Tag Archives: military

Modular armoured wall system

McCurdy’s Armor - modular armoured wall systemFile under “inventions that I’m rather surprised to find didn’t exist already”: modular military encampment armour [via BLDGBLOG; image borrowed from linked article].

… an armored wall system known as McCurdy’s Armor could have Marines rapidly erecting 6.5-foot-tall mortar-, RPG- and bullet proof fortresses in less than an hour, saving the days it can take to fortify an area by conventional means and making forward-operating units more nimble.

Named for Ryan S. McCurdy—a Marine killed in Iraq in 2006 while hauling a wounded comrade to safety—the system is designed to offer troops increased protection and mobility when setting up outposts in hostile areas. The walls can be ferried into place in panels that are easily stackable in a truck or trailer. Once in position, four Marines can assemble a single panel in less than ten minutes without any special tools or additional equipment. The panels then snap together like bomb-proofed Legos secured with steel pins to form a blast- and bullet-proof shelter.

Neat idea. Also an easily-copied technology; given its lo-fidelity nature, budget clones (weaker armour, cheaper materials) of this stuff will pop up everywhere and anywhere there’s a use for it.

Also easily re-used by one’s opponent; likely to dot post-conflict landscapes for years to come, be repurposed as housing material or weld-on armour for vehicles. The street – or the valley, or the high pass, or the desert – finds its own use for things. What would you use it for?

Blue-sky bioengineering on the DARPA drawing-board

If you’re looking for the sort of bat-shit Faustian gambles that form the back-bone of much military science fiction, following the news from the Pentagon’s science and tech division is like supergluing your lips to a firehose… and Wired’s DangerRoom blog is one of the better consumer-level sources to start with (if you don’t mind a bit of snark on the side).

Here’s DangerRoom‘s Katie Drummond on DARPA’s latest wheeze: immortal synthetic organisms with a built-in molecular kill-switch. SRSLY.

As part of its budget for the next year, Darpa is investing $6 million into a project called BioDesign, with the goal of eliminating “the randomness of natural evolutionary advancement.” The plan would assemble the latest bio-tech knowledge to come up with living, breathing creatures that are genetically engineered to “produce the intended biological effect.” Darpa wants the organisms to be fortified with molecules that bolster cell resistance to death, so that the lab-monsters can “ultimately be programmed to live indefinitely.”

Of course, Darpa’s got to prevent the super-species from being swayed to do enemy work — so they’ll encode loyalty right into DNA, by developing genetically programmed locks to create “tamper proof” cells. Plus, the synthetic organism will be traceable, using some kind of DNA manipulation, “similar to a serial number on a handgun.” And if that doesn’t work, don’t worry. In case Darpa’s plan somehow goes horribly awry, they’re also tossing in a last-resort, genetically-coded kill switch:

“Develop strategies to create a synthetic organism “self-destruct” option to be implemented upon nefarious removal of organism.”

The project comes as Darpa also plans to throw $20 million into a new synthetic biology program, and $7.5 million into “increasing by several decades the speed with which we sequence, analyze and functionally edit cellular genomes.”

That post goes on to quote a professor of biology, who’s keen to point out that DARPA’s view of evolution as a random string of events is going to prove a major stumbling block to any attempts to “improve” the process. As to what sort of genuine advantage over extant military technologies these synthetic organisms would have, the pertinent questions are absent, as are those dealing with the moral and ethical issues surrounding military meddling with fundamental biological processes, and the unexpected ways in which they might go wrong. And to hark back to an earlier post from today: would killing a bioengineered military organism be a legitimate act of war?

Also absent (but somewhat implicit, depending on your personal politics) are any observations that the world’s biggest military budget shows no sign of helping the US gain the upper hand against a nebulous and underfunded enemy armed predominantly with a fifty-year-old machine gun design and explosives expertise that’s a short step up from the Anarchist’s Cookbook… I’m all for wild ideas and blue-sky thinking, but I’m not sure they’re much use as a military panacea any more. The days of peace through superior firepower are long gone, and the more complex you make your weapons, the more likely they are to blow up in your face.

Robot hop

military-robotIn the latest of your monthly dose of robot drones coming to a theatre of war hopefully-some-distance-from-you we have news that DARPA have developed a remote military robot with the capability to jump over walls:

Most of the time, the shoebox-sized robot – which is being developed for the US military – uses its four wheels to get around.

But the Precision Urban Hopper can use a piston-actuated “leg” to launch it over obstacles such as walls or fences.

The robot could boost the capabilities of troops and special forces engaged in urban warfare, say researchers.

It occurs to me that in a couple of decades this kind of robot could have developed into a truly terrifying war machine. Imagine thousands of tank-sized versions of these, each containing a really pissed-off synthetic cat brain programmed to zap humans with a tactical high-energy laser.

/DrEvil

[from the BBC, via h+ Magazine][image from h+ Magazine]

Eyes in the sky: ubiquitous real-time aerial surveillance

Watchkeeper - British unmanned aerial vehicleThe United States Army has seen a lot of success with airborne surveillance systems in recent years, and it’s given them the taste for more. Wired’s Danger Room blog takes a look at the current state of the art as well as the latest ground surveillance specifications DARPA is bandying around to potential contractors:

In February we reported on Darpa’s Autonomous Real-time Ground Ubiquitous Surveillance – Imaging System (ARGUS-IS ), a 1.8 gigapixel flying eye which will be mounted in a 500-pound pod carried by a Predator or A160 Hummingbird robocopter. The ARGUS-IS makes for an impressive camera, with the resolution and processing power to track a large number of separate items including “dismounts” — people on foot — over a wide area, as well as “a real-time moving target indicator for vehicles throughout the entire field of view in real-time.”

But ARGUS-IS is already looking old. Now the Army is asking for something even more powerful. In a new request for solicitations, it outlined the concept for a novel visible/infrared sensor that will cover a much larger area on the ground — with much higher resolution.

The sensor is required to be lightweight with low power consumption and to have significantly lower operating costs compared to existing systems, and must be able to operate from small aircraft, either manned or unmanned. In terms of specifics, the Army is looking for 2.3 gigapixels running at two frames per second. By my reckoning, this suggests continuous coverage of area of around sixty-two square miles at 0.3m resolution with a single sensor. That’s quite a step up from Angel Fire, which covers a tenth of the area at much lower resolution.

That’s a lot of detail, for sure. And we can probably assume that the bulk of the aircraft carrying the hardware will in fact be unmanned; The Guardian reports that the US is now training more drone operators than bomber and fighter pilots combined.

Three years ago, the service was able to fly just 12 drones at a time; now it can fly more than 50. At a trade conference outside Washington last week, military contractors presented a future vision in which pilotless drones serve as fighters, bombers and transports, even automatic mini-drones which attack in swarms.

Five thousand robotic vehicles and drones are deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. By 2015, the Pentagon’s $230bn (£140bn) arms procurement programme Future Combat Systems expects 15% of America’s armed forces to be robotic. A recent study ‘The Unmanned Aircraft System Flight Plan 2020-2047’ predicted a boom in drone funding to $55bn by 2020 with the greatest changes coming in the 2040s.

“The capability provided by the unmanned aircraft is game-changing,” said General Norton Schwartz, the air force chief of staff. “We can have eyes 24/7 on our adversaries.”

The article has a jaw-dropping closer, too:

In Wired for War, author Pete Singer speculates the machines are harbingers of a new era of “cost-free war”.

“It’s an historic change,” said Singer. “Going to war has meant the same thing for 5,000 years. Now going to war means sitting in front of a computer screen for 12 hours. Then you go home and talk to your kids about their homework.”

Yeah, cost-free war! Awesome! Well, it’s not cost-free for the brown people caught in the crossfire, but hey, it’s hard to care about them so much when they’re just pixels on a screen, AMIRITE? [main story via NextBigFuture; image by skuds]

Eye in the sky – commercial satellites trace Sudanese arms purchases

Europe seen from space at nightWell, maybe ubiquitous global surveillance isn’t all bad. Remember that big load of tanks and armaments that Somalian pirates scored from a Ukranian cargo ship and subsequently ransomed back? Well, two magazine reporters used commercial imaging satellites to chase down their final destination, proving in the process that they were en route to the breakaway government of South Sudan:

Images captured by DigitalGlobe satellites in March 2009 showed 33 tanks parked at Kahawa Barracks northeast of Nairobi. In parallel, satellite imagery captured from southern Sudan showed tracked vehicles, parked under camouflage, at a Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) compound northeast of Juba, the capital of South Sudan. Jane’s observed that SPLA attempts to conceal the location “were deliberate and masterful, but dimensional analysis, tracked-vehicle scarring and the staging of three vehicles in a tactical perimeter established the concealed vehicles as tanks.”

It’s not particularly good news – governments tooling up for nasty regional conflicts never is – but it’s the sort of news we’re better off having than not. Maybe the UN should be funding more similar satellites so as to keep an eye on governments who are somewhat economical with the truth about their military build-ups? [image by woodleywonderworks]

Maybe we could use them to keep Obama and Medvedev honest with regards to their nuclear disarmament agreement… provided the whole thing isn’t a carefully orchestrated publicity play in the first place, natch.