Page last updated at 07:27 GMT, Friday, 27 February 2009

The future of the fighting forces

By Daniel Emery
Technology reporter, BBC News


MoD test remote control buggy

The UK's Ministry of Defence (MoD) has showcased some of its new inventions as part of its Defence Technology Plan.

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.

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

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 UAV and UGV

Saturn - the sensing and automotive tactical urban reconnaissance network - is a combination of unmanned aerial vehicle (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 were 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.


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 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.

Novel Air Concept
Futuristic UAV's are just one part of the MOD's vision of the future

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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