Nicknamed "silent professionals," America's Special Operations Forces exist on the edge of war, moving behind and around front lines, preparing battles behind the scenes. They are as protected by obscurity as they are their own skill, which means that when they move around, it's best if they can do it without any loud engines giving them away.
Imagine a plant that changes color in the presence of a land mine and alerts unwary people to a danger beneath their feet. It's an idea that has inspired a number of groups, including a Danish company, which developed arabidopsis plants to turn red in the presence of explosives that have leached into the soil. At first glance, it's the perfect combination of humanitarian appeal and high-tech cool. So, why aren't land mine-detecting plants already here? Because it's bad biodesign.
America's stealth F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the most expensive fighter program in history, isn't exclusively made for the Pentagon. Besides America's Navy, Marines, and Air Force, nine other nations signed on to receive F-35s from Lockheed Martin, and today, a pair of F-35s are arriving in the Netherlands.
Landmines are a bad day waiting to happen. The classic explosives, used in war for centuries, hide in plain sight, waiting for someone unfortunate enough to set them off. Sea mines are a similar peril, only threatening whole boats at a time. And while there are plenty of robots that can find the bombs on land, there aren't that many which can do the trick in water, especially close to shore. The Sea WASP stands for “Waterborne Anti-IED Security Platform.” Made by Sweden defense and auto giant Saab, the Sea WASP is an underwater drone made to find Improvised Explosive Devices under the water's surface.
Chemical weapons are such dirty business that even the ground they touch needs to be specially processed before even the dirt is safe for people again. Chemical weapons are banned by treaties, though that hasn't stopped a few countries from maintaining stockpiles. Right now it's possible to clean up that mess, but it's a tremendous amount of work, and expensive work too. Yesterday at DARPA's demo day, where the military's blue-sky projects agency showed off its latest progress, I spoke to some of the team working on Agnostic Compact Demilitarization of Chemical Agents, or ACDC. Their goal: a machine that turns chemical-weapon-tainted soil into fertile soil, that can fit roughly in a shipping container, and is a fraction of the cost to process the chemicals today.
Yesterday, scientists, engineers, and project managers gathered in the Pentagon's courtyard to share with each other and the media the latest progress on their projects. All the projects were from DARPA, the Pentagon's future-looking projects agency, which wants to design, anticipate, and survive the future of war. The event was something like a mad science fair.
X-wings these are not. Someday, laser-toting airplanes may be sleek, small fighters, but first the U.S. Air Force wants to put laser guns on big, bulky, and decidedly unsexy aircraft. USAF's first laser weapons will go on C-17s and C-130, planes better known for carrying cargo than packing a punch.