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.