From next-generation aircraft to smarter missiles, projects launched by DARPA's Tactical Technology Office push new limits. Take a closer look.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) -- the research arm of the Department of Defense -- is out to make "huge leaps" in military weapon and defense technologies. Earlier this month DARPA's Tactical Technology Office asked developers and defense contractors to propose ideas, and discussed its requirements with potential partners during a two-day conference.
The Tactical Technology Office's goal is to develop advanced platforms, weapons and space systems that support U.S. military superiority through "overwhelming technological advantage." The two-day workshop focused on the development of innovative systems for military missions on the ground, air, sea and space. DARPA invited contractors, researchers and academic institutions to pitch their ideas.
"We're looking for potentially huge leaps forward from the existing state of the art, not incremental improvements," Brad Tousley, director of the Tactical Technology Office, said in a statement.
DARPA envisions "a holistic overhaul" of the equipment available to soldiers on foot patrol, increasing the reach and protection of assets at sea, and advances in air and space operations.
In particular, the Tactical Technology Office is seeking contributions in the following areas: soldier and squad technologies, combat vehicles, tactical operations in urban zones, surface and subsurface seafaring technologies, novel air vehicles, hypersonic airframes, spacecraft technologies, and situational awareness in space.
The Tactical Technology Office manages dozens of programs, which are organized into three broad categories: advanced platforms, advanced space systems and advanced weapons systems.
As one example of the kind of research it pursues, the office in March launched a program called the Tactically Exploited Reconnaissance Node (TERN), after a family of seabirds known for flight endurance, to find a faster, less expensive way to strike mobile targets anywhere, anytime. The idea is to use small ships as mobile bases for unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones (pictured).
In April, the Tactical Technology Office issued a request for information for a program called Digitizing Squad X, aimed at equipping soldiers with sensing, communications and mission-command capabilities that work together to create "an organically digitized and interconnected" squad.
Other Tactical Technology Office projects include the Legged Squad Support System (LS3) and other robots, the Phoenix program to harvest, repair and re-use satellites in space, and a project to develop a more flexible, supersonic missile dubbed the Triple Target Terminator.
DARPA pursues leading-edge research and development on behalf of the Department of Defense. The agency is organized into six R&D offices: Adaptive Execution Office, Defense Sciences Office, Information Innovation Office, Microsystems Technology Office, Strategic Technology Office and Tactical Technology Office.
In the meantime, here are nine breakthrough projects -- in addition to TERN -- already underway via DARPA's Tactical Technology Office.
Credit for all images: DARPA
Under its Anti-Submarine Warfare program, DARPA is developing an unmanned vessel designed to track quiet diesel electric submarines. Once operational, a Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel would be able to follow enemy submarines for months at a time across thousands of kilometers with minimal human involvement. Key features include advanced software and sensors to continuously track super quiet submarines. DARPA plans to test a prototype at sea in mid-2015.
What happens when you cross a fixed-wing aircraft with a rotary-wing aircraft? You get a more flexible next-generation military aircraft, one that can take off like a helicopter, hover, and cruise at higher speeds with increased efficiency. DARPA's Vertical Takeoff and Landing Experimental Aircraft (X-Plane) program aims to develop an aircraft capable of flying at sustained speeds of between 300 and 400 knots.
Development of technologies that will provide disaster and humanitarian relief in coastal areas without relying on local infrastructure is another DARPA project. One such system is the Captive Air Amphibious Transporter, a tank-like vehicle for carrying containers over water and onto the shore. The Transporter's design includes air-filled pontoons.
Another disaster relief technology, the Parafoil Unmanned Air-Delivery system, is an alternative to helicopters or other aircraft that could be subject to dangerous landings. The propeller-driven air vehicle uses a parachute to lift and transport up to 3,000 pounds of supplies from container ships or areas on shore. Parafoil Unmanned Air-Delivery is one of four modular systems created for DARPA's Tactically Expandable Maritime Platform program.
As its name indicates, DARPA's Triple Target Terminator (T3) is a missile that can be used to go after three kinds of targets: enemy aircraft, cruise missiles and surface-to-air missiles. T3's technologies include "air-breathing propulsion," advanced data networking, multi-role guidance and control, and advanced thermal and power management, according to the agency.
DARPA is looking for new ways to take pictures of satellites and other objects in space. Under its Galileo program, the Tactical Technology Office is developing mobile telescopes that use flexible fiber optic cable to create images more quickly than is possible today. Galileo complements DARPA's Phoenix program, which aims to salvage antennas and other reusable components from retired satellites.
DARPA is testing a small-caliber, guided bullet that will give military marksmen better accuracy in unfavorable conditions such as high winds or dusty terrain. The Extreme Accuracy Tasked Ordnance bullet, or EXACTO, combines a 50-caliber round and optical sighting technology for increased range during the day or at night. EXACTO's real-time guidance system can be used to change the bullet's path as needed. DARPA describes it as a "maneuverable" bullet.
Reducing so-called "friendly fire" is an important objective of DARPA's Persistent Close Air Support (PCAS) program, which combines manned and unmanned airborne platforms, next-gen graphical user interfaces, data links, digital guidance and control, and advanced targeting and visualization. DARPA is working with Aurora Flight Sciences, Raytheon and other partners to develop a system that would give air controllers the ability to engage multiple moving targets quickly within a fighting zone.
DARPA wants to develop robots that are capable of performing complex tasks in dangerous surroundings. With that goal in mind, the agency last year introduced the DARPA Robotics Challenge, in which individuals, universities and businesses were invited to submit their designs for disaster-response robots. A second competition will be held in 2013, with registration opening on July 1.
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