Page last updated at 16:28 GMT, Thursday, 26 February 2009

The future of the fighting forces

By Daniel Emery
Technology reporter

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MoD considers shock absorbing goo

The MoD has lifted the lid on its Defence Technology Plan, the latest gadgets and gizmos it hopes could help equip the troops in the future.

Cameras that can see through dust and unmanned ground vehicles were among the devices on show.

It is the first time the MoD has unveiled its long-term research needs and demonstrated new technology.

The products are still in their early stages, although it is hoped many will go into service in the next few years.

The MoD hopes to attract more future technology to address its combat needs.

MoD's technology goals
Reducing the load a soldier has to carry from the current 75kg to 25kg while improving personal protection levels
Creating a new breed of fighting vehicles - the future protected vehicles - in which the MoD wants the capability of a main battle tank but in an all-terrain vehicle weighing less than 30 tonnes
Reducing the armed forces' dependency on fossil fuels
Developing the next generation of unmanned air vehicles (UAV)
Understanding and defending the threats posed by cyber-warfare

Speaking at the launch, the Minister for Defence Equipment and Support, Quentin Davies, said technology was key to staying one step ahead of the enemy.

"It is more vital than ever before that we exploit new and emerging technologies because the threats our troops face are always evolving," he said.

The products unveiled were the first in a number of submissions chosen by the MoD for further development.

D3O
D3O material

This is a long chain silicon polymer that looks and feels like silly putty. The material can be shaped and squeezed, but a shock impact will cause it to lock together. The idea is to use the material as body armour to protect troops from shock impacts.

It will not stop bullets, but used in conjunction with projectile-protection systems, it can help disperse the energy from a bullet. It is being tested for use within helmets and might become a feature of Peaock, an MoD body armour currently in development.

SATURN
Saturn UAV and UGV

Saturn - the sensing and automotive tactical urban reconnaissance network - is a combination of UAV and unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) that not only examines the battlefield but, say the developers, can actively spot threats.

The idea is that a platoon or company of soldiers would deploy both the ground and air vehicle to perform reconnaissance of a village or part of a town.

The UAV would fly over and spot vehicles or enemy troops moving in the open, while the UGV would roll up to a building, spot which windows are open, then look to see if anyone was behind them.

The developers say the system would then try and differentiate between civilians and possible enemy contacts by looking to see if they were holding an object, such as a rifle or a rocket-propelled grenade.

PIBBD
Portable Integrated Battlespace Biological Detection unit

The developers are calling it a mobile lab in a suitcase, which is only slightly shorter than its full title of portable integrated battlespace biological detection unit.

The purpose of the device is simple - to analyse the air and sound a warning if there is any form of biological threat.

The device works by continuously sampling the air, then mixing it with a liquid and passing it across plates with embedded antibodies. Should the air contain a biological hazard, the antibodies become active, changing the electrical properties of the plate and triggering an alarm.

At present, most mobile detection units are the site of a large van so something that could be carried by a soldier would be a real advantage.

TESTUDO
Testudo UGV

Another UGV, this is a robot scout designed to examine hostile areas from a safe distance. The device, not much larger than a skateboard, has the capability to cover almost all types of terrain and can even climb stairs. The developers hope the finished product would cost less than £5,000 and be small enough to be easily carried by a soldier.

TELEDYNE
Helicopter in Afghanistan

One of the problems flying helicopters in Afghanistan and Iraq is dust. The down-draught from the rotor blades can kick up huge clouds, blinding the pilots and making landing very hazardous.

Teledyne is a device that uses microwaves to see through dust clouds, smoke and snow, making landings far easier. The developers plan to put Teledyne through full trials later this year.



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