4 technologies that will turn soldiers into superheroes

The way the U.S. military fights today, information is as important as tanks, ships and aircraft. The Pentagon's strategy requires that data be posted to networks in seconds so troops and analysts can assess it and take action within minutes.

That new warfighting strategy requires advanced sensing, communications and security technologies, which the military's research laboratories often develop.

"Within the walls of academic and government labs, highly skilled researchers are probing the edges of science to uncover technologies that promise to make warfare both more efficient and deadly," writes John Edwards, author of the book "The Geeks of War: The Secretive Labs and Brilliant Minds Behind Tomorrow's Warfare Technologies," published earlier this year.

Edwards writes that these self-professed geeks are rapidly and relentlessly creating the next generation of military technologies. We take a look at a few tools that will enable network-centric warfare.

oneX-ray vision

The U.S. military needs technology to find targets underground and inside mountains. The Army Battle Command Battle Laboratory at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., considers Subterranean Target Identification technology a capability that could help warfighters and analysts locate ammunition bunkers and track weapons of mass destruction in the war on terrorism.

The sensing and data-processing technology developed by Silicon Graphics Inc. uses sound, infrared, and other wave-producing technologies and seismic sensors to create a visual computer model of underground objects. The company developed a similar capability to help energy companies locate oil and gas reserves.

Paul Temple, senior business development manager at SGI Federal, said the target identification technology will help locate enemies' ammunition bunkers and command centers built by sophisticated tunneling and mining techniques. "Because they are underground, they are hard to find and extremely difficult for the U.S. military to strike," he said.

SGI and the Army's lab received $1 million in March to study and develop the technology and deploy it next year. The contract's funding comes from money allocated under the 2005 Defense Appropriations Act. Congress could provide additional funding for the program in fiscal 2006.

Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) said Subterranean Target Identification technology directly supports the military in the war on terrorism. "By leveraging the latest advanced sensing and data-processing capabilities, Fort Huachuca and SGI can develop technologies that are much more effective in identifying underground facilities, posing less risk to our military men and women," Kyl said.

oneSuper hearing

The military needs seamless communications, and the Office of Naval Research thinks All-Digital Receiver technology can help. The superconducting microelectronics technology developed by Hypres of Elmsford, N.Y., handles direct digital reception. It eliminates the conversion of radio frequency to an intermediate frequency by digitizing signals at the antenna.

Many parts of existing digital radios are used for analog conversion, which affects the radios' size, power and performance, said Dick Hitt, president and chief executive officer of Hypres.

Hitt said the company's All-Digital Receiver — a 10-inch-high, 19-inch-wide, 24-inch-deep device — eliminates most of the analog parts. The result is increased performance and decreased cost, size and weight.

The All-Digital Receiver uses a niobium-based thin-film computer chip that moves magnetic pulses instead of a silicon-based one that transmits electrons. The chip is housed in a cryocooler and cryopackage shaped like a Thermos bottle.

Deborah Van Vechten, a technical representative at the Office of Naval Research, said the radio offers a promising technology for seamless communications and the Joint Tactical Radio System.

"Hypres' All-Digital Receiver enables field-testing by a program office of a superconductive, software-defined [radio frequency] system directly relevant to military communications," she said.

In 2003 Hypres received an $8 million contract to develop the receiver, and last February it won contracts worth $2.2 million to continue working on it. The company shipped the first prototype for testing to the Navy last month and expects to deliver three more — one each to the Navy, Army and Air Force.

Frost and Sullivan, a market analysis firm, recognized Hypres earlier this year for excellence in research and development for aerospace and digital defense communications. Mike Valenti, an analyst at the firm, said the all-digital receiver can simplify and speed communications across the military's air, ground and sea networks.

oneSuper speed and flight

The military needs a communications link that allows jet fighters and command aircraft to share information quickly. The Air Force Research Laboratory and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency believe Tactical Targeting Network Technology (TTNT) meets the requirement.

The networking technology, developed in partnership with Rockwell Collins, is an IP-based, ad hoc network capable of transmitting 2M of data in two seconds across more than 100 nautical miles. It will allow pilots and aircraft to rapidly find and attack enemy targets.

The technology can support more than 200 users, allow for the reception of four or more data streams simultaneously and provide for secure, jam-resistant transmissions at high-speed Internet throughputs. It is supported by a five-year, $30.1 million program.

Air Force Lt. Col. Stephen Waller, TTNT program manager at DARPA, said the military has flown with Link-16, the current networking technology for aircraft, for more than 15 years and that technology does a great job with "limited bandwidth, push architected data links."

"What TTNT brings is the ability to push and pull network applications just like high-speed cable Internet — voice over IP, imagery and video networking — to our fighters and bombers," he said.

Bruce King, vice president and general manager of communication systems at Rockwell Collins, said the Air Force successfully demonstrated the technology during the Joint Expeditionary Force Experiment 2004. It will serve as the airborne networking backbone for the annual military exercise in 2006. He said the networking technology will also undergo more flight tests this month.

"Because of its rapid network entry [and] its high throughput and because it uses standard IP, [the technology] brings what we take for granted on our computers forward in the tactical world," King said.

oneInvulnerability

Military networks were hacked 294 times in 2003. The Joint Futures Laboratory at Joint Forces Command believes the Location Specific Digital Fingerprint system can help significantly reduce that number.

The information assurance system, developed in partnership with Digital Authentication Technologies, secures desktop and notebook computers by rekeying algorithms at every use based on radio waves.

Because users' surrounding environments generate truly random numbers, hackers cannot trick the system.

"It's a capability sorely needed, especially with wireless technology starting to explode in the Defense Department," said Tony Cerri, who leads the lab's engineering department.

Cerri said the initial test of 100 prototype units costing $40,000 proved successful, but they require users to plug a long antenna into USB ports. He said they want the company to develop a more mobile device, shaped like a memory stick, at a cost of $500,000.

Rick Morgenstern, chairman and CEO of Digital Authentication Technologies, said the company will deliver a prototype to the military this month. He said the military can use it to make networks more secure and control users' access to individual files.

Mike Mullins, a consultant at Camber and a former director of operations and security at an Army network operations center, said hackers can crack algorithms, but they can't replicate naturally occurring, physics-based phenomena. He said the technology can operate in any environment, including a room that houses launch codes for nuclear-powered submarines.

Mullins said that if a user left a room with the codes on a CD-ROM or USB memory stick, that person could not access them. "It is, without a doubt, the most revolutionary information assurance security enhancement that we've had in the past 10 years," he said.

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