From autonomous UAV clouds to record breaking submersibles, advanced IED training methods and a new spy plane capable of travelling at Mach 6, this year’s Ones to Watch takes in a broad spectrum of outstanding defence innovations and highlights the achievements of some exceptional defence-focused companies.
The shortlist for the Ones to Watch 2013 has been carefully selected by our editorial team, with help from our network of regular contributors and noted industry professionals.
Amputees In Action – preparing military first responders for the worst
No matter how much training army medics receive, the horror of first seeing the effects of an IED blast on a soldier’s body could leave them paralysed with shock when time is of the essence.
Inspired by their experience as extras in Saving Private Ryan, a group of amputee actors established an agency to offer services beyond Hollywood as a means to provide realistic military training and prepare soldiers for the worst. Amputees In Action is now looking to expand its services beyond Europe and into other dangerous fields, such as offshore oil recovery.
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Philips/Marshall – bringing hospital grade CT scans to the front line
Healthcare technology specialist Philips has partnered with Marshall Land Systems, part of Marshall Aerospace and Defence Group (MADG), to produce a containerised fully functional CT scanner that brings the diagnosis to the injured individual, rather than vice versa.
The system incorporates the Philips Brilliance CT64 scanner into a standard-sized container below the maximum military transport weight of 20 tonnes, and is fully ruggedised to withstand transport by land, sea and air over even the roughest terrain. At its destination, the compact facility cleverly folds out reverse origami-style into a fully equipped scanning theatre.
Boston Dynamics – biomimetic robotics
Boston Dynamics has set both the defence and internet community alight in recent years with stunning footage of a variety of biomimetic robots. BigDog, a military load-carrying robot, shows unprecedented coordination, strength and balance. PetMan can walk, run and even sweat to realistically test protection against dangerous chemicals, while Atlas can stand on one leg and WildCat can gallop at a terrifying pace.
Speaking at the International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems in November, Boston Dynamics CTO and founder Marc Raibert kicked off with a video of nimble mountain goats followed by footage of Parkour runners leaping above and manoeuvring around obstacles. The demonstration then began with the words ‘this is our dream’.
QinetiQ – autonomous UAS cloud
At this year’s DSEI event, QinetiQ announced it was investigating new ways to operate synchronised unmanned aerial systems (UAS) on the battlefield. QinetiQ’s head of UAS future business and strategy Jeremy Howitt explained how the company’s vision of a highly autonomous UAS cloud will see small groups of unmanned assets working with unprecedented levels of interoperability and independence.
In this scenario, just one human pilot could designate a mission to one or more aircraft, or individual onboard sensors, which in turn can automatically delegate individual tasks as appropriate. Quick to point out the need for a firm human-led command and control chain, QinetiQ is nevertheless pushing totally autonomous technology to the very limit.
Buddy mental health app
Buddy, a mental health app to support veterans, has already been rolled out to more than 500 returning veterans in the UK, following a successful trial by the Military Veterans’ Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) service in north-west England.
Supported by SMS messaging, Buddy enables therapists to keep in constant contact with their clients enabling patients to maintain a regular diary of their mood, improve attendance rates to therapy sessions, enhance recovery rates and reduce costs incurred through unattended sessions. The app also reduces inaccuracies that result when weekly diaries are put together retrospectively. While not expressing emotions is normal in a war zone, emotional release outside of war is critical to recovery. Buddy provides this release.
Optima – C-IED training
In spite of the various technological advances aimed at detecting and neutralising improvised explosive devices (IEDs), training remains the key factor in reducing casualties. To address the UK Ministry of Defence’s (MOD) security training requirements in Afghanistan, Optima designed and delivered training for new handheld detector (HHD) capabilities to 700 frontline British soldiers during a ten week relief-in-place period.
Speaking to us earlier this year, Optima managing director Keith Hammond explained the vital importance of training: “You have to have the right equipment, especially for the high-end specialists, and you have to have the right training. If you can combine those, along with the right procedures, then you have a capability.”
Bluefin – long endurance UUV
In late October Bluefin Robotics announced that in support of the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) they had successfully completed a long-endurance unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) mission from Boston to New York totalling more than 100 hours with NRL’s Reliant “Heavyweight” UUV.
The achievement goes a long way to cementing the role of UUVs in future operations by demonstrating that they can operate as long-operation alternatives to divers and current manned submersibles. The vehicle navigates using a fibre-optic gyro-based INS along with supplemental data from a GPS and a Doppler Velocity Log (DVL), to enable precise navigation underwater for long endurance missions.
BAE Systems – Artisan radar
In September BAE Systems began integration trials of the ‘most sophisticated medium range radar across all radar technology’ prior to deployment on the UK’s new Queen Elizabeth Class (QEC) aircraft carriers. Capable of detecting objects the size of a tennis ball travelling at three times the speed of sound, and at a range of more than 25km, BAE Systems’ Artisan represents a major leap forward in meeting operational challenges facing modern warships, especially in busy coastal areas.
The system can cut through electronic noise, interference and competing signals to detect and track more than 800 vessels and other objects – both large and small – simultaneously.
Lockheed Martin Skunk Works – SR72 Spyplane
Almost 50 years since the SR-71 Blackbird’s first flight, Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works revealed plans this year for its successor, the SR-72. The hypersonic intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and strike platform will be capable of travelling at Mach 6, twice the speed of the previous model. Based on advanced scramjet technology, the SR-72 will give unprecedented awareness of events in areas of denied or contested airspace.
While the concept has not yet secured funding from the US Government, it does meet requirements for the USAF’s hypersonic roadmap, which calls for a hypersonic strike weapon by 2020. The next stage of the project will see the manufacture of an optionally-piloted flight research vehicle (FRV) the size of an F-22 and powered by a single, full-scale engine.
Waterfall Security – Unidirectional Security Gateways
Waterfall Security’s Unidirectional Security Gateway solutions offer effective protection for safety-critical and reliability-critical networks. Unlike competitors that specialise in military and government requirements only, Waterfall’s products cater extensively to the industrial space as well – important when you consider that some of the most sophisticated attacks emanate from outside conventional warfare.
In September the company announced new contracts for their Bulk Electric System (BES) to protect major energy control centres in the US, identified by the Department of Homeland Defence as strategic targets for cyber-sabotage attacks.
Boston Dynamics has built yet another astounding animal-inspired robot; WildCat.
Defence organisations across the world have spent millions trying to develop wearable solar technology for soldiers in the field.