In the testing laboratory that is the war in Iraq, an array of remarkable devices and technologies are making their debut in the real world of combat.
There’s a “cooling” glove that, when worn on one hand, can lower a soldier’s body temperature rapidly _ an invaluable help in a country where summer temperatures can reach 120 degrees.
Also being tested is a super radar that can penetrate 12 inches of concrete to reveal whether anyone is hiding in a building _ a potentially life-saving aid for troops hunting house-to-house for snipers or others lurking inside.
And troops are using a low-cost detector that can cut through the road noise to let soldiers in a convoy under enemy fire immediately determine where the shooting is coming from.
This is just some of the whiz-bang technology spawned by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, a Pentagon outfit famed for thinking far outside the box and, as in the case of these new products, from the front lines of war-fighting, as well.
“DARPA is designed to be the ‘technological engine’ for transformation, supplying advanced capabilities based on revolutionary technological options, for the entire” U.S. military, agency director Tony Tether told Congress recently.
Actual combat conditions provide an incomparable testing ground for new technology, said John Pike, director of the national-security think tank GlobalSecurity.org.
“It’s the best simulation you can get, unfortunately,” Pike said.
Taking advantage of that fact, the Pentagon is shipping an assortment of new equipment and technology for hands-on use by troops in Iraq. They include:
_ “Command Post of the Future,” a system that allows commanders and troops fielding intelligence and other information across Iraq to share data immediately. The 4th Infantry Division has been using it since late 2005 in Baghdad, and its success there has led to a clamor for the technology from other headquarters and in-the-field battalions.
_ “Advanced Soldier Sensor Information System and Technology” (ASSIST), another intelligence-sharing tool that uses special sensors, networks and databases to compile the day-to-day experiences of troops on patrol to build an evolving body of knowledge about various city neighborhoods. Army units preparing for redeployment in Iraq are beginning to train with the system.
_ “Combat Zones That See” program, which networks conventional video cameras into a computerized history of the color, size and number of wheels of each vehicle that passes or parks outside the perimeter of a U.S. base or camp. It is now being installed at one such Iraq base.
_ Wasp Micro Air Vehicle, a drone that weighs about a half-pound and has a 14-inch wingspan and can “loiter” over an area for more than an hour, beaming back real-time images. The Marine Corps is training operators to use the device in Iraq and Afghanistan.
_ Several technologies that are not yet being used on the battlefield, but which DARPA hopes will be soon. One is the “Deep Bleeder Acoustic Coagulation” system, which DARPA hopes can be sent to Iraq to stop deep internal bleeding in wounded troops. The device uses ultrasound to detect and coagulate blood and can be operated by anyone, not just medics.
(Contact Lisa Hoffman at HoffmanL(at)shns.com)