A team of engineers, physicists and biologists is seeking to create insect cyborgs—creatures with a mixture of organic and mechanical parts that could be used for military applications. The realization of cyborgs with embedded machine components would provide stealthy robots that use their own muscle actuators, which have been developed over millions of years of evolution.
A few years ago, the U.S. Defense Department stated that transformation is "a process that shapes the changing nature of military competition … through new combinations of concepts, capabilities, people and organizations." It was a good enough start, but if this description is to hold, then what defines the shape of both current and future transformational success? A process without successful execution or quantitative feedback is of little value. Transformation requires more than change for change's sake.
With a flip of a switch, a new tactical communications terminal enables warfighters to choose between troposcatter and satellite communications. This technology could reduce the demand on heavily saturated satellite bandwidth through its use of over-the-horizon radio transmissions to carry voice, data and real-time video imagery.
The U.S. Air Force is building a robust cyberwar capability as part of a revised mission that adds cyberspace to the service's fighting domains of air and space. As part of this effort, the secretary of the Air Force and the chief of staff of the Air Force established a Cyberspace Task Force to help frame the service's direction in this third domain. The task force is working to harness capabilities, take stock of gaps and vulnerabilities, and increase awareness about cyberspace.
The U.S. military is moving closer to full implementation of a system that will transform how intelligence is collected and disseminated. By making raw and complete material available to analysts and others worldwide, the technology will blur the line dividing operations and intelligence.
The U.S. joint organization baptized by fire in Persian Gulf operations is extending its innate flexibility to reserve warfighters working at the tip of the spear. The Standing Joint Force Headquarters is recruiting officer reservists willing to deploy to disaster hot spots with only 72 hours notice. In return, these new members augmenting rapid response teams will enjoy more predictability in their duty schedule. According to U.S. Joint Forces Command leaders, the innovative approach is a win-win proposition: The military leverages the expertise found in the civilian sector, and reservists can balance their military, business and personal lives better.
The lines between intelligence, operations and planning continue to blur as the U.S. military expands its efforts to integrate the three disciplines. By combining personnel from the three fields within joint centers at the national, command and tactical levels, the U.S. Defense Department aims to transform how missions are undertaken. Appropriately, the command designated for joint operations is leading an effort to help other commands consolidate their vital functions in these centers.
The transformation fever that is igniting innovation throughout the services is wicking its way up to the joint military leadership. Stoking the fires is the innovative Joint Net-Centric Operations Campaign Plan that calls for new ways of connecting the warfighter, leveraging enterprise services, securing the network, accelerating information sharing, synchronizing network capability delivery and managing the enterprise. Firing up these bold initiatives will require changing acquisition processes, fostering not only interoperability but also interdependence and tapping the talents of an Internet generation consumed with the possibilities of the next new capability.
Instead of hosting the mother of all battles, the Iraq War has proved to be the mother of invention for U.S. Army electronic warfare. Faced with the necessity of countering improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, the Army has committed to developing a full-scale electronic warfare capability that will be distributed throughout the entire force. That capability already has achieved a measure of success in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Army now is tailoring it to interoperate effectively in joint operations.
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.
An Orbital Express program demonstration underway almost 500 kilometers (300 miles) above the Earth is expected to have a profound effect on U.S. space operations and the design of military and commercial satellites. A series of successful maneuvers over the next several months is structured to demonstrate on-orbit satellite refueling and modular upgrades to avoid technical obsolescence.
The role of a relatively small defense agency operating from a high-rise office building not far from the Pentagon is to color outside the lines. This entrepreneurial organization has done that for 50 years and in the process has become a driving force in academia, industry and the military with one scientific breakthrough after another. The agency's technology advances continue to change the way the United States conducts warfare with startling battlefield triumphs.