All eyes on the future at Rome Lab
For 70 years, the city of Rome has been home to one of the most advanced technological development agencies in the world. The Air Force Research Lab’s Information Directorate has been a part of the city in one form or another for longer than most Romans have been alive.
But what exactly is the “Rome Lab”? What are they doing up there at Griffiss Park? And why are they still in Rome almost 30 years after leaving the Air Force base?
If you asked the management of Rome Lab – what is the Daily SentryI did this in a recent interview – they will say they are working for a better future.
“We are inventing the future of the Air Force and the Space Force,” said Dr Michael J. Hayduk, deputy director of the facility and graduate of the Catholic High School in Rome.
Chief Engineer Karen Roth agreed, “It’s really about enabling the future. “
And that’s the future of the Air Force and the rest of the country. The Information Directorate is on the ground floor of developing the future of computers, cybersecurity, communications equipment, drones, and perhaps even the next evolution of the Internet. They take this “foundational” work and share it through dozens of partnerships with other government agencies and some private sector companies to go even further.
According to Roth, their Federal Mission states that “if we do cool things here, we make sure they come into the community. “
What is the Rome laboratory?
The Air Force Research Laboratory’s Information Directorate is one of nine facilities across the country working on research for the US Air Force. AFRL is headquartered at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, with other facilities in Virginia, California, Hawaii, and elsewhere in the country and around the world. Other facilities focus on areas such as ammunition, human performance, and aerospace systems
The Rome facility focuses on information technology, particularly command, control, communications, computers, intelligence and cybersecurity. His work is woven into the other eight facilities.
The operation began in 1951 with the construction of the Rome Air Development Center, one of four “super laboratories” across the country. They worked on projects such as surveillance radar, the first communications satellites, and were one of the centers of ARPANET, the original Internet developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in the 1970s.
Dr Hayduk said it was the engineers at Rome Labs who had the “foresight” to develop cybersecurity back when the internet itself was in its infancy, which led to security programs and advancements. that we have today.
Rome Labs scientist John F. Dove developed and patented laser technology that would later be used to write information to compact discs.
In 1991, the facility changed its name to Rome Laboratory as the Air Force began to condense its locations, and eventually it was renamed the AFRL Information Directorate in 1997 after the closure of Griffiss Air Base.
More commonly known as “Rome Labs”, the operation spans 65 acres in the renowned Griffiss Business and Technology Park and houses 30 laboratories and other facilities. They have more than 1,200 employees, both government and civilian, with a funding budget of $ 1.6 billion as of September 2020, coming from both a government budget and several financial contracts with dozens of other agencies. .
What are they doing?
“We do a lot of quantum work these days,” said Roth. “Who will build the quantum computer of tomorrow?” “
Modern Rome Labs is working on a wide variety of projects in many fields, from the CONDOR supercomputer to the Android Technical Awareness Kit (ATAK), a system designed to replace physical satellites when it comes to GPS coordination.
“Google Maps or Waze on steroids,” Dr. Hayduk described.
GPS coordinates, whether on your cell phone or used by the military command, are based on physical satellites floating in orbit – but what does a soldier in the field do if something happens to the satellite? ATAK will be a new way of knowing your position and that of others, without depending on satellites. Some law enforcement agencies are already using the technology, most notably during the escape from Dannemora prison in 2015, they said.
“How do we carry out our mission, no matter what is going on in the environment? Roth said.
One of the projects at the heart of the Rome labs is future quantum computing, where computers and the internet operate at an even smaller size and speed than today’s microchip or nanotechnology.
Quantum is “nature in very basic building blocks,” Hayduk explained.
“The human brain is the perfect supercomputer,” he said, capable of multitasking, self-repairing and running at low power.
“It takes less energy to run the human brain than an average incandescent light bulb. “
Quantum computers will run with the speed and efficiency of the brain, and Rome Labs wants to be on the ground floor of future quantum breakthroughs – we just aren’t there yet. As Roth noted, there aren’t any quantum engineers yet, and Rome Labs is working to change that.
Although mainly through “core” technology, Roth said. “We don’t usually release products,” she said. The engineers at Rome Labs are more concerned with publishing papers and reports than actually developing the physical devices and products. This work is left to their many partners, allowing Rome Labs to focus their efforts on the underlying technology.
Griffiss Air Base closed in 1995, but the Information Directorate remained behind and was forced to become its own entity. According to Roth and Hayduk, this independence has been a boon for Rome Labs, as they don’t have to compete for resources with other agencies on a shared basis.
“It made sense to keep that legacy here,” said Roth.
“No other base really has these community connections that we can take advantage of. Seventy years of building technology heritage here in Rome.
According to Roth, it would take a whole “generation” of work to rebuild the infrastructure already in place in Rome if AFRL decided to move. Rome also has the infrastructure already in place, both in Rome and its surroundings. There are two outposts doing their own unique testing that Rome Labs didn’t want to give up.
In Newport, Herkimer County, a Rome Labs facility uses the rolling topography of the Mohawk Valley to test antennas and radio signals. The Newport facility lifts planes onto mechanical pedestals to test the operation of radio signals as the planes perform various flight maneuvers.
If a jet fighter loses radio contact in the middle of a gun role, the Air Force wants to know. Officials said every plane the Air Force has ever flown has been tested at Newport.
In Stockbridge in Madison County, a facility along Route 46 has long been the subject of suspicion by local residents. Officials said the facility has 30 base nodes that can be tuned in a number of ways to simulate a multitude of test scenarios, including warfare simulations. The focus of the Stockbridge facility these days is anti-drone technology – and not, like public rumors, anything to do with Area 51, Roth joked.
As for the Rome campus itself, work is already underway on a new wall surrounding the entire complex. And Hayduk and Roth said the wall is just the start of a campus overhaul slated for next year. Among the new buildings they plan to add will be a visitor center.
They said Rome Labs plans to stay at the forefront of technological growth in the region for a long time.
“We are always actively recruiting, recruiting and looking for new talent,” said Hayduk. “The lab is the engine of the Mohawk Valley’s high-tech infrastructure. “