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5/14/2012
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Military Transformers: 20 Innovative Defense Technologies

Department of Defense technologies under development, from brainy microchips to battlefield transformer vehicles, promise to make the U.S. military more nimble. Here's a visual tour of 20 breakthrough ideas.




President Obama and defense secretary Leon Panetta announced a new defense strategy earlier this year, one that hinges on the U.S. military becoming "more agile, flexible, innovative, and technically advanced." The Pentagon intends to meet that challenge by implementing new technologies, ranging from the latest mobile devices and applications to surveillance systems and next-generation aircraft.

In some cases, those will be revamped versions of long-used tools, such as a smaller, lighter "manpack" radio that the Army has begun using in Afghanistan. In other cases, they will be entirely new capabilities like the small, in-development drone nicknamed Shrike that will deliver intelligence to commanders in the field.

Building on its work with directed-energy technology, the Office of Naval Research has just revealed plans to take the next step in the development of solid-state laser weapons that can be used against small boats and aerial targets. ONR will host an industry day on May 16 to discuss its plans, to be followed by a request for proposals.

Much of the Department of Defense's most advanced research and development goes on at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), where work is underway on everything from a jet that shoots across the sky at Mach 20 to disaster-response robots. (See U.S. Military Robots Of The Future: Visual Tour.)

DARPA's not the only source of war-fighting innovations. The Naval Research Laboratory, major defense contractors, and IBM have projects underway, too.

In this visual tour, we highlight 20 defense technologies that are being deployed or on the drawing board. It remains to be seen which of the in-development systems see the light of day. The prospect of deep cuts to the defense budget--as much as $460 billion during the next 10 years--could put an end to some of the work. The proposed Defense budget for fiscal year 2013 would cut R&D funding by $2.2 billion, to $69.7 billion, though DARPA's budget would be spared significant cuts.

Some of the technologies in development, such as supersonic aircraft, have potential application in the commercial world. Others rewrite the rules of battleground transportation.

DARPA's Transformer (TX) program seeks to bring together the utility of a ground vehicle and the navigation properties of a helicopter in a hybrid vehicle that would feature maximum flexibility of movement (as pictured, above.) Applications could include transporting troops and supplies to the battlefield quickly, medical evacuation, and more. The design calls for a vehicle capable of transporting up to four people and that can be operated by a typical soldier as well as a trained pilot.
Credit: DARPA


DARPA's Nano Air Vehicle (NAV) program aims to develop a miniscule "air vehicle system" that's less than 15 centimeters long and weighs less than 20 grams. One experimental design incorporates flapping wings, disguised here as a hummingbird, making it possible for the device to navigate both indoors and outdoors. DARPA expects the NAVs to push the limits of aerodynamics and maneuverability.
Credit: DARPA

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A "disposable aircraft," the CICADA Mark III is comprised simply of a printed circuit board, which minimizes wiring and makes it fast and inexpensive to assemble. (CICADA stands for Close-In Covert Autonomous Disposable Aircraft.) Resembling a toy airplane, it can accommodate light payloads, such as chemical, biological, and other signals intelligence sensors. Other electronic payloads can be incorporated by updating the circuit board and "re-winging" the aircraft.
Credit: U.S. Naval Research Laboratory

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Impressive, isn't it? No, not the giant B-52 aircraft (a.k.a. Stratofortress), but the much smaller and faster X-51A Waverider attached to its wing. The X-51A is hydrocarbon-fueled experimental craft travels in the Mach 4.5 to 6.5 range. In a test flight last June, the X-51A was released at an altitude of 50,000 feet. In a reminder of the challenges of pushing the boundaries of science, it failed to reach full power. Future applications for hypersonic flight include space travel, reconnaissance, and commercial transportation.
Credit: Bob Ferguson/Boeing

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When developing leading-edge defense technologies, things don't always go as planned. DARPA's experimental HTV-2 aircraft is capable of flying at Mach 20, or 20 times the speed of sound, for a few minutes at a time. However, a test of the system last August (HTV-2's second test flight) had to be cut short due to a "flight anomaly" that was most likely the result of degradation to its aero shell exterior. The HTV-2 initiative is tied to a DOD goal of being able to reach any destination in the world in less than an hour.
Credit: DARPA

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Some projects promise a better life for wounded soldiers. Last September, a mechanical arm was controlled by a volunteer with tetraplegia (characterized by loss of use of the limbs and torso) via his brain signals, a breakthrough in the control of a prosthetic arm. Development of the prosthetic limb was overseen by Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory, with funding from the National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. Next, UPMC and Caltech researchers will conduct trials aimed at achieving brain control of advanced mechanical limbs by volunteers with spinal cord injuries in DARPA's Revolutionizing Prosthetics program.
Credit: DARPA

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The U.S. military wants a faster, cheaper way to get small satellites into orbit. DARPA's Airborne Launch Assist Space Access (ALASA) program would do that with an aircraft designed for the job. The program aims to launch 100-pound satellites for less than $1 million per flight, and without extensive planning. ALASA would provide the capability to launch a satellite within 24 hours from a runway anywhere in the world.
Credit: DARPA

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What do you get when you combine the lift of a helicopter with the thrust of a jet? Potentially, the DiscRotor Compound Helicopter. DARPA is looking to develop an aircraft that's capable of vertical take-offs and landings and forward speeds in the range of 450 miles per hour. The aircraft design accomplishes that by incorporating a mid-fuselage disc with rotor blades that can be retracted for transitioning to full fixed-wing flight.
Credit: DARPA

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Suppose you need an image or video of any place on earth, and you need it right now. That's the challenge that DARPA is addressing through Membrane Optical Imager for Real-Time Exploitation (MOIRE), a geosynchronous orbit-based system that uses a membrane optic etched with a diffractive pattern to focus light on a sensor. Think of MOIRE as a very large (60 feet across) lens in space that could be used to peer into off-limits areas or for missile defense.
Credit: DARPA

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The Urban Photonic Sandtable Display employs advanced 3-D technology to create a 360-degree, 3-D holographic display for use in battle planning. A team of up to 20 planners can view the large-format, interactive display, according to DARPA. (No special 3-D glasses required.)
Credit: DARPA

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Can a computer chip mimic the human brain? That's the goal of DARPA's Systems of Neuromorphic Adaptive Plastic Scalable Electronics (SyNAPSE) program, which aims to develop systems that not only mimic the brain, but do so at biological scale. That requires development of integrated circuits that are packed with electronics and integrated communications that approximate the function of neurons and synapses. The ultimate goal is to build systems that "understand, adapt, and respond" to information, says DARPA. Potential uses include robotic systems and sensory applications.
Credit: IBM

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An unmanned surface vehicle patrolled during the Trident Warrior experiment last year, directed by U.S. Fleet Forces Command. The experimental boat can be controlled remotely or operate autonomously.
Credit: U.S. Navy

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Think of Shrike as a personal drone for the commander in the field. DARPA describes Shrike as a "perch-and-stare micro air vehicle" that provides real-time intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance. It's also "man-packable," a reference to the gear that soldiers carry with them. The device's four-rotor design enables vertical take-off and landing and forward flight. Shrike is capable of high-res observation for several hours, during which it transmits data and information to a ground station. Once done, Shrike re-launches from its perch and returns home.
Credit: DARPA

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The X-56A Multi-Use Technology Testbed (MUTT) is a prototype unmanned aircraft made of lightweight, flexible materials that's being developed by the Air Force Research Laboratory in collaboration with Lockheed Martin. Its long, thin wings (28 feet across) are susceptible to vibrations, or flutter, that results from air flow and turbulence. Engineers plan to use MUTT's flight-control software to find ways to minimize flutter. That knowledge will inform the design of the proposed X-54 aircraft, which is intended to demonstrate technologies that muffle sonic booms, potentially opening the door to supersonic commercial flights over the United States.
Credit: AFRL/Lockheed

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The Navy's Mobile User Objective System satellite (MUOS-1), launched in February from Cape Canaveral, Florida, gives the U.S. military its own 3G network. The Navy provides narrowband satellite communications to the Department of Defense, and MUOS-1 uses 3G technology to provide voice, data, and video communications. The system includes four ground stations, and plans call for a constellation of four satellites and an in-orbit spare.
Credit: Pat Corkery, United Launch Alliance

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Roger that. The Army's newest handheld radio is the AN/PRC-117G, which can transmit voice, video, and data, including biometrics from the battlefield. The commercial, single-channel radio, made by Harris, is 30% smaller and 35% lighter than "manpack" radios currently in use. More than 2,300 of the devices have been shipped to Afghanistan.
Credit: U.S. Army

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The revamped Apache helicopter, the Apache Block III, incorporates 26 new technologies, including an updated communications system. The Army has depended on the Apache for more than 40 years. This new model, which will be put to work in the next year, is better able to fly in inclement weather and can communicate with and control unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones.
Credit: U.S. Army

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The Army-led Joint Multi-Role program is focused on development of a next-generation helicopter with improved avionics, electronics, performance, and payload capacity. It would be capable of flying at speeds in excess of 170 knots and at distances greater than 800 kilometers, and of hovering at 6,000 feet in summer heat (95 degrees). It would be "optionally manned," or capable of at least some degree of autonomous flight. The JMR program aims to develop prototype aircraft by next year, begin tests in 2017, and field a new fleet of helicopters by 2030.
Credit: U.S. Army

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This virtual reality combat simulator trains soldiers in how to deal with improvised explosive devices, or IEDs. The environment comprises a simulated armored vehicle, complete with high-def video and sound, and replicates the conditions of hostile territory, including smoke, poor visibility, confusion, and explosions. A digital recording of the training session can be used to review team performance.
Credit: U.S. Army

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DARPA is looking to develop an "extremely high-frequency" sensor that can locate targets through clouds as effectively as infrared sensors do in clear weather. The goal of the agency's Video Synthetic Aperture Radar (ViSAR) program is to develop radar that provides high-res, full-motion video for use in engaging ground targets from an aircraft, as well as algorithms that can be used with the new technology. Some of the technical challenges involved include detection, auto focusing, and geo-location. An additional twist: the system must be able to detect moving targets, not just stationary ones.
Credit: DARPA

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Leo Regulus
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Leo Regulus,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/16/2012 | 4:03:30 PM
re: Military Transformers: 20 Innovative Defense Technologies
Where can I get the one-click version of the article, Please?
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