08 July 2003
New Technology Could Boost Anti-Terror Mission Effectiveness
(Key to success is creating surprises for adversaries) (1260)
By Kathryn Schmidt
Washington File Special Correspondent
Washington -- Since September 11, U.S. researchers have been working
around the clock to identify vulnerabilities in the U.S. military and
intelligence systems and develop defenses against them. Technological
advances unimaginable only a few years ago are now a reality for those
on the front lines.
Enter the bullet-detecting radar, and the robot that can climb walls
like animated cartoon character "Spiderman." The Defense Advanced
Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Pentagon's "technological
engine" responsible for preventing and creating technological
surprises, has used its resources wisely and the result is new
inventions designed to combat the anticipated high-tech terrorist
In one of their efforts, researchers are studying insects: how they
run and jump, how geckos climb walls and walk on ceilings, how flies
avoid capture, and how an octopus hides. These observations are key to
finding new approaches to locomotion and highly adaptive camouflage.
Rhex, the DARPA robot with legs, is one result of this groundbreaking
research. This prototype, developed through research by Canadian and
American technicians, has the ability to run over rough terrain, and
even swim. Researchers' next goal is to furnish Rhex with gecko-like
feet, enabling it to climb walls and ceilings, giving it the same
mobility as these Spiderman-like reptiles. Eventually, Rhex will have
a camera and biochemical sensors to detect substances in the
The hope for these "New Age" technologies is that they will not only
prevent terrorist attacks, but also make the battleground safer for
U.S. soldiers. By developing a robot like Rhex, that can venture into
areas unsafe for humans and alert its human counterparts to the
presence of dangerous biological agents (or other hard-to-detect
threats), researchers hope to circumvent both military and civilian
In addition, Dr. Tony Tether, director of DARPA, told the House Armed
Services' Subcommittee on Terrorism, Unconventional Threats and
Capabilities in his testimony on March 27 that although "computer
technology is at the forefront in this new war on terrorism,"
computers "remain fundamentally unintelligent and difficult to use.
Something dramatically different is needed."
That something different to which Tether refers is "cognitive
computing." Tether and his researchers envision new cognitive
computing systems that will be smarter, more interactive and more like
their human counterparts. Researchers at DARPA predict the development
of systems that will have the ability to reason in their own
environment and to communicate their goals and capabilities. The
computers of the future will be able to learn and teach and even be
able to communicate with their users.
"The idea is not simply to replace people with machines, but to team
people with robots to create a more capable, agile and cost-effective
force that lowers U.S. casualties," Tether told the subcommittee. A
network of systems is in development that includes manned and unmanned
ground and air systems, creating brigade-sized formations "that have
the lethality and survivability of an armored heavy force, the
deployability of an airborne force, and the tactical agility of an
Another Pentagon group, the Technical Support Working Group (TSWG),
has projects in development to outwit efforts by would-be terrorists.
Some of the futuristic weapons being studied by TSWG include mass
transit surveillance systems, a cooling system for body armor, a
technique for extracting DNA from fingerprints, and a luggage
irradiation machine that would destroy undetected biological and
The group also is developing a handheld explosives detector which is
significantly smaller than detectors available today. Based on surface
acoustic wave (SAW) technology, the device has already demonstrated
the ability to detect two common chemicals used in explosives. The
portability and effectiveness of this handheld device will enable law
enforcement to identify real threats and minimize the inconveniences
of false alarms.
Furthermore, to help penetrate dangerous and complex underground
facilities and caves in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, where
adversaries hide critical assets, U.S. researchers are developing
seismic, acoustic, electro-optical, radio frequency, and chemical
sensor technologies that will soon be able to tell soldiers the
purpose of each underground facility by exposing its internal
structures and vulnerabilities.
Keeping soldiers and medical workers safe in the event of a terrorist
attack is a top priority for researchers at both DARPA and TSWG.
Investigators are studying the response of sleep-deprived monkeys
given a new class of drugs called ampakines which may eliminate the
negative effects of sleep deprivation. After the drug is administered,
monkeys appear to recover from the cognitive and brain metabolism
defects normally caused by lack of sleep. This new class of drugs may
have positive implications for soldiers or pilots now enduring long
missions and currently being treated with traditional stimulants
causing greater side effects.
For emergency response workers, the "Smart Shirt" in development at
TSWG holds promise. The shirt will track heart and respiration rate,
body temperature, and voice and data communication. This information
will be transmitted wirelessly to a monitoring station.
Soon a new product called the "Drink System" developed by TSWG, will
be incorporated into the protective gear worn by emergency workers. It
offers them the ability to remain hydrated during an emergency, while
extending work time and reducing the risk of heat stroke.
Researchers also are developing ways to prevent or at least lessen the
effects of an attempted biological or radiological attack against the
United States. Several compounds are in development which, when
administered at the time of an attack, will limit its severity and
CpG is one compound capable of boosting the body's immune system in
the event of a biological attack. CpG can also be used to improve the
effectiveness and speed of vaccines. Animal tests using CpG in
conjunction with the anthrax vaccine require less vaccine, fewer doses
with diminished side effects and faster protection. "CpG is part of
our comprehensive effort to take anthrax 'off the table' as a threat,"
Meanwhile, soldiers wounded on the battlefield will benefit from
ongoing research done on blood platelets, the tiny blood particles
that promote clotting and healing. Fragile and perishable platelets,
the lifeblood for a bleeding soldier, cannot survive more than five
days outside the body, even in ideal conditions. For doctors in
military field hospitals, access to platelets could mean a life saved.
In response to this critical need, researchers are developing a system
for freeze-drying platelets with the sugar, trehlose. Just recently,
it was determined that mouse platelets processed this way can be
stored for up to 18 months and rehydrated for use. This technology
could save countless lives in the battlefield.
Saving lives is a top priority in this new war. The U.S. government is
banking on it with a proposed $6 billion ($6,000 million) budget for a
10-year research plan to prevent and prepare for a bioterrorist
attack. DARPA has an annual budget of $2.5 billion [$2,500 million]
and TSWG's budget has grown from $8 million in 1992 to $111 million in
2002, to more than $200 million in 2003.
This significant investment underlines the gravity and scope of this
new and dangerous war against terrorism. While U.S. soldiers are
waging war on the battlefield, researchers are waging war in the
laboratory. Together, they are working diligently to save lives and
stay one step ahead of terrorists and the myriad of threats to the
security of Americans and American interests at home and abroad.
(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International
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