DARPA: A Glimpse of All Tomorrow’s Weapons
Tactical and Weapons Projects
CROSSHAIRS (Counter Rocket-Propelled Grenade and Shooter System with Highly Accurate Immediate Response) – This program aims to develop an all-in-one, vehicle-mounted , detection and weapons unit that will be able to locate enemy ambushers and snipers while moving or while stopped. It will also be designed with the capability to destroy incoming threats, such as rocket-propelled grenades and mortars, by firing directly on them using automated, radar guided weapons.
Given combat theatres such as Afghanistan and Iraq, where small, hit and run tactics such as roadside RPG attacks are common, this technology could potentially engender a substantial reduction in casualties and lost equipment.
ChemBots (Chemical Robots) -This program, the product of cooperation between DARPA and technical research institutions such as MIT and Harvard, is developing surveillance robots that are small, flexible, and that use material-chemistry technologies such as gel-solid transitions to physically alter their shape in order to manoeuvre through small, irregularly shaped openings in enemy perimeters.
Chembots would broaden the military’s ability to conduct surveillance in hostile spaces, assisting in covert operations and providing a boon to national intelligence, which would better inform policy decisions regarding suspected nuclear or WMD programs, for example.
EXACTO (Extreme Accuracy Tasked Ordnance) – This project seeks to revolutionize the practice of military sniping. It will create the first-ever guided 50-calibre round, which will be capable of adjusting its own course mid-air using information from an optic sensor system. The value of a successful, self-correcting sniper round is substantial. Failed sniper shots notify enemies of an imminent attack, leading to unnecessary engagements that risk personnel and equipment.
EXCALIBUR – This project seeks to deploy directed weapons lasers that are many times smaller and lighter than current technology allows. These lasers generate irradiance levels strong enough to be lethal, but are far more accurate, precise, and damage-limiting than conventional weapons. In particular, compact EXCALIBUR laser systems could be mounted on aircraft, enabling aerial strikes with pinpoint accuracy, limiting collateral damage. This level of precision would ease the political and ethical consequences with which defence forces struggle when they are forced to engage military targets in civilian areas.
HELLADS (High Energy Liquid Laser Area Defense System) – A system that compliments the EXCALIBUR project, HELLADS seeks to use a similar technology in order to mount defensive lasers on aircraft, capable of intercepting and destroying enemy surface-to-air weapons. The increasing sophistication of anti-air weaponry has been identified as a severe threat, and the development of the HELLADS project would substantially counter this danger, saving lives and equipment in future sorties.
Disc-Rotor Compound Helicopter – This technology essentially combines the capabilities of traditional, high speed aircraft and a helicopter. Its current design is a fixed-wing, airplane-like vehicle with retractable helicopter blades mounted on a disc above the fuselage. The Compound Helicopter, therefore, will have the survivability and speed of an airplane but will be able to transition fully into a helicopter with vertical liftoff, landing, and hover modes for troop and cargo insertion.
Nano Air Vehicle - This program seeks to develop very small and very light vehicles to perform surveillance and potentially other kinds of military missions in all environments. These vehicles could be disguised, for example, as a hummingbird, using technology modelled after flapping wings and other aerodynamic techniques. The covert nature and lightweight design of NAVs would be extremely useful in urban combat settings, where bulky equipment is a hindrance and where ambushes and surprise attacks are a constant danger. By using NAV technology to perform missions discretely, service-members reduce the risks associated with revealing their position and operating heavy equipment in a hostile urban environment where the layout may be largely unknown.
Assured Arctic Awareness – This program seeks to develop an automated, unmanned sensor net capable of being deployed for long periods of time in arctic conditions, all with little need for maintenance. Still in the research phase, DARPA aims to create a long-term monitoring system above and below the ice. This would drastically reduce the cost and resources necessary for the United States to project its presence in the disputed arctic region – sovereignty over which will become increasingly important as the resources therein are developed – as they currently conduct monitoring and surveillance using ships and submarines or expensive unmanned equipment such as satellites.
Lightweight Ceramic Armor (LCA) – This technology envisions a considerable advantage for soldiers deployed in the field, as present armour technologies are extremely heavy, fatiguing, and bulky, which means an overall reduction in mobility. Body armour made from ceramic materials would be equally effective but far lighter and thinner, offering the same protection without compromising mobility or causing fatigue. It is estimated that physical fatigue is among the leading causes of compromised combat-readiness among US armed forces, so LCA would present a significant improvement in military performance.
Fracture Putty - This malleable material would be used to treat compound bone fractures suffered by friendly personnel. When packed around the fractured bone, it would harden, similar to a kind of internal cast, providing fast load-bearing support to the bone while it healed normally. Eventually the putty would be reabsorbed harmlessly by the body. This project would increase overall combat readiness by reducing the long-term treatment and recovery time service-members currently face for broken bones, and by reducing the incidence of complications such as persistent pain and infection that arise as a result of conventional treatments such as rods and screws.
Dialysis-Like Therapeutics – This technology is creating a relatively small, light-weight device capable of draining contaminated blood from infected service members, treating the blood to remove toxic elements, and returning the blood to the body, much like current dialysis treatments. Portable technology like this would contribute significantly to reducing the strain on operations in the field, as infections in the bloodstream affects more than a thousand service members a year.
Legged Squad Support System (LS3) – This project is developing a robotic load-bearing machine to accompany squads of troops in the field, similar to a pack animal. It will be able to carry 400lbs of equipment and will have the physical ability to move through any necessary terrain, while also serving as a portable backup power source. Physical fatigue has been identified as a one of the greatest threats to combat readiness, and a modern service-member in the field can often be responsible for over 100lbs of gear. The LS3 is expected to greatly improve overall mission effectiveness.
Vulcan – This is a major project involving contracts from the private sector to develop turbines and engines for heavy military vehicles which utilize a combustion technology designed to consume much less fuel, known as pressure gain combustion. This project is currently exploring applying this technology to ship propulsion and aircraft turbines. As the global price of oil continues to rise, outfitting ships and aircraft with turbines that reduce their fuel consumption could save a substantial amount of money.
Cyber Security Projects
ADAMS (Anomaly Detection at Multiple Scales) – Given the rise of digital technology and the massive systems that accompany it, cyber security and the protection of digital information is becoming increasingly important. With this in mind, DARPA has initiated the ADAMS project which aims to process and monitor enormous data sets of digital activity, with the ability to detect anomalous behaviour. The initial intent with such anomaly flagging is to detect compromising or malicious behaviour from within.
Plan X – Still in the formulation phase, Plan X represents an effort to understand and approach cyber warfare in a new paradigm. It aims to develop a platform that allows US defence departments to defend against, conduct, and train for cyber warfare. Such practices and capabilities will only become more important in the future, as the current trend in international conflict is moving away from conventional interstate war. With increased digitization of security and defence technologies, and the proliferation of non-state enemies who lack the means to conduct conventional warfare, cyber warfare is a growing threat which Plan X will help counter.
Zak Rose is a contributor to Geopoliticalmonitor.com