuclear weapon (or a supernova) prevail. Another step will have been taken with the completion of Livermore's National Ignition Facility, which will exploit lasers to study the high energy densities required for laboratory nuclear ignition experiments.
Appropriate modeling of the physics and excellent numerical resolution in time and space are both essential to realistic simulations. The Accelerated Strategic Computing Initiative (ASCI) is an effort to exploit fully the power of massively parallel computing to model and verify weapons performance. It challenges computer scientists to utilize effectively new parallel architectures and physical scientists to model properly the complex physical processes that govern weapons behavior. This effort will have impacts well beyond weapons: Other problems of national interest—among them the efficiency of internal combustion engines, climate and weather modeling, and the spread of forest fires—involve similar numerical and physics challenges.
The effects of aging on the stockpile present another class of challenges. There are important new techniques on the horizon—for example, proton radiography—that promise to help scientists monitor nondestructively the changing properties of weapons materials. The ability of the laboratories to develop this technology is a direct consequence of their long involvement in accelerator physics and detector technologies.
Security and Basic Research
Security is of paramount importance to the defense activities of the Office of Defense Programs' national laboratories. This need is an additional challenge for laboratory scientists, as science is a collective endeavor in which discussion and open criticism speed progress and are a central part of the process of validation. Such open exchanges can conflict with the need to compartmentalize knowledge for security purposes. The scientists at the laboratories thus often have to pursue their science under conditions that restrict the feedback they receive. The laboratories have recognized this issue and work hard to provide the needed peer review under conditions consistent with security.
Laboratory security is sometimes a contentious issue. There are concerns on the one hand about the adequacy of security practices and on the other about reactions to security breaches that will isolate the laboratories from the outside scientific community. Increased isolation will diminish the quality of science at the laboratories and detract from the recruiting and retention efforts needed to keep these institutions strong for another generation.
Richard Rhodes, in his account of the development of the atomic bomb, attributed the success of the U.S. effort—as well as the slower progress of the Soviet effort during World War II—in part to the degree of trust the respective governments had in the judgment of their scientists. 1 This constructive relationship between weapons laboratory scientists and government has persisted and served the nation well for nearly 60 years. While security is essential to the nation's defense programs, it is also important for Congress, the Department of Energy and its laboratory leaders, and laboratory scientists to work together to ensure an atmosphere of trust.
Preserving Laboratory Quality
The technical strength of the Office of Defense Programs' laboratories derives from the quality of their scientists and of their facilities. There are troubling trends that threaten to weaken both.
The basic science activities within the laboratories—those activities that maintain the core competencies and provide much of the innovation—appear to be in significant decline at Livermore, Los Alamos, and Sandia. This decline has been driven by rather dramatic changes in the way the
1 Richard Rhodes. 1995. The Making of the Atomic Bomb.
laboratories are funded: Increasingly, support is directed narrowly to specific programmatic efforts. This is a departure from past practices, in which a portion of short-term programmatic funding was reserved for the support of core science efforts important to the long-term health of the laboratory. At Livermore, for example, funding of the Physics Directorate has declined by 30 percent in 3 years. This has led to the closing of a number of smaller facilities that previously helped to provide the physical data needed for weapons design. It is a troubling trend given that basic science and physical data should be of increasing importance to stockpile stewardship because they are necessary input for the simulation efforts.
The impact of these reductions was heightened in FY00 by a reduction in laboratory funding for start-up basic research by one-third. Fortunately, Congress restored this funding to its usual level, 6 percent of laboratory budgets, in FY01. These funds have allowed laboratory scientists to pursue new basic research directions and to identify new programmatic possibilities. Laboratory leaders have recognized the importance of keeping some of their most creative scientists thinking about the nation's future needs even as the pace of technology development requires heightened vigilance.
Another threat to national security is the growing difficulty facing laboratory recruiters. Two important national trends, the decline in the number of U.S. physical science Ph.D.'s and the increasing competition from industry for the best young scientists, would present a problem for the laboratories even in the best of times. The effects of these trends are now compounded by morale and funding issues. There has been a significant drop-off in applications to the Office of Defense Programs' national laboratories. The impact on applications from non-U.S. citizens, a major fraction of the talent pool, appears to be especially severe, a decline by a factor of about 5. Low morale is affecting long-term employees as well, making outside opportunities appear more attractive. As the best scientists in the national laboratories are clearly also the most marketable and most mobile, there is a risk that talent will rapidly be lost.
Many of the scientists with experience in weapons design and testing have retired or will retire soon, making their replacement an immediate issue. The laboratories must recruit young scientists from the pool of researchers produced by our leading universities. Historically, recruitment has been greatly enhanced by the strong basic science efforts of the national laboratories in core competencies like astrophysics, nuclear physics, high-energy-density physics, hydrodynamics, computer science, and atomic physics. These areas draw large numbers of new scientists to the laboratory, many of whom later become fully involved in activities of a more program-
matic kind. As the weapons program basic science support and laboratory basic science start-up funds dry up, so too does the conduit for drawing new talent into the laboratories.
THE DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE
In the decades following World War II, the Department of Defense supported a broad portfolio of basic research at DOD, university, and industrial laboratories. The motivation was the expectation that technical advances would further the nation's capabilities in areas such as surveillance, intelligence gathering, missile defense, communications, stealth technology, and nuclear physics. The Navy has interests in oceanographic physics, in the propagation of sound through water, in deep-ocean currents, and in meteorology. Air Force concerns include turbulent fluid flows, navigation, long-range observation, and pattern recognition, while Army interests include night and all-weather vision and techniques for avoiding detection. The Air Force, Navy, and Army share many common goals: Each service depends on surveillance and reconnaissance to assess threats before battle and to follow the evolution of a conflict once battle is joined; all need to defend their positions and to locate targets and destroy them before they themselves are attacked.
But defense research is changing. With the end of the Cold War and the diminished threat of all-out conflict between the United States and Russia, DOD budgets have fallen and a very different world of threats faces the military—smaller conflicts, multiple conflicts, biological and chemical threats, terrorism, cyberwar. Many other changes accompany these threats. The new information-based economy has altered the relationship between DOD development and industry. More off-the-shelf products find their way into weapons systems, driven either by cost considerations or by the rapid advance of commercial capabilities, which often outstrip what government can do on its own. Finally, the move toward multidisciplinary, integrated systems of data and control has joined physics to other arenas in fundamentally new ways, with nanotechnologies as one instance and the computational sciences as another.
Physics and the DOD
The modern battlefield has changed remarkably as a result of technological advances. Lasers guide smart munitions and help in high-resolution surveillance. Advanced optical systems are employed in space-based satel-
lite surveillance systems, in manned and unmanned aircraft, in missiles, and even on rifles. In the Gulf War, night vision systems proved to be a crucial technology ( Figure 8.1). Forward-looking infrared detectors (FLIRs) are now being acquired in the hundreds of thousands. There have been rapid developments in areas such as directed-energy weapons, surveillance, stealth, electronic countermeasures, guidance and control, information and signal processing, communications, and command and control. The pace at which a weapons system proceeds from the conceptual, to the commonplace, to the obsolete continues to accelerate.
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These technologies depend on underlying advances in a wide range of physics disciplines. Many of the examples above reflect recent developments in optics. Plasma physics figures widely, from beam weapons to display technologies. Quantum physics is the foundation for novel electronic devices and components. Atomic and molecular physics figures in clocks for navigation, the Global Positioning System (GPS), lasers, and the observation of atomic interactions in strong electromagnetic fields. These connections to physics motivated the strong DOD investments in basic science during the Cold War. Physicists in DOD laboratories not only contributed to the advance of basic science but also helped DOD to keep abreast of and evaluate the relevance of developments in industry and in universities.
DOD Support of Basic Research
The DOD divides its research cycle into a series of budget categories from 6.1 to 6.7, categories that, however imperfectly, are designed to track research funding from the most fundamental to the processing of operational weapons systems. Funding for basic research (6.1) along with other defense spending began a decline at the end of the Cold War. Measured in constant FY01 dollars, this decline took the executed 6.1 budget from roughly $1.49 billion in 1993 to a low of just over $1.06 billion in 1998; since then, there has been a rise to approximately $1.17 billion in FY00 and to $1.33 billion in FY01. This represents a decline of approximately 11 percent over the period. DOD support of basic research in physics has moved in step with the overall research budget since the end of the Cold War, also decreasing by approximately 11 percent, bringing it to just over $122 million in FY01.
DOD basic research now represents approximately 6.5 percent of the total federal commitment; by comparison, the DOE budget for basic research, at $2.3 billion, represents about 13 percent. The DOD support is provided through the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, and the Office of the Secretary of Defense, with the remainder distributed among other defense agencies and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). At least 50 percent of the DOD basic research budget goes to universities, about 25 percent to in-house DOD laboratories, and the remaining 25 percent to an assortment of industrial and other sites. In certain sectors of research, DOD funding represents a powerful component of the total federal support at universities. DOD funding, for example, now accounts for about 70 percent of all the federal funding for electrical engineering. Com-
puter science gets nearly 50 percent and mathematics gets 17 percent of its federal funding through the DOD.
Changes in recent years occurring in the national laboratories operated by the Department of Energy's Office of Defense Programs may be altering a formula that has served the nation well for half a century: National security challenges are best addressed by laboratories with excellent basic science core competencies and with strong connections to outside university and industrial researchers. The dominant force behind the changes is a pattern of funding that de-emphasizes the long-term basic research that previously maintained laboratory excellence in core competencies. In addition, unfortunate security lapses and the response to them are contributing to morale and recruiting problems, endangering the historical partnership between government and laboratory scientists.
Some scientific leaders in DOD feel that budget reductions for basic science have seriously weakened in-house research: Long-term declines and year-to-year instabilities have made it difficult to retain the top scientists. Instabilities in DOD external funding of industry and university research have also resulted in considerable disruption of programs with a corresponding loss in productivity.
The decline of DOD laboratory basic science capabilities and activities raises issues similar to those raised at the DOE laboratories. In earlier decades, the DOD laboratories had active programs in basic physics research directly relevant to DOD missions. The scientists involved in such research were able to advise the DOD on basic physics issues and to help evaluate products provided by industry. The decline in this research effort and in the quality of in-house expertise has been driven by changing funding trends, short-term demands on the services' budgets, and competition for good technical people from other sectors of the economy.
There is a critical need to ensure that the physics research required to maintain the technical superiority of the nation's armed forces is being carried out somewhere. Although the committee is not in a position to judge whether or not the DOD laboratories are the best places to do this, it is clear that they had this function in the past and now have lost much of their capability. Regardless of the source of DOD research, there is also a critical need for the DOD to evaluate the physics carried out by outside vendors. The level of DOD in-house expertise may no longer be sufficient for this task.