Page last updated at 18:48 GMT, Thursday, 26 February 2009

New MoD tech 'could save lives'

By Daniel Emery
Technology reporter, BBC News


MoD considers shock-absorbing goo

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

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

Although still in the early stages, experts say the kit could soon be "must have devices that may help save lives".

The Minister for Defence Equipment and Support, Quentin Davies, said new technology was key to the MoD's plans.

Damian Kemp, aviation editor for intelligence consultancy Jane's, told BBC News that work on unmanned ground vehicles (UGV) was in the same stage of development that unmanned air vehicles (UAV) was 20 years ago.

It won't stop a bullet, but used in conjunction with body armour, it could help save a soldier's life
Richard Palmer

"Back then, UAVs were nice to have. Today they are something troops must have. The Americans see UGVs as very valuable in keeping soldiers out of harm's way.

"Soldiers are expensive and it's expensive if they get hurt, never mind the public image. These devices can save lives and I imagine British troops would be very keen to get issued UGVs."

Arms race

Mr 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 MoD spends nearly £2m on research and development in science and some of the devices on show today were winners of the MoD's Grand Challenge, a contest to identify promising battlefield robot technologies.

The Defence Technology Plan is spearheaded by the MoD's research and development team.

Their science and technology director, Paul Stein, said the showcase was the first time that the MoD has publicised some of the challenges facing their long-term defence plans.

"The development of new technology could lead to significant benefits for future combat forces," he said.

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 with capability of a 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

"The [Defence Technology Plan] sets out to encourage fresh thinking and engagement with new and existing defence technology suppliers."

One of the exhibitors at the event, Richard Palmer from D3O, told the BBC that his product - a soft plastic polymer that turns solid if impacted - was already used by sportsmen and women, but could also be used by the military.

"The gel is already used in ski race suits, especially slalom skiers. Getting hit by the gates at 60 miles per hour is like being hit with a baton, so this provides them with some protection.

"We're working with the MoD to see if it could be used inside the lining of helmets.

"It won't stop a bullet, but used in conjunction with body armour, it could help save a soldier's life".

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