"Armed With Science" is a weekly podcast from the U.S. Defense Department that highlights the importance of science and technology to modern military operations and the DOD. Interviews with scientists, administrators and operators are conducted to inform listeners about the cutting-edge research and development happening within the defense community.
science and technology
A small unmanned aerial vehicle powered by a fuel cell soon may be soaring over distant battlefields. Lightweight tactical robot aircraft are vital for supplying ground forces with immediate reconnaissance information, but their battery-powered engines limit their operational time. New advances in fuel cell technology will allow smaller, lighter robotic aircraft to stay aloft for 24 hours or more to supply commanders with continuous data.
U.S. troops soon may use a nonlethal directed energy weapon to disperse crowds and protect vital facilities. Operating at ranges beyond conventional small arms, the technology allows military units to protect themselves from demonstrations without resorting to lethal force. The technology has the potential to change how military and law enforcement agencies manage riots and other civil disturbances.
Businesses, be aware and prepare. The latest wave of digital disruptions is rolling in, and future success depends on being ready for them and their effects. A comprehensive yearlong study reveals that, in the next three to five years, emerging technologies will reshape industry and initiate new business models.
A lightweight fuel cell technology may soon be powering warfighters’ battlefield electronic equipment. Currently being tested by U.S., European and Israeli armed forces, the system offers the potential for continuous and reliable energy for the myriad sensors, computers and communications devices necessary for soldiers’ survival. Unlike batteries, which are heavy, short lived and require logistics trails, fuel cells can be refueled in the field and provide up to several days of continuous operation.
The U.S. Defense Department has developed a network architecture that will give its research test and evaluation community new radio spectrum-enhancing capabilities. Once fully operational, the Telemetry Network System will provide its installations’ computer networks with a wideband wireless capability that covers hundreds of square miles. As a result, flight test centers will be able to dynamically adjust the spectrum required for test vehicles. In addition, the technology will enable program managers and aircraft manufacturer personnel to monitor tests from off site.
According to the military and its partners, for the United States to succeed in the Global War on Terrorism, they must be able to share biometrics information across a network-centric environment. To that end, personnel at various agencies are developing new architectures and streamlining methods to identify terrorists based on their unique characteristics, and they are putting systems in place to efficiently share that information. The most useful pieces of a variety of stovepipe systems already in place are being combined to create a synchronized joint program.
Significant individual technology advances are being harnessed to facilitate effective cognitive computing systems. These information system technologies focus on a common application that radically improves the way computers support human beings. A cognitive system is emerging that can reason, learn from experience, be told what to do, explain its actions and respond robustly to surprise.
Critical actionable military data obscured by foreign languages and often masked in large volumes of different types of media are both highly important and perishable. The global deployment of a dozen monitoring systems is enabling software applications to transcribe and translate both text and speech and distill large volumes of information in multiple languages, including Arabic and Chinese.
Technologies developed for the new Network Centric Radio System will provide reliable, mobile and secure backbone battlefield communications. Designed for use with a maneuver force, the system's ad hoc capability dynamically reconfigures itself to maintain network connectivity automatically. Vehicles in the network can communicate routinely whenever within range of each other without manual configuration.
Built for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions, the new A160 Hummingbird unmanned helicopter is designed to fly autonomously with a high-altitude endurance of 20 hours. This aerodynamically clean platform rivals fixed-wing aircraft performance to employ a suite of sensors, including foliage penetration radar that unmasks hidden troops and vehicles.
An airborne sensor system that provides standoff and persistent wide-area surveillance of dismounted troops and vehicles moving through foliage holds the potential to change the scope of warfare. Mounting this sensor beneath an unmanned helicopter would enable identification of possible ambush sites. This small radar also denies concealment and sanctuary to enemy units hiding in wooded areas or moving in the open during darkness or adverse weather.
Promising advances in integrated circuit technologies such as nanowires, molecular electronics and fault tolerant architectures could help alleviate industry needs in designing and fabricating computer chips. New emerging technologies and approaches generally unknown to industry will be urgently required within six or seven years to help sustain continuing progress in dense integrated circuit production.
An engine of innovation, the Defense Research Projects Agency's Microsystems Technology Office relentlessly drives down the size, weight and power requirements of ever-higher-performance electronic components. Its development of semiconductor materials for innovative electronic devices places this organization on the cusp of major breakthroughs with next-generation communication, radar, electronic warfare, imaging and sensor systems.
A new class of mechanical devices with embedded electronics will allow personnel to access maintenance panels and equipment in aircraft and other platforms rapidly and without the use of tools. The technology permits the remote closing, locking and unlocking of fasteners via wireless handheld devices. The fasteners also are equipped with sensors to report their status and that of the structures immediately surrounding them, offering the potential for smart logistics and vehicle diagnostic systems.
People and materiel soon may be moving across the ocean much more quickly and outrunning torpedoes in the process. A developmental technology will use supercavitation to move underwater vessels at high speeds. In addition to the rapid rate, the project aims to sustain that pace over long periods of time and to maintain control and steering of the watercraft.
To focus on technologies that have global- or theaterwide effect and that span the branches of the U.S. military, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has combined its Advanced Technology Office and Special Projects Office to form the Strategic Technology Office. The office is determining what capabilities warfighters lack and finding solutions for current problems and potential needs.
In coming decades, warfighters could rely on artillery support from U.S. Navy warships more than 200 miles away. Instead of conventional cannons or rockets, these ships would use electromagnetic launchers to accelerate projectiles to many times the speed of sound. Using electricity instead of gunpowder to fire guided munitions, the weapons offer the potential of rapid, highly accurate precision attacks without the logistics and safety issues of conventional naval guns.
Several decades from now, a U.S. unmanned combat aircraft orbiting a battlefield will identify a ground target with its sensors and use its communications laser to beam the coordinates to an overhead satellite. After receiving target confirmation from analysts on the other side of the planet, the aircraft will bank sharply, refocus its optical communications array to weapons mode and destroy the target with a multi-kilowatt laser pulse. The system will then revert to its data transmission mode to uplink a battle-damage assessment. This may sound like science fiction, but recently developed technology that electronically moves and focuses lasers may one day make this scenario a reality.
A World Wide Web-enabled technology is on the verge of dramatically changing the way people and computers interact and share information. It provides a common architecture that permits data to be communicated and reused across application, enterprise and community boundaries. This automated context mapping capability will allow complex network-centric systems to reach their full potential and to scale beyond present systems.