Since the attacks of September 11, Congress has approved nearly $1.3 trillion for military spending. Much of that money has gone into mounting Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom. But some of the funds have been used to dream up and develop futuristic-sounding military devices such as exoskeletons.
Scientific American looked at some of these new and emerging technologies.
Body Armor and Exoskeletons
Improved body armor has allowed far more Western troops serving in Afghanistan and Iraq to survive improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and direct-fire engagements. Now Raytheon, Lockheed Martin and other defense contractors are developing hydraulic-powered exoskeletons that soldiers will wear to ease heavy loads while increasing strength and endurance.
Thanks to improvements in accuracy and a doubling of missile range, the U.S. and its allies can now “destroy a particular corner or room of a house with a rocket fired from 70 kilometers away,” says Kristian Gustafson of West London’s Brunel University.
Smart Grenade Launcher
About the size of a rifle, the XM25 Counter Defilade Target Engagement System has been used in Afghanistan since late 2010. The weapon fires bullets with microchips that can be programmed to detonate when they reach a specific distance.
Delivering food, water and ammunition to troops in the mountainous regions of Afghanistan is a challenge. That’s why the military developed the Joint Precision Airdrop System (JPADS), a steerable parachute with an onboard computer and GPS, deployed in 2006.
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles
UAVs are used to perform surveillance, reconnaissance and attack missions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan. The biggest advance since 9/11 has been the ability to control UAVs with a joystick and computer monitor thousands of kilometers from a combat zone. Next-generation models will vary in size from as small as a bee to as large as a dirigible.