Starship Troopers

Future combat. Science fiction boys please take note:

Soldiers will also get lasers to mount on their weapons to relay the location of enemies to everyone with whom and to which they are networked, ranging from other soldiers to Apache helicopters to Abrams tanks, DeGay explained.

“We call it the Borg effect,” DeGay told, referring to the “Star Trek” cyborgs linked together to form a nearly unstoppable force.

Next-generation helmets for 2010 will also integrate electronics that pick up vibrations from the skull and transmit sound directly into the head, instead of using traditional microphones and earpieces. They will improve soldiers’ ability to discern varying sounds.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re whispering or yelling — it can still hear you,” DeGay said.

In the near term, other advances will include enhancements to equipment that already seems futuristic, such as the Pathfinder Raven, a roughly 4-pound robot plane with a wingspan of roughly 54 inches — smaller than an average seagull’s.

Soldiers launch it by hand. It essentially lands via controlled crashes, designed to fall apart into pieces that are easily put back together.

The current version of this robot plane, called Raven A and loaded with a visible-light and infrared camera to deliver imagery to soldiers on the ground in real-time, has already found use in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The next version, Raven B, will add digital zoom, allowing soldiers to spy on enemies from afar.

For the longer term, the government’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is helping to develop head-to-toe body armor that also enhances the strength, endurance and speed of soldiers using combustion engine-driven hydraulics that behave as artificial muscles.

The idea behind these “exoskeletons” is to help a lone armored soldier carry a weapon that would normally take a crew to operate, such as a machine gun. DARPA will deliver prototype exoskeletons to the U.S. Army for tests in 2008.

DARPA is also helping to develop a radar scope the size of a large walkie-talkie that helps soldiers see through walls to locate targets.

<>The researchers are also working to develop a way for untrained soldiers to use sound waves to stop internal bleeding in combat zones. Internal bleeding requires professional treatment, and the time delay it takes to evacuate someone to a surgical facility can readily lead to death or amputation. 

The idea is to create a blanket or cuff that, once placed over the injured area, uses ultrasound to spot the internal wound. Afterward, high-powered ultrasound focused on the wound can cauterize it.

While I personally welcome the idea of exoskeletal power armor, I’d like the Army also to develop giant robots that look humanoid, but then can fold up to form a Mac Truck or something.