WASHINGTON: You didn’t hear much about them during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan but DARPA, small businesses, and universities were the people who most impressed retired Gen. Hoss Cartwright when he was vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as he and the services scrambled to find weapons to give American troops a… Keep reading →
COMDEF: After decades without a significant new rotocraft technology, the head of Pentagon buying says he’s going to try and fund a new initiative to move helicopters and their brethren like the V-22 ahead. It won’t be easy. “Anything is going to be very hard to squeeze into the budget,” Kendall told reporters during a… Keep reading →
Anti-submarine warfare has given rise to some of the best war movies — “Run Silent, Run Deep;” “The Hunt For Red October” and “Das Boot” come to mind.
The romance of the terror of being hunted and of the human conflict inherent in submarine warfare offers great material for auteurs. But the sometimes unbearable tension of a boat maneuvering through different temperature bands of water (thermoclines), hiding in plain sight and using high-tech spoofing and quirky sonar experts to survive in an underwater battle with other subs or destroyers lurking above may become a thing of the past if a new program run by the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) succeeds. Keep reading →
New technology creates new capabilities — and new vulnerabilities. “Moving to the cloud” is the trend du jour, even in the intelligence world, but the recent attacks on the nation’s banking system has raised uncomfortable questions about how to make cloud computing secure.
“The cloud” may seem amorphous, but in reality it consists of a host of modestly capable user terminals connected to a high-powered central server or server farm. The great advantage of the cloud is that individual users can borrow capacity — storage, processing power, even entire applications — from the central server when they need it. The great vulnerability is a successful attack on the central server can compromise everyone on the cloud. Keep reading →
It’s conventional wisdom to declare that offense will always beat defense in cyberspace, because the Internet was designed with access in mind, not security. It’s a technological problem with strategic consequences as Russian and Chinese hackers rob us blind. But now DARPA, the agency that invented the Internet, is tried to reverse that situation by redesigning computer hardware and software from the ground up to make it more secure from hackers.
If the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency’s effort, called the CRASH program, succeeds, it could pave the way for new technologies that could make both government and private-sector computers not only more resistant to attack but also able to self-repair any damage that took place. Keep reading →
WASHINGTON: Why in the world is the Pentagon trying to develop a better beef jerky, run grocery stores, microbreweries, study flying dinosaurs and build (not tilt at) windmills?
That is the question a conservative Republican senator from Oklahoma, Tom Coburn, asks in a new report — “Department of Everything” — issued today. The subtitle of Coburn’s highly readable effort is: “Department of Defense Spending That Has Little to Do With National Security.” And that’s his real point. In an era of coming austerity, the Southern Baptist preacher and medical doctor argues that the Pentagon should be focused on executing its core mission, namely defending the nation. Keep reading →
WASHINGTON: If you’ve ever daydreamed of designing your own tank — okay, “infantry fighting vehicle” — then DARPA wants to give you your shot.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has a long history of long shots, including such high-risk, high-reward projects as the first stealth aircraft and the earliest version of what became the Internet. DARPA also has its share of flops, like a 1960s sensor system called Project Agile that was supposed to locate the elusive Viet Cong (it couldn’t). Keep reading →
China unveils a new “stealth” jet, but we don’t know how stealthy it is or when it might fly actual missions. China unveils a new aircraft carrier. Its leaders boast about extending China’s reach, but the carrier doesn’t have any planes and we aren’t sure when they might build them. Monitoring a rapidly developing China, whose language is unknown to most Americans and whose government is obsessed with secrecy, requires a degree of speculation. Perhaps by design, China makes it hard to separate fact from fiction and intent from aspiration.
Estimations of Chinese capabilities and interpretations of Chinese intent based on single-source or dated information will not yield useful analysis. Distinctions must be made between official Chinese policy and the opinions of individual Chinese researchers. This is especially true when discussing China’s space programs. Given the dual-use nature of the overwhelming amount of space technology, as well as the competitive character of U.S.-China relations, technical information can easily be misinterpreted through a prism of assumed ill intent. While the military must consider worst-case scenarios, recent experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan have clearly demonstrated the dangers of basing policy decisions and consequent military strategies on poor technical assessments. Keep reading →
Why is the military’s elite research arm so interested in robots with legs? It isn’t speed.
Boston Dynamics’ Cheetah robot, funded by DARPA, made headlines after it broke its own speed record yesterday and became the first robot to run on legs faster than the fastest human, track star Usain Bolt. Cheetah got up to 28.3 miles per hour . Sure, that was on a treadmill in a lab, with an external brace to keep Cheetah from falling over; but other, much slower Boston Dynamics robots like the “Big Dog” have already solved the balance problem and can walk on their own four feet over rough ground, even ice. So the obvious next step is to combine the two technologies to build a well-balanced, fast-running robot. But why? Keep reading →
WASHINGTON: I walked past a sandy desert, a littoral waterway and a steamy jungle and watched a human-like robot extinguish a shipboard fire, all in about an hour and without leaving town.
It was possible because the Navy has opened a new Laboratory for Autonomous Systems Research (LASR) on the grounds of the Naval Research Laboratory, just across the Anacostia River from downtown.
“This really is a one-of-a-kind laboratory that we expect will provide future sailors and Marines with better tools to do their jobs,” Rear Adm. Matthew Klunder, chief of Naval Research, told reporters after the tour of LASR. “Under this one roof are all the environments our sailors and Marines could face,” Klunder said.
Klunder noted that the improved autonomous systems that will come out of the new facility fit nicely with the new national strategic directive that focuses the U.S. military’s efforts on the Asia-Pacific region and the “anti-access, area-denial threat.”
Although the admiral did not say it, that A2AD threat is poised primarily by China, although Iran is attempting to achieve similar capabilities in the Persian Gulf.
The 50,000 square foot facility cost about $17.7 million. But Klunder and the scientists who briefed reporters on their work all emphasized that LASR will allow them to conduct more extensive tests of prototype systems and concepts in the same building in which they develop them, reducing the need for expensive and time-consuming trips to test ranges around the country.
“This building will save the military a lot of money and we will be able to complete testing a lot faster,” said Glenn Henshaw, one of the seven PhDs who showed off their work.The LASR team also showed off Lucas, a six-foot tall robot with an expressive face that responded with clear distress when he received conflicting instructions in a shipboard fire-fighting situation. Then Lucas brightened when the instructions were corrected and recommended the proper equipment to fight the fire.
Lucas’ partner, Octavia, then demonstrated the ability to follow oral commands and hand signals to find and extinguish a fire in a simulated shipboard space. Keep reading →