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News :: Technology
Strange things afoot at DARPA
22 Apr 2005
Modified: 03:08:58 PM
These two excerpts from Dr. Tony Tether, the director of DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) show some very interesting directions U.S. military research is headed in... And this is just the publicly admitted stuff.
For example, DARPA is attempting to develop autonomous vehicles for combat-- like Predator drones, basically, but without anyone at the controls. Like robotic guard dogs, the machines would kill at the suggestion of a unit commander and not stop until his say-so.
But here are some other chilling, strange tech developments including boats that swim through the water like seals do, soldiers who literally feel no pain, and strategies for urban warfare-- abroad and, eventually, at home. There're no bombshells here, butthere is hopefully enough info to make activists see that the U.S. government ain't fucking around-- they're just getting started. And you are their target.

Statement of Dr. Tony Tether Director, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency

Committee on House Armed Services Subcommittee on Terrorism, Unconventional Threats and Capabilities

March 10, 2005

Mr. Chairman, Subcommittee Members and staff: I am pleased to appear before you today to discuss the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency`s (DARPA) Fiscal Year (FY) 2005 activities and our FY 2006 plans to continue transforming our military through technological innovation.


The Powerswim program is using the highly efficient way sea animals swim to design a new swimming device. Ordinary swim fins push through the water, like oars push a boat, and are about 10% efficient. The Powerswim program is developing a device that uses fin lift for propulsion - it basically ``flies`` through the water - with an efficiency of 80%. This could double the speed and range of U.S. Navy SEALS, allowing them to arrive on-shore much faster and much less fatigued. In another maritime example of using biology, we are looking at fuel cells that could produce electric power from plankton and ocean bacteria to power sensors and surveillance systems on the ocean floor for many years.

DARPA`s Soldier Self-Care program is developing a highly effective novel pain medication that neutralizes the chemical trigger for pain before it can stimulate the nerves. Progress has been so substantial that we have funded a clinical trial at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in late 2005 to reduce the incredible pain of soldiers following amputation or severe limb trauma whose pain cannot be effectively treated with current medications. If successful, it will be a major step towards obtaining Food and Drug Administration approval of this medication for treating acute pain on the battlefield.


Urban Area Operations

Our newest strategic thrust, announced last March, is Urban Area Operations. Like many in the DoD, we have been concerned about the challenges of urban warfare and have been studying the issue. The conflict in Iraq precipitated this strategic thrust and continues to shape it. We held a major solicitation on this topic last year, and the overall thrust continues to take form. Because this is our newest thrust and one that is directly grappling with some of the problems uppermost on everyone`s mind, it merits discussing at some length.

Each year the world`s urban areas increase in population and area. By 2025, nearly 60 percent of the world`s population will live in cities. And, our adversaries know that if they present a fixed target on the open battlefield, or even a mobile target on the open battlefield, we will find it and destroy it. So more and more they will choose to resist us in cities. These basic facts suggest that our forces must be increasingly prepared to operate in urban areas.

It is worth considering what makes operating in cities distinctive. A city`s geometry and demography are very different than the traditional battlefields of open- or semi-open terrain so effectively dominated by U.S. forces today. Cities have buildings and tunnels and a complex three-dimensional terrain with many places to hide and maneuver. Think of mountain ranges or other rugged terrain, but with a much finer structure - one scaled to cities because they are manmade environments. And cities are densely packed with people and their property.

This has several consequences. Vehicles, weapons, and tactics that work effectively in open - even rugged - natural terrain, often work far less well in the confines of a city. Our current surveillance and reconnaissance systems simply cannot provide enough information of the type needed to understand what`s really going on throughout a city. In most cases of urban warfare, standoff attack will not be sufficient, and close combat tends to be chaotic with many casualties. In cities, uniformed adversaries and their equipment are mixed in among the civilian population, equipment and infrastructure. And insurgents are not just mixed in - they blend in. And operations in cities, perhaps more than in other settings, will be strongly constrained by political considerations. Achieving our political goals will usually not be a simple matter of capturing territory or reducing something to rubble. The fighting in Najaf last summer is a good example of this reality.

In short, the advantages U.S. forces enjoy on traditional battlefields are drastically reduced in cities. This is why our adversaries will be temped to fight us or resist us there; it is a logical response on their part. By drawing us into cities, our adversaries hope to limit our advantages, draw more of our troops into combat, inflict greater U.S. casualties, and, perhaps equally important, undermine our ultimate political goals by causing the U.S. to make more mistakes that harm civilians and neutrals.

The proof of this is in Iraq: the power, pace, and precision of our forces quickly demolished the Iraqi armed forces on the traditional battlefield. The current insurgency is not fighting the same way.

So our challenge is this: ``How can we operate as effectively in the cities as we do on traditional battlefields, and what are the new tools we need?`` We chose the word ``operate`` carefully: this cannot just be about traditional force-on-force urban combat, as important as that problem is. We also need to improve our stability and security operations after major combat is over. Just as the tools for combat on the traditional battlefield may not be well-suited to urban combat, the tools for urban combat may not necessarily be well-suited for stability operations. We need better tools across this entire spectrum of operations.

In general, we need far better and different information and coverage from our surveillance systems and sensors, more precision and options in our maneuvers and command and control, and much finer control over the force we apply. Ideally, we would then know much more about what`s going on in a city, we could easily discern friend from foe, we could move around quickly - even using the vertical dimension to our advantage - and, when we needed, we could apply well-calibrated lethal or non-lethal force with great precision.

Let me talk in a little more detail about our vision for this thrust and describe some of the things we are working on and would like to expand.

One critical key to improved urban operations will be persistent, staring reconnaissance, surveillance, and target acquisition (RSTA) systems that vastly improve what we know about what`s going on throughout a city in all three dimensions and over time. We need persistent staring RSTA systems that are as well tailored to cities as our current RSTA systems are to the traditional battlefield. If you are on an open plain you can see what is going on miles away, but in a city, you may not know what`s going on a block away. We have to change that.

We need a network, or web, of sensors to better map a city and the activities in it, including inside buildings, to sort adversaries and their equipment from civilians and their equipment, including in crowds, and to spot snipers, suicide bombers, or IEDs (improvised explosive devices). We need to watch a great variety of things, activities, and people over a wide area and have great resolution available when we need it. And this is not just a matter of more and better sensors, but just as important, the systems needed to make actionable intelligence out of all the data. Closely related to this are tagging, tracking, and locating (TT&L) systems that help us watch and track a particular person or object of interest. These systems will also help us detect the clandestine production or possession of weapon of mass destruction in overseas urban areas. There was a recent incident in Iraq where one of our UAVs spotted some insurgents firing a mortar. Then the insurgents climbed back into their car and drove away. The good news was that the UAV was able to track the car so U.S. helicopters could go after it and destroy it. The bad news was that, at one point, some of the passengers got out. Then we had to decide whether to follow those individuals or the car because we simply did not have enough coverage available. If we`d had other sensors available, we would have had a better chance of getting all of those insurgents.

If we could quickly track-back where a vehicle came from, it would greatly help us deal with suicide car bombers. It is difficult, if not impossible, to deter the bombers themselves, just as you cannot deter a missile that has already been launched. But, one key to deterrence that has been missing is reliable attribution, or a ``return address.`` If we knew where the car came from, using for example RSTA systems that allowed us to quickly trace the car carrying the explosives back to the house or shop it came from, we could then attack that place and those people.

Once people realize that whoever helps launch a suicide attack will themselves be targeted (and since it`s unlikely that everyone in a suicide bombing organization has a suicide wish) we would start to deter attacks. At a minimum, we would destroy more of the people and infrastructure behind the attacks, and make subsequent attacks more difficult. We are pursuing this sort of capability with our Combat Zones That See program.

Now, consider a U.S. team raiding a house looking for insurgents. This team has probably never been to the house before, and perhaps has never even been to the immediate neighborhood. In an unfamiliar place with many similar buildings, it`s easy to become confused and break into the wrong place, even with GPS. Breaking into the wrong building has two effects: the enemies get away, and, at a minimum, you probably just made some new enemies.

Instead, imagine that the team could prepare for the raid using clear, three-dimensional images of the actual neighborhood and the specific building that had been collected in advance. The team could use those images to practice and ``see`` their entire trip to the building before they actually start out on their mission so they`d be far more likely to enter the right building. Our Urbanscape program is working on the technologies to do this.

Another typical urban mission could require a U.S. team to pursue adversaries inside a multistory building. Currently, the defenders inside the building have a major advantage in knowing the interior layout. If we had technology that would allow our team to quickly map the inside of the building and, perhaps, even tell them where the bad guys are, this would go a long way to improving the team`s effectiveness and safety. Our Building Structure and Activity Assessment program is developing this capability.

Thinking more broadly than RSTA, we are also interested in how to improve our intelligence on general social, political, and economic conditions. In particular, it would help to have tools to predict the onset of a rebellion or, failing that, help us understand more clearly the likely or possible responses to our actions, i.e., tools to wargame our stability operations.

Another major focus of the Urban Area Operations thrust is Command and Control for Urban Warfighting, aimed at developing command and control systems and intelligence analysis tools specifically suited for urban operations. The goal is collaborative systems that allow our warfighters to see and understand what is happening throughout an urban area and then direct their actions in real time. RSTA and TT&L will give us much better information, but we must then use that information to direct what we are doing in a precise way, perhaps reaching down as far as the individual soldier.

Our Command Post of the Future (CPOF) technology, being used today by the Army in Iraq, is an early indication of what we are striving for. CPOF is a distributed command and control system that creates a virtual command post. With CPOF, command and control centers could be wherever the commanders are, without regard to a fixed geographic location. The Army is using CPOF because it gives them more flexibility and insight and allows them to share information and respond more quickly. By studying the steps usually taken after specific types of events, DARPA is working with the Army to enhance CPOF to automatically alert people to take those steps whenever another such events happens, which would allow our warfighters to respond faster. Major General Pete Chiarelli, Commander of the 1st Calvary Division in Iraq, has told us, ``CPOF is saving lives.``

This thrust also embodies our work in Asymmetric Warfare Countermeasures, including those devoted to countering the threat of IEDs. The IED problem is very difficult, and we are actively pursuing and continuing to search for ideas to detect or disable IEDs. In fact, the IED problem has been central in shaping our thinking about urban operations generally. We have seen the great difficulty we`ve had with even costly partial solutions to the IED problem, ones which, in many cases, the insurgents are able to quickly work-around. Our discussions with Commandant Hagee of the Marine Corps reinforced our belief that the key to limiting IEDs will be identifying their source; this is one of the reasons for our strong emphasis on RSTA in this thrust.

Finding ``sources`` is also the key behind DARPA`s low-cost Boomerang shooter detection and location system, which we continue to improve based on results from the 50 units deployed so far in Iraq. When you are traveling in a convoy it`s difficult to know if you are being shot at because of road noise. With Boomerang, people in the convoy can tell if they are being shot at and where the shots are coming from, so they can defend themselves more effectively.

We are also exploring ways to thwart rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) attacks. We are transitioning an advanced, lightweight bar armor to the Marine Corps to protect HMMWVs and trucks. We are testing novel, high-strength nets to stop RPGs and mortars. And, our Iron Curtain project will develop and test a system to destroy RPGs and missiles by shooting them down with bullets before they can strike a vehicle.

Source: FDCH Congressional Testimony, Mar 10, 2005
Item: 32Y3450305125

This work is in the public domain
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