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Myth Busted: Scientists Unveil High-Tech Army

The exoskeleton is a robotic device the Soldier wears like a full body suit. It would enhance Soldier performance, increasing strength without losing agility, and potentially developing into an entirely covered system -- a little like the protective suit worn in the receint film "Ironman."
by Staff Writers
Washington DC (SPX) Oct 16, 2008
Advancements in science and technology that support full-spectrum operations, like exoskeletons, were discussed at the annual meeting and exposition of the Association of the United States Army.

The forum "Busting the Low-Tech Myth: Army S and T Support to Full Spectrum Operations" provided presentations on how experimental and applied technologies show the Army has advanced across the board, from recruiting to technology in theater.

Lt. Gen. Ross Thompson, military deputy to the assistant secretary of the Army for Acquisitions, Logistics and Technology opened the panel with a report on how to grow the AL and T workforce in order to aid research and development.

"We're going to be 'in-sourcing' more things than we've been outsourcing lately," Thompson said.

Other presenters went on to discuss the importance of recruiting future generations to research and operate technologies, and how technology itself plays an important part in the recruiting; how technology helps facilitate the ability to track business, the significance of internal research and external commercial partnerships, and the technological advancements themselves, both in the experimental and applied phases.

Nanoflyers and Exoskeletons
"Advancement in computers and our computational capabilities is enormous." said Dr. Thomas Killion, deputy assistant secretary of the Army for research and technology and its chief scientist. The LandWarrior system, the technology in the back of a Stryker vehicle, allows us to do things we would have never been capable of before, he explained. "That's why we are a really a high-tech Army."

Current technologies in the field include precision munitions, unmanned vehicles from Future Combat Systems, and hybrid-electric power sources, Killion said. But these applied technologies are not the only things that make the Army high-tech; experimental systems and advanced research also make the Army more developed.

The Army has invested heavily in nano-technology and biotechnology, Killion said. "Nano-technology in terms of designing new materials from the ground up, atom by atom, to provide new properties" in terms of protection, sensing and monitoring the condition of the Soldier himself.

"Biotechnology, in terms of really mimicking biology to come up with new ideas for protection, sensing, communications, for doing things in ways that billions of years of evolution have helped living things to do things, and exploiting that knowledge to design man-made systems," he said.

The Army is developing training avatars, computer generated simulations that will react to and interact with Soldiers intelligently, as well as researching sensors that monitor brain functions, which could lead to enhanced prosthesis control, Killion said.

During his presentation, Killion ran two videos of technologies still being experimented with: exoskeletons and nanoflyers.

The exoskeleton is a robotic device the Soldier wears like a full body suit. It would enhance Soldier performance, increasing strength without losing agility, and potentially developing into an entirely covered system -- a little like the protective suit worn in the receint film "Ironman."

Nanoflyers, Killion explained, weigh about as much as a penny and resemble tiny helicopters, able to fit into a backpack easily. The will serve as urban-interior surveillance technology, and can either hover inside buildings or be placed inconspicuously on a shelf for stationary monitoring.

Killion emphasized that in order to continue technological advancements the Army must foster science and engineering career paths.

"Tomorrow's technology is in the minds of today's youth," he said.

Recruiting for the Future
Part of developing and maintaining a high-tech Army is having the manpower to research, develop and operate the business and technologies -- which means recruitment, Thompson said.

Thompson explained how the AL and T is expanding its workforce, both on the civilian side and the military side. Currently, there are roughly 38,500 civilians in the workforce and he projects doubling that amount through 2012. On the military side, there are less than 16,000 people, but that's expected to increase by 178 in the contract area, and 149 other military.

"All those acquisition career fields require highly trained people; it's not just the PhD scientists -- it's the business school graduates that understand basics economics and finance and can help us put together a good contract instrument," he said.

Ed Walters, chief marketing officer for the Army, spoke about the new Army Experience Center, a recruiting center in Philadelphia that uses advanced technology and marketing theories.

Based on the concept of experiential marketing, the Army Experience Center provides a relaxed environment for recruiters to interact with young people and their parents, Walters said.

The center is futuristic in appearance, complete with a command center where visitors can be briefed virtually by actual Soldiers. State-of-the-art gaming stations, touch screen monitors and realistic battle simulators all help reinforce the idea that the Army is high tech, and help to connect with the potential recruits who grew up in a technology-oriented environment, he explained.

"The mission is to apply alternative business practices to recruiting," Walters said, and to create innovative programs to enhance the understanding of the Army.

Researching the Future
The director of the Tank and Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center, Dr. Grace Bochenek, said that the Army is researching several types of alternative energy: biodiesel, hydrogen fuel and hydroelectric power sources. These would help run autonomous vehicles and provide clean, efficient power for the Soldier of the future.

In fact, hybrid-electric power has already been put to use as a power source for the FCS Non-Line of Sight Cannon.

The Army is also working with various representatives from the commercial automotive industry, like GM and Toyota, to research vehicle safety, Bochenek said.

Jeff Parsons of the Army Contracting Command spoke about how new software enables training and experience to be tracked, helping to build a "virtual contracting enterprise" and create better contracting officers.

"[Our job] is to recruit you to help us get the story out," Killion said, asking the audience to spread the word: "That the Army is a high-tech service, that we provide Soldiers with technology that enables them to more effectively do their jobs, and do it safely."

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