Seeking technologies for counter-terrorism

Feb. 1, 2007
U.S. military researchers are fast out of the gate in 2007 with several technology-development initiatives that could have a major influence in the global war on terror.

John Keller, Editor in Chief

U.S. military researchers are fast out of the gate in 2007 with several technology-development initiatives that could have a major influence in the global war on terror.

These research efforts, if even reasonably successful, could make important contributions to remote sensing and surveillance, place deadly pressure directly on terrorist suspects where they live, and help predict and respond strongly to riots, rebellions, and political overthrows throughout the world.

Viewed together, these three research projects show clearly that U.S. military researchers are not only taking counter-terrorism seriously, but also placing themselves in the counter-terrorism business for the long haul by continuing their efforts to transform American defense capabilities from a conventional Cold War-era footing into a flexible, fast moving force able to deal with conventional and unconventional threats on an equal basis.

These programs are under supervision of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in Arlington Va., which is the organization that investigates beyond-leading-edge technologies that could have substantial influence on U.S. defense capability.

The first program involves surveillance-more specifically wide-area surveillance from small platforms likely to operate autonomously and covertly.

The program is called the Hemispherical Array Detectors for Imaging, or HARDI, and seeks to develop a rounded fisheye imaging sensor sized no larger than a radius of one centimeter (see story page 14).

DARPA scientists want this HARDI sensor, which will operate in the visible-light, near-infrared, and shortwave-infrared spectra, to have a field of view of 120 degrees.

Imagine a sensor smaller than an inch wide that can see from horizon to horizon in a variety of light spectra. Such a sensor wouldn’t just be small enough to fit in your pocket; it would be small enough to get lost in your pocket.

Now think about the new generation of the military’s small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) like the Dragon Eye from Aerovironment Inc. in Monrovia, Calif. These are small enough to fit in a Marine’s backpack. Put a future HARDI sensor on one of those tiny unmanned aircraft and you’ve really got something.

That would put in an infantryman’s hand the capability not only to see over the next hill to avoid ambushes and other hazards, but also to see what’s waiting over the next hill that might be hiding in the dark, or concealed under cover like trees and shrubs.

This would be an amazing amount of short-range surveillance capability. Imagine beyond a backpackable UAV. Think, instead, about even smaller flying, crawling, or swimming unmanned vehicles that could operate unnoticed-perhaps those that might remain motionless except for short periods of time.

Perhaps a small unmanned vehicle like this, with a wide-area imaging sensor like HARDI, could perch on a window ledge, on the inside of a cave, on the underside of a car or truck, or next to a portable missile launcher. What kind of quantum leap in capability might this offer to the war on terror?

Imagine another kind of optical technology for the war on terror-specifically a sniper’s targeting rifle scope that is able to sense and measure all wind speeds between itself and its far-off target, and automatically compensate for any crosswind it encounters (see story on page 1).

It is unclear precisely what kind of technology would be necessary to achieve DARPA’s goals, but most likely it would take some kind of laser able to measure wind speeds and directions at many different spots between the shooter and target. Such a system also would require digital signal processing to help calculate the compensation necessary to account for crosswinds.

A crosswind-measuring scope would yield a futuristic sniper’s rifle able to hit what it aims at with the first shot. A telescopic sight like this, in the hands of a skilled, concealed marksman with a reliable long-range weapon would be fearsome; it would put every member of the al-Qaeda high command-wherever he might be-at immediate risk.

This project, called the Advanced Sighting System (One Shot), seeks not to use two technologies used in the past to measure crosswinds-laser Doppler velocimeter technology, and coherent Doppler lidar, DARPA officials say. Instead, they want something better.

One of the most ambitious DARPA programs announced lately is called the Integrated Crisis Early Warning System, or ICEWS for short (see story page 3). This project seeks nothing less than an advanced computer system able to predict military and political trouble spots around the globe, based on current events, and make intelligent recommendations on how military and U.S. government authorities should respond to them.

With this system, government authorities would have a system to forecast the world’s political winds and make judgments and risk assessments on how best to contain or deal with them through diplomatic, military, or other means.

Without a doubt, this system, if ever developed, would rely on a gigantic and dynamic database of news reports, intelligence assessments, surveillance information, and other rapidly changing data to give government officials a leg up on what’s next in global hot spots.

It is DARPA’s intent from these programs to make it tougher for the world’s terrorist organizations to do business. It is our hope that these researchers succeed.

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