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5 Army Tech Innovations To Watch

Oct 11, 2013 (04:10 AM EDT)

Read the Original Article at http://www.informationweek.com/news/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=240162508


A team of scientists at the Army Research Laboratory are helping develop light, portable prototype systems that could convert jet propellant 8 -- a.k.a. JP-8 -- to hydrogen for portable electric power. Developing a practical fuel reformation process is just one of many innovations in the works at Army labs, with some already being tested in the field.

Keeping such systems light is a key priority for the Army. Many of its projects focus on technologies that can reduce the weight of equipment without compromising the safety of soldiers. The Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center (AMRDEC) Prototype Integration Facility recently designed and installed a model of an enhanced Ballistic Protection System (BPS) in the cabin of the UH-60 Black Hawk aircraft. Such systems are designed to shelter personnel, equipment and supplies against missiles, but they're typically built using heavy materials. Thanks to advances in lightweight composites, Army researchers have been able to reduce the mass of a BPS. The enhancements are expected to decrease the weight of the current Black Hawk BPS system by 500 pounds.

Survivability is another big issue. Researchers are constantly finding new ways to protect soldiers on the battlefield. The most recent example is the Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS), which has been labeled as a real-life Iron Man suit. The Special Operations Command issued a solicitation in May, asking private companies, research and development organizations, academia, and government labs to submit technology demonstrations that could lead to collaboration between the government and the private sector to develop capabilities for TALOS.

The Army describes TALOS as an "advanced infantry uniform that promises to provide superhuman strength with greater ballistic protection." The suit will include wide-area networking and on-board computers, enabling better situational awareness in the field. TALOS will also have a physiological subsystem that touches the skin and uses sensors to monitor core body temperature, skin temperature, heart rate, body position and hydration levels. Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are in the process of building the armor, which is made from magneto rheological fluids -- a liquid body armor that shifts from liquid to solid when it hits a magnetic field or electrical current. The first demonstration took place in July to identify technologies that could initially be integrated into TALOS within a year. TALOS could be seen in the field within the next three years.

InformationWeek Government has been closely following military technologies. Explore our slideshow to learn more about the Army's latest innovations.

Image credit: DRS Tactical Systems Inc.




The Army is developing a tool aimed at reducing altitude sickness in deployed soldiers. The tool will supply commanders who are preparing for missions with an altitude-acclimatization model that predicts at what point a soldier might feel the effects of acute mountain sickness (AMS), as well as the potential severity of the symptoms.

The ultimate goal for researchers is to create software that will run on a wristwatch, GPS or smartphone. "We are currently collaborating with MIT's Lincoln Laboratory to get this technology into a smartphone-based application," Beth Beidleman of the Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine (pictured), said in a written statement. "It is important for us to provide a really basic planning tool that anyone could easily use."

Image credit: David Kamm, U.S. Army Natick Soldier RD&E Center

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Earlier this year, a new retort food processing system was installed at the Defense Department's Combat Feeding Directorate in Natick, Mass. The vessel uses a new method that combines water and motion to develop military food that is safe to eat and that makes thermal processing much more efficient. It can process 195 eight-ounce ready-to-eat pouches, or 20 six-pound polymeric tray packs, at a time using water immersion, saturated steam, water spray or water spray with gentle motion. The Army said it can now design products that are more visually appealing and nutritious, and process them the same way vendors would.

Image credit: David Kamm, U.S. Army Natick Soldier RD&E Center

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The Army is introducing a standardized family of tactical computers that can be tailored to any mission or vehicle. Traditionally it has used a "swivel-chair" approach to situational awareness, in which features were accessed on different computer systems over separate monitors. The new capability, known as the Mounted Family of Computer Systems (MFoCS), will make tactical computers scalable and interoperable, allowing soldiers to better plan, monitor and execute missions.

In June, a three-year indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity contract for production and development of MFoCS was awarded to Florida-based DRS Tactical Systems. The first MFoCS computers, to be used for integration and testing, will be delivered within 20 weeks of the contract date, the Army said.

Image credit: DRS Tactical Systems Inc.

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A four-year effort at the Army's Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center (NSRDEC) has resulted in a fully integrated headgear system that offers soldiers more protection and comfort than before. The Helmet Electronics and Display System-Upgradeable Protection, or HEaDS-UP, reduces the logistic footprint of combat helmets for ground soldiers, Don Lee, a NSRDEC project engineer, said in a written statement. "Right now, mounted soldiers have two helmets. So if they dismount from the vehicle, they're supposed to swap helmets."

With HEaDS-UP, both mounted and dismounted soldiers can use one helmet. The Army has developed two modular headgear concepts that include technologies such as see-through and projected heads-up displays, improved ballistic materials, and communications. The headgear also features eye, face and hearing protection.

Image credit: David Kamm, Army Natick Soldier RD&E Center

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Army scientists and engineers have come up with a way to reduce the weight of body armor, a major problem for soldiers exposed to extreme terrains and temperatures. A new manufacturing process has created armor that is 10% lighter -- a breakthrough that is expected to also benefit the Marine Corps, Air Force, Navy and Special Operations Command, which have similar body-armor requirements.

"To accomplish this weight reduction, researchers pushed advances in composites, ceramics and component integration," the Army said. All of these materials are necessary to make the armor safe for soldiers, for instance, in stopping a bullet, managing the bullet's momentum and preventing trauma. The next step, according to the Army, is to transfer the "processing technology" to body-armor manufacturers.

Image credit: Conrad Johnson, Army Research, Development and Engineering Command

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