Success on the battlefield requires warfighters to know as much as possible about themselves, their surrounding environment and the potential threats around them. Dismounted infantry squads in particular risk surprise and loss of tactical advantage over opponents when information is lacking. While squads use many different technologies to gather and share information, the current piecemeal approach doesn’t provide the integrated, real-time situational awareness needed for individual warfighters and squad leaders to anticipate situations and effectively maneuver to positions of advantage. Providing this capability would provide dismounted squads with overwhelming tactical superiority over potential adversaries similar to what warfighters enjoy at the aircraft, ship and vehicle levels.
The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq demonstrate the strategic significance of tactical actions by junior and noncommissioned officers who interact with local populations. This kind of interaction benefits from extensive cultural training, but opportunities for such training are limited by the compression of the Department of Defense’s force-generation cycles. Virtual training simulations provide a partial solution by offering warfighters on-demand, computer-based training, but creating such tools currently requires substantial investments of time, money and skilled personnel.
For more than fifty years, researchers have been studying exactly how aspirin affects the human body. Despite thousands of publications on the topic, our understanding is still incomplete.
In science, many of the most interesting events occur at a scale far smaller than the unaided human eye can see. Medical researchers might realize a range of breakthroughs if they could look deep inside living biological cells, but existing methods for imaging either lack the desired sensitivity and resolution or require conditions that lead to cell death, such as cryogenic temperatures. Recently, however, a team of Harvard University-led researchers working on DARPA’s Quantum-Assisted Sensing and Readout (QuASAR) program demonstrated imaging of magnetic structures inside of living cells. Using equipment operated at room temperature and pressure, the team was able to display detail down to 400 nanometers, which is roughly the size of two measles viruses.
Many military radio frequency (RF) systems, like radar and communication systems, use a class of power amplifiers (PAs) called monolithic microwave integrated circuits (MIMIC). MMIC PAs using gallium nitride (GaN) transistors hold great promise for enhanced RF performance, but operational characteristics are strongly affected by thermal resistance. Much of this resistance comes at the thermal junction where the substrate material of the circuit connects to the GaN transistor. If the junction and substrate have poor thermal properties, temperature will rise and performance will decrease.
Troops operating in forward locations without telecommunication infrastructure often rely on a mobile ad hoc network (MANET) to communicate and share data. The communication devices troops use on foot or in vehicles double as nodes on the mobile network. A constraint with current MANETs is they can only scale to around 50 nodes before network services become ineffective. For the past 20 years, researchers have unsuccessfully used Internet-based concepts in attempts to significantly scale MANETs.
During a recent media briefing, the DARPA Director, Arati Prabhakar, elucidated what the Agency does for our nation, how it does it, how it thinks about its mission in the context of today's realities and the future that its building by creating the next generation of technology to give Defense leaders more options for tomorrow’s missions.
Today, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) awarded a $1 million prize to “Ground Systems”, a 3-person team with members in Ohio, Texas and California, as the winner of the Fast Adaptable Next-Generation Ground Vehicle (FANG) Mobility/Drivetrain Challenge. Team Ground Systems’ final design submission received the highest score when measured against the established requirements for system performance and manufacturability.
The military uses long-wave infrared (LWIR) cameras as thermal imagers to detect humans at night. These cameras are usually mounted on vehicles as they are too large to be carried by a single warfighter and are too expensive for individual deployment. However, DARPA researchers recently demonstrated a new five-micron pixel LWIR camera that could make this class of camera smaller and less expensive.
The U.S. Military relies on the space-based Global Positioning System (GPS) to aid air, land and sea navigation. Like the GPS units in many automobiles today, a simple receiver and some processing power is all that is needed for accurate navigation. But, what if the GPS satellites suddenly became unavailable due to malfunction, enemy action or simple interference, such as driving into a tunnel? Unavailability of GPS would be inconvenient for drivers on the road, but could be disastrous for military missions. DARPA is working to protect against such a scenario, and an emerging solution is much smaller than the navigation instruments in today’s defense systems.
DARPA’s Distributed Agile Submarine Hunting (DASH) Program has tested two complementary prototype systems as part of its Phase 2 development effort. The prototypes demonstrated functional sonar, communications and mobility at deep depths. The successful tests furthered DASH’s goals to apply advances in deep-ocean distributed sonar to help find and track quiet submarines.
Today, at a White House event, the President unveiled a bold new research initiative designed to revolutionize the understanding of the human brain. As part of this initiative, DARPA intends to invest roughly $50 million in 2014 with the goal of understanding the dynamic functions of the brain and demonstrating breakthrough applications based on these insights.
Two teams of DARPA performers have achieved world record power output levels using silicon-based technologies for millimeter-wave power amplifiers. RF power amplifiers are used in communications and sensor systems to boost power levels for reliable transmission of signals over the distance required by the given application. These breakthroughs were achieved under the Efficient Linearized All-Silicon Transmitter ICs (ELASTx) program. Further integration efforts may unlock applications in low-cost satellite communications and millimeter-wave sensing.
DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office (TTO) creates advanced platforms, weapons and space systems to help preserve U.S. military superiority through overwhelming technological advantage. However, constantly evolving technologies, shifting warfighter mission requirements and limited budgets mean TTO must always seek new ways to leverage innovation while fulfilling its duties.
Machine learning – the ability of computers to understand data, manage results, and infer insights from uncertain information – is the force behind many recent revolutions in computing. Email spam filters, smartphone personal assistants and self-driving vehicles are all based on research advances in machine learning. Unfortunately, even as the demand for these capabilities is accelerating, every new application requires a Herculean effort. Even a team of specially-trained machine learning experts makes only painfully slow progress due to the lack of tools to build these systems.
After decades of technical research and leadership experience as a university professor, small defense business owner and science and technology advisor to the Department of Defense, Nils R. Sandell Jr. is fulfilling a long held desire—joining DARPA. Sandell will lead DARPA’s Strategic Technology Office (STO) and accelerate innovation in assured access, ISR, communications, navigation, electronic warfare and other areas focused on shaping the environment.
In areas lacking trustworthy communications infrastructure, deployed servicemembers rely on wireless devices to perform double duty: they not only provide access to the network; they are the network. Protocols for these networks require nodes to coordinate among themselves to manage resources, such as spectrum and power, and determine the best configurations to enable sharing of information. A problem with these protocols is that they implicitly trust all information shared about the security and operational state of each node, and the network as a whole. Consequently, inaccurate control or security information can quickly render the network unusable. This shortcoming could put productivity and mission success at risk as use of military wireless systems increases.
The increased density of electronic components and subsystems in military electronic systems exacerbates the thermal management challenges facing engineers. The military platforms that host these systems often cannot physically accommodate the large cooling systems needed for thermal management, meaning that heat can be a limiting factor for performance of electronics and embedded computers.
Effective 21st-century warfare requires the ability to conduct airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and strike mobile targets anywhere, around the clock. Current technologies, however, have their limitations. Helicopters are relatively limited in their distance and flight time. Fixed-wing manned and unmanned aircraft can fly farther and longer but require either aircraft carriers or large, fixed land bases with runways often longer than a mile. Moreover, establishing these bases or deploying carriers requires substantial financial, diplomatic and security commitments that are incompatible with rapid response.
Dr. Steven H. Walker, Deputy Director for DARPA, has received the 2013 Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson Skunk Works Award from the Engineers’ Council.
Phased radio frequency (RF) arrays use numerous small antennas to steer RF beams without mechanical movement (think radar without a spinning dish). These electronics are invaluable for critical DoD applications such as radar, communications and electronic warfare. Their lack of moving parts reduces maintenance requirements and their advanced electromagnetic capabilities, such as the ability to look in multiple directions at once, are extremely useful in the field. These benefits, though, come with a high price tag. Current phased arrays are extremely expensive and can take many years to engineer and build.
One of the greatest challenges of the past half century for aerodynamics engineers has been how to increase the top speeds of aircraft that take off and land vertically without compromising the aircraft’s lift to power in hover or its efficiency during long-range flight.
Ionizing radiation can be a silent killer. While scientists have made some strides in preventing immediate death from exposure, there are currently few intervention technologies to protect against long-term morbidity and mortality. In light of the diverse, persistent and substantial threat posed by ionizing radiation, the Department of Defense seeks new ways to protect military and civilian personnel against the immediate and longer-term effects of acute exposure.
DARPA held a multi-program performer meeting for researchers to hear presentations on the latest innovations and promising approaches in the area of Big Data and data analytics. Speakers during the day-long event included representatives from the White House, FBI, universities from across the country and leading companies from the private sector who are focused on the potential efficiencies and advantages that can be gained in Big Data.
Biological warfare agents pose more than a hypothetical threat to U.S. military servicemembers. Troops operate in hostile areas where they could come under attack from adversaries wielding bio-agents like anthrax and toxins. The first step in reacting to any such attack is knowing that it occurred. Quickly and accurately identifying the presence of airborne antigens can be difficult given their complexity, the presence of numerous similar microorganisms in the environment, and the fact that even minute quantities of a threat agent can cause infection.
In the world of network cyber security, the weak link is often not the hardware or the software, but the user. Passwords are often easily guessed or possibly written down, leaving entire networks vulnerable to attack. Mobile devices containing sensitive information are often lost or stolen, leaving a password as the single layer of defense.
Military radars, military communications networks, and commercial communications networks all require increasing amounts of limited radio frequency spectrum. Balancing national security requirements of radars and military networks with the growing bandwidth demands of commercial wireless data networks calls for innovative approaches to managing spectrum access. DARPA’s Shared Spectrum Access for Radar and Communications (SSPARC) program aims to improve radar and communications capabilities for military and commercial users by creating technical solutions to enable spectrum sharing.
Many things drive scientists and technologists from across multiple disciplines to join DARPA as program managers and technical office directors. The most common theme, however, is service to country. At DARPA, these visionaries are charged with creating and preventing technological surprise in support of U.S. national security. For Bradford Tousley, a former DARPA program manager who recently returned to DARPA to assume leadership of the Tactical Technology Office (TTO), service to country spans generations.
The sophisticated electronics used by warfighters in everything from radios, remote sensors and even phones can now be made at such a low cost that they are pervasive throughout the battlefield. These electronics have become necessary for operations, but it is almost impossible to track and recover every device. At the end of operations, these electronics are often found scattered across the battlefield and might be captured by the enemy and repurposed or studied to compromise DoD’s strategic technological advantage.
Inserting new capabilities into a satellite is no simple task. Doing so as that satellite hurdles through space 22,000 miles above the Earth is a bit more challenging still. DARPA’s Phoenix program, which hopes to repurpose retired satellites while they remain in orbit, seeks to fundamentally change how space systems could be designed here on earth and then sustained once in space.
The Department of Defense (DoD) maintains one of the largest computer networks in the world. The network follows DoD personnel across the globe collecting, transferring and processing information in forms as diverse as data warehouses, in-the-field mobile devices and mission computers on board F-18’s. This network is also constantly changing in size and shape as new missions are undertaken and new technology is deployed. In military terms, that means the cyber terrain of the DoD network is constantly shifting.
The inherent goodness of miniaturizing electronics has been key to a wide array of technology innovations and an important economic driver for several decades. For example, the seemingly endless shrinking of the transistor has allowed the semiconductor industry to place ever more devices on the same amount of silicon. Each time the size shrunk, transistors became faster and used less power, allowing increasingly capable electronics in smaller packages that cost less. In recent years, power requirements, excessive heat and other problems associated with physical limitations have reduced the advantages of continuing to shrink size. For the foreseeable future, industry will continue to decrease the size of transistors, increase the number of integrated cores and improve all aspects of the existing architectures. While challenging problems must be met and the ability to achieve the potential improvements is far from assured, these changes are likely to produce more evolutionary improvements.
Most people are familiar with the concept of RADAR. Radio frequency (RF) waves travel through the atmosphere, reflect off of a target, and return to the RADAR system to be processed. The amount of time it takes to return correlates to the object’s distance. In recent decades, this technology has been revolutionized by electronically scanned (phased) arrays (ESAs), which transmit the RF waves in a particular direction without mechanical movement. Each emitter varies its phase and amplitude to form a RADAR beam in a particular direction through constructive and destructive interference with other emitters.
For the more than 700 registered competitors, the journey to winning DARPA’s first FANG Challenge begins today. After months of planning and organizing into more than 150 teams, participants from across the United States will begin collaborating on mobility and drivetrain subsystem designs for the Fast Adaptable Next-Generation Ground Vehicle (FANG). At the end of the competition, DARPA plans to award a $1 million prize to the team whose design submission best achieves established requirements for performance, lead time and cost using the META design tools and the VehicleFORGE collaboration environment. The winning team will also have its design constructed as an automotive test rig in the iFAB foundry.
Today, cost and complexity limit the Navy to fewer weapons systems and platforms, so resources are strained to operate over vast maritime areas. Unmanned systems and sensors are commonly envisioned to fill coverage gaps and deliver action at a distance. However, for all of the advances in sensing, autonomy, and unmanned platforms in recent years, the usefulness of such technology becomes academic when faced with the question, “How do you get the systems there?” DARPA’s Upward Falling Payloads program seeks to address that challenge.
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