Home >> July 2011 Edition >> Command Center: Dr. James A. DeBardelaben
Command Center: Dr. James A. DeBardelaben
Founder, CEO, IvySys Technologies

DebardelabenHead Dr. James A. DeBardelaben founded IvySys Technologies, LLC in 2005 with the vision of creating an innovative technology solutions and services firm exclusively dedicated to solving the critical situational awareness problems of the defense, intelligence, and homeland security communities. Under his leadership as president, IvySys has become a lead technical consultant to the DARPA Strategic Technology Office and the Office of the Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) sensor networking, robust wireless communications, and tagging, tracking, and locating (TTL) programs.

Before founding IvySys, he was the program manager for Special Operations ISR programs at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL). While at APL, Dr. DeBardelaben served as an expert consultant to the DARPA Advanced Technology Office and Naval Special Warfare Sea Eagle program. He also served as supervisor for Real-time Embedded Software and Tactical Distributed Systems and Networking in the APL National Security Technology Department. As the APL project manager for the NAVSEA Silent Hammer Limited Objective Experiment (LOE), Dr. DeBardelaben led the Special Operations Land Products Team that developed unattended ground sensor; an unattended land mesh network for high data rate, long-range persistent communications; and custom software applications to enhance SOF situational awareness. In addition, Dr. DeBardelaben was the lead software engineer for the Special Operations unattended ground sensors and wireless network implemented in the NAVSEA Giant Shadow LOE. Prior to his tenure at APL, Dr. DeBardelaben developed global sales and trading systems as an information technologist in the Distributed Systems Group at Morgan Stanley in New York City. DeBardelabenFig1

Dr. DeBardelaben received a Ph.D. in electrical and computer engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology, an M.S.E in computer engineering from Princeton University, and a B.S. in electrical engineering with honors from Brown University. He has authored more than 20 technical journal and conference papers in wireless networking, embedded system design, and rapid system prototyping.

MilsatMagazine (MSM)
Good day, Dr. DeBardelaben. Your career spans a number of disciplines, from embedded system design to rapid system prototyping to wireless networking. How did you move from developing global sales and trading systems at Morgan Stanley to becoming ensconced in the government/military market segment?

Spacenet_ad_MSMJA11 Dr. DeBardelaben
Before the 9/11 attacks, I was working on Wall Street developing global sales and trading systems. After the 9/11 attacks, I was overcome by a strong sense of duty and developed a desire to work in a field that would allow me to make a greater impact protecting national security.

As a result, I joined the technical staff at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), where I got my start developing unattended ground sensors in support of special operations forces (SOF) missions. My work at APL as a program manager for special operations intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) sparked my vision for creating IvySys, an innovative ISR technology solutions and services company. We exclusively focus on solving the situational awareness problems of the defense, intelligence and homeland security community.

Was it while you were with APL that you developed an affinity for, and ability to work with, DARPA? Could you tell our readers what projects you worked on while at DARPA and why they were important to what you accomplish now?

Dr. DeBardelaben
Yes. During my time at APL, I had the privilege to serve as an expert consultant to the DARPA Advanced Technology Office, which later became the Strategic Technology Office. I also served as supervisor for Real-time Embedded Software and Tactical Distributed Systems and Networking in the APL National Security Technology Department.

It was my work providing subject matter expertise to DARPA programs that ignited my passion for developing mission-oriented ISR technologies for the tactical war fighter. At DARPA, I provided expertise to programs focusing on advanced low-cost, high-data rate SATCOM, robust wireless communications and networking in extreme environments, tactical SIGINT, navigation in GPS-denied environments, and “see-through-fog” image enhancement capabilities.

My experience working with DARPA highlighted the importance of cultivating close relationships with the military user communities. At IvySys, our objective is to tightly align our ISR technology development efforts with the current and future needs of the war fighter. We do this by leveraging our relationships with tactical operators from the special operations, intelligence, and maritime user communities to elicit feedback throughout the development process.

What are some of your guidelines for a commercial firm to be successful in working with a government procurement entity? Is the transition from a purely commercial environment into the government/military complex one fraught with challenges? How are they overcome?

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Dr. DeBardelaben
The key challenges facing commercial firms entering the defense contracting environment are developing relationships with defense program managers, obtaining necessary clearances, and complying with government accounting standards.

The first obstacle is overcome by attending networking events with government program managers and building collaborative relationships with traditional defense prime contractors. Commercial firms must first look for unclassified subcontracting opportunities with prime contractors to develop a trusted partnership. After developing a strong collaborative relationship, commercial firms can then work with prime contractors to sponsor their facility clearance for new opportunities on classified programs.

Commercial firms should consult with accounting firms experienced in government contract accounting to help them develop accounting policies and procedures that are DCAA compliant.

While at APL, you led a Special Operations Land Product Team — what did you accomplish with this team? Please describe the workings, and benefits of, unattended land mesh network and long-range persistent communications.

ComtechEF_ad_MSMJA11.jpg Dr. DeBardelaben
As part of the NAVSEA Silent Hammer Limited Objective Experiment, I led the Special Operations Land Products Team. The exercise showed how a submarine could covertly launch networked ground forces supported by unmanned systems to fill ISR gaps. The team that I led designed and fielded clusters of unattended ground sensors (UGS) to give embarked ground forces and commanders eyes and ears on targets from multiple, hidden locations. The UGS autonomously captured digital images and seismic/acoustic events and communicated the data over a persistent wireless land mesh network that linked sensors and ground forces to the submarine.

What were the main driving forces that led you to found IvySys Technologies? Please describe what your Company develops and accomplishes.

Dr. DeBardelaben
It started as a direct result of my work on the DARPA programs while at the Johns Hopkins APL. I became deeply rooted in trying to solve some of the many challenges that war fighters face day in and day out. One overarching problem that I witnessed was the deluge of data overwhelming the war fighter. Over the past few years, the increased demand for ISR capabilities has led to an exponential increase in data collection capacity that shows no signs of slowing in the foreseeable future. However, ISR data processing, exploitation and dissemination (PED) capabilities have only improved linearly over the same period, leaving a critical gap between collection and analysis capabilities.

I founded IvySys to address this collection-analysis gap — also known today as the “Intelligence Gap” — by developing solutions that automate intelligence processing, exploitation and dissemination to provide actionable intelligence for neutralizing threats in combat. IvySys’ flagship product, Next-Generation Exploitation Optimization System (NEOS), sifts through vast amounts of data to determine the good intelligence from electronic chaff, or “noise,” using complex algorithms. The system then draws correlations from a number of sensors and presents the intelligence to the soldier in the field in an easy-to-read graphical interface that displays a real-time geospatial view of the battlefield in question, giving the war fighter complete situational awareness.

With your Company as a lead technical consultant to DARPA’s Strategic Technology Office, what does such encompass?

Dr. DeBardelaben
We provide DARPA program managers with new program development, program management, technology assessment, test and evaluation, and systems engineering support, specifically focused on special operations, maritime, and responsive space domains. We apply subject matter expertise in these domains to determine military utility of new ISR program concepts. We also help identify technology transfer opportunities for new DARPA STO programs by cultivating relationships with the SOF, maritime, and responsive space user communities.

DeBardelabenFig3 MSM
How involved is IvySys Technologies in the UAS/UAV market segment? What programs are you involved with in this arena?

Dr. DeBardelaben
Existing UAS/UAV assets have the capacity to collect large amounts of ISR data. They are, however, limited in their ability to disseminate perishable intelligence to tactical operators in near real time over bandwidth-constrained communication pipes. Data is typically collected for post-processing and exploitation at a remote tactical operations center after fleeting targets have vanished.

SMiMilSatCom_ad_MSMJA1111 IvySys focuses on developing advanced signal processing algorithms that enable real-time, automated onboard processing and exploitation of ISR data to quickly deliver actionable intelligence to the war fighter. Our algorithms sift through large amounts of data collected onboard the UAS/UAV and automatically filter out noise and interference. We then detect, classify, geo-locate, and track signals of interest. The resulting intelligence products are then disseminated either directly to the tactical war fighter or to remote, centralized processing stations to automatically correlate and fuse the data. Processing data onboard the UAS/UAV significantly reduces the amount of information that is sent over wireless communication links, allowing for improved speed of command and increased situational awareness.

When discussing military communications (satellite, ISR, BLOS, COTM and so on), where do you see this technology leading over the next few months?

Dr. DeBardelaben
With shrinking budgets and increasingly volatile asymmetric threats facing the military, I see the DoD pushing towards the establishment of open communication architectures with well defined interfaces to maximize interoperability and reduce costs. Commercial industry has extensively leveraged open architectures to increase competition, increase innovation, and drastically reduce costs. With standards committees defining communication protocol stack interfaces, DoD vendors are encouraged to specialize in developing specific communication components to foster increased innovation, while lower costs by exploiting economies of scale.

As more ISR assets enter the battlespace, bandwidth-constrained satellite and BLOS reach-back communication links quickly become single points of failure. Peer-to-peer (P2P) tactical communication approaches have emerged as a viable means to maintain situational awareness in an unreliable communication environment. Applications such as Blue Force Tracking, inter-squad communications, sensor network data fusion, and unmanned vehicle control are well suited for future P2P communications architectures.

Rapidly changing mission scenarios and conditions on the battlefield will require cognitive functions across the communication protocol stack. Future cognitive radio capabilities will better utilize scarce spectrum and dynamically adapt network functions and configurations based on the needs of the warfighter mission.

Due to drawdown for our military overseas, do you sense a lessening of government commitment in funding/acquiring even more advanced technologies for our service members?

DebardelabenFig4 Dr. DeBardelaben
While we are scaling back our presence overseas, the Department of Defense (DoD) will still need to heavily invest in innovative new technologies to maintain national security. Continuous investment in new ISR technologies is critical to protecting the nation from the next major attack both at home and abroad (in the physical world and in cyberspace).

The growth in the national deficit will almost certainly lead to stagnant growth or a reduction in the overall DoD budget in the coming years. This will lead to shift from acquiring new ISR platforms to modernizing existing platforms. As a result, there will be significant funding opportunities for advanced ISR payload modules that can be used to upgrade existing platforms with new capabilities.

IvySys is positioning itself to take advantage of these opportunities by mapping its innovative, high performance signal processing algorithms on to pre-integrated, multi-core COTS subsystems. This approach allows for cost-effective, rapid insertion of new processing and exploitation capabilities onboard existing ISR platforms.

Lastly, Dr. DeBardelaben, what do you enjoy most about your work?

Dr. DeBardelaben
Hands down the best part of our work is knowing that our solutions are helping war fighters in the field get vital information in time to neutralize threats, ensuring their own safety. I’m really pleased that I was able to take that desire that ignited after 9/11 and turn it into a company that enables war fighter safety, mission success and the apprehension of our nation’s enemies.