The World Technology Evaluation Center (WTEC) was commissioned by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) to assess the technology level of submersible vehicles and other marine technologies in Siberia and the Russian Far East.
This study would complement the WTEC Panel Report on Research Submersibles and Undersea Technologies (June 1994), which had been funded by the Defense Advance Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and NSF but which was limited in geographic scope to European Russia and Western Europe.
A panel of eight experts was organized by WTEC for the new study. To maintain continuity, five of the individuals from the first study in 1993 were included in this group of experts. This new WTEC panel visited 18 sites, including universities, government research institutes, an industrial site, and a marine biology laboratory ship. During the period from October 23 through November 1, 1995, the WTEC team spent approximately one week each in Vladivostok, Russian Far East, and in Akademgorodok at Novosibirsk, Siberia. As well as gathering information, the team made many contacts with officials and researchers in the Russian scientific community and introduced the Navy's Scientific Opportunities Program for possible support of scientific projects in Russia.
The following are highlights of the WTEC panel's observations:
In comparison to the WTEC team's observations of 1993, the impact of the shift in national priorities and the economic turbulence of Russia since 1990 was more evident. The funding level from government sources for institutes and university research has dropped precipitously. The Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) budget in 1994 (in undeflated rubles) was only 21% of the 1990 budget in rubles. The best laboratories are managing to continue operations through budding entrepreneurship and adapting to market forces. Many are doing commercial research and development for both Russian and foreign companies as well as producing unique instrumentation and special laboratory equipment for sale abroad. Some research institutes have expired and more will cease to exist because of the lack of basic funding by the government. In some cases, there may be no alternative to government funding because the research cannot be applied. In other cases, high taxes imposed by various government levels in Russia might offset low labor costs to the extent that the enterprises may not be competitive in the world marketplace. In still other cases, lack of access to markets or the limited vision of institute management may be partially responsible for the demise of an institute.
Although most scientific personnel might prefer to stay with their institutes, a number are leaving because of very low salaries, failure to receive pay for prolonged periods of time, or the attraction of improved compensation in the emerging private sector. In Vladivostok, for example, computer technicians and some other technical personnel have left research institutes to work in private business. Fewer young people are entering science because opportunities that are business connected offer more potential. The banking industry was cited as responsible for the dearth of computer science personnel available at one institute which the WTEC team visited. On the other hand, fewer technicians and young scientists are leaving their profession in the Novosibirsk area because of a fair amount of scientific activity, reasonable operating levels of the institutes, and finally the isolated location with little prospect of finding housing in another city.
Although the 1993-1994 study of European Russia and Ukraine had concluded that there was only limited interest in Russia for unmanned research submersibles, two institutions in Vladivostok proved to have extensive developments in remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) and autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs). While exhibiting three different ROVs, Far Eastern State Technical University reported that their researchers and design group had developed 39 ROVs since 1970. During this same period, the Institute for Marine Technology Problems (IMTP) built and operated several prototype and operational AUVs.
The AUV program at the Institute of Marine Technology Problems was surprisingly more extensive than was anticipated by the WTEC team -- in design capability, vision for future designs, and operational experience. One prototype, designated AUV L-2, rated at 6000 meters operating depth, has logged 160 working dive missions greater than 4000 meters. The current model MT-88 is also rated at 6000 meters operating depth. The WTEC panelists concluded that IMTP had more AUV operating experience than all U.S. programs combined.
Although most institutes in the Russian Far East have not had access to the most powerful computers, due to Western export restrictions, excellent efficiency has been obtained from Intel 486-based hardware through the crafting of superior computer codes and algorithms. Among the 10 research institutes that were visited, 37 different computer software-related projects were discussed or demonstrated. Many projects were in tomography, in various methods of physical modeling, and in signal or visual target detection in high noise. See Appendix C for a summary of computer-related projects.
Except for Novosibirsk, many computer scientists are leaving the research community for commercial systems work, especially for the new banking industry.
The Institute of Thermodynamics and Applied Mechanics, Novosibirsk, is world-class in research on aerodynamics, with eight wind tunnels achieving air speeds up to Mach 25.
Significant work was shown in the modeling of explosive effects such as the focusing of shock waves, numerical description of "bubbly detonation," and self-forging projectiles. In addition, the Lavrentyev Institute of Hydrodynamics demonstrated explosive methods for welding normally incompatible metals and for explosively coating metals with ceramics and other materials.
The Pacific Institute for Bioorganic Chemistry (PIBC), Vladivostok, conducts important research concerning a number of bioactive substances from marine and terrestrial flora and fauna that are accessible (and some unique) to the Russian Far East. In contrast to Western institutes, which seldom develop, manufacture, and sell commercial products, PIBC produced several products commercially. The results of the institute's research, which identifies and synthesizes biosubstances, have produced medicines, food supplements and additives; improved agriculture; and developed biotechnology for commercial uses. The institute has an exceptionally large reference collection of bioactive substances -- about 8000 strains.
The research vessel Akademik Oparin, operated by PIBC out of Vladivostok, is an important resource that is now available for cooperative biomedical marine research. The ship, which is equipped to support 30 scientists in the field for extended periods, can be chartered from PIBC at very reasonable costs in comparison to any other type of research vessel.
The Russian Academy of Sciences, Far Eastern Branch, has 15 research vessels, ranging up to 6280 tons displacement, which may be the largest research fleet anywhere in the world that is under the management of a single organization. Unfortunately this impressive block of research assets is essentially inactive for lack of funding for seagoing research projects. As with the Akademik Oparin, the other research vessels are available for charter and joint research projects. Meanwhile, in order to maintain a minimum level of operational capability, some of the research vessels are now carrying passengers, consumer goods, and automobiles from ports on the Pacific Rim. This is both a sign of a desperate situation and of the Russian ability to persevere during adversity.
The Institute for Marine Biology studies the biology and ecosystems of coastal waters in the Russian Far East, including concern for a major port development by China and North Korea at their border with Russia.
Excellent work in improved design of battery materials was reported. The Institute of Chemistry, Vladivostok, has developed new cathodic materials for lithium chemical current sources with power-consumption in the range 3.5 to 4.8 kW hr/kg.
Significant emphasis on laser development was seen at the Institute of Automation and Electrometry, Novosibirsk. Research emphasized methods for producing stable solid state lasing, separation techniques using "light-induced drift" and commercial production of a precision laser table and laser manufacturing of precision optical filters and diffraction gratings.
Subsequent to the visit of the WTEC panel, as of April 30, 1996, a total of 29 proposals for research support in Siberia and the Russian Far East had been received by the Scientific Opportunities Program at ONR. The proposals represent the strengths in the marine-related science and technologies of the nine institutes which submitted them. See Appendix B for a complete listing.