Iran Developing Unmanned Drone Technology; U.S. Officials Concerned

By Michael Barkoviak

The Iranian government announced earlier in the year it has started UAV development

Iran remains a nation closely watched by the United States and the rest of the western world, especially now that the country is developing a more sophisticated unmanned drone program. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is concerned with the progress of Iranian drone development, and there is a growing concern the drone technology could be sold to terrorist groups.

“Countries like Iran are developing their own UAVs and already have a UAV capability,” said Gates, speaking in front of the Senate Appropriations Committee.  “That is a concern, because it is one of these areas where — if they chose to, in Iraq, in Afghanistan — they could create difficulties for us.”

The country began development in February, seeking to manufacture “advanced” UAVs able to conduct surveillance and coordinated strikes.  Furthermore, if the country is successful in developing nuclear weapons, there is a grave concern the drones could one day be used to attack major targets.

Even so, the U.S. military has an advanced air fleet that should be capable of shooting down the drones according to military analysts.

The U.S. military continually uses UAVs in coordinated airstrikes in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, with the Pakistani military expected to receive UAV technology from the U.S.  Russia also is developing advanced UAVs for future use, with European news reports specifically mentioning their use to prevent attacks from terrorists based in Chechnya.

It’s also possible UAVs will be used to patrol the Somali coast to help locate and identify pirates before they are able to hijack commercial vessels.


British Military Developing Force Fields

It looks like another piece of Star Trek technology is just around the corner. The British military’s top scientists are using supercapacitors to create deflector shields for tanks.

Researchers at the British military’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory want to use supercharged electromagnetic fields to repulse attacks on tanks and other combat vehicles. Supercapacitors built into the armor of these vehicles can store huge amounts of energy, which would then be deployed when an incoming threat is detected. The field would theoretically be powerful enough to deflect pretty much anything up to small missiles, and the supercapacitors would be able to quickly recharge to prevent a subsequent attack.

Professor Bryn James of the Science and Technology Laboratory stresses how much this would reduce the need for heavy armor on combat vehicles:

The supercapacitor material can be charged up and then discharged in one powerful event to repel incoming fire. You would think this would require huge amounts of energy, but we have found it can be done with surprisingly small amounts of electrical power.Conventional armour is just a lump of metal but an RPG round can punch through more than a foot of steel. Carrying around enough armour to protect against that is extremely heavy. The real advantage to the electric armour is how light it can be by comparison.

The real issue is one of timing. The electromagnetic field created would only last for a fraction of a second, so it would be absolutely critical to deploy the field at precisely the right moment to repel the attack. Turning this new technology into a reality on the battlefield will likely require the development of advanced tracking systems that can gauge the exact instant to fire up the field.

In the meantime, the scientists at the Laboratory are continuing to develop the basic technology, something they’ve been working on throughout the last decade. As early as 2002, they were able to use a relatively primitive version of the electrical armor to protect a jeep from repeated blasts from an RPG, ultimately driving the vehicle away with only minor scratches. The current goal for the research team is to perfect the technology and reduce the weight of armored combat vehicles by an astounding seventy percent by the end of this decade.

[The Telegraph]

Send an email to Alasdair Wilkins, the author of this post, at

F-35 Lightning II Cost has Doubled; F136 Engine Completes Afterburner Test

By Michael Barkoviak

The JSF continues to increase in cost, while Lockheed Martin and military official defend the program

The cost of each next-generation F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) aircraft has ballooned from $50 million per craft in 2001 to more than $113 million in 2010.
The price tag has ballooned due to delays and other major holdups.  Such a drastic price increase has again forced military leaders to defend the JSF program in front of Congress – patience is running out as the military looks for ways to trim costs.

Lockheed Martin also has been forced to defend the numerous delays and price increases to the government, but still has been unable to keep costs under control.

There is possible evidence the contractor “bought into” the JSF program by offering a lower price it knew it would be unable to meet (without steadily raising the costs in later years). Lockheed Martin was able to edge out Boeing’s competing X-32 offering in part to due to better SVTOL performance, a low price tag, and the fact that the X-35 (precursor to the F-35 Lightning II) would borrow some technology from the larger F-22 Raptor.

The F-35 Lightning II was expected to become the most expensive weapons program picked up by the Pentagon, and the new price will again lead some politicians and military leaders to discuss dropping the program.  Continued disappointment has led the USAF to show more interest in mobility instead of relying on the JSF program — especially after the expected one-year delay.

The U.S. military does have some positive outlooks, however, with the GE Rolls-Royce Fighter Engine Team recently completing successful afterburner tests on its third engine.  There are six F136 engine tests scheduled in 2010.

“We are marching along in development, making progress every day, and achieving full afterburner on our newest engine demonstrates the capability and success of the F136 team. It also means the F-35 program is another step closer to reaping the proven benefits of enduring competition in the engine program,” said Al DiLibero, President of GE Rolls-Royce’s Fighter Engine Team.

Multifunctional Polymer Neutralizes Both Biological and Chemical Weapons

In an ongoing effort to mirror the ability of biological tissues to respond rapidly and appropriately to changing environments, scientists from the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine have synthesized a single, multifunctional polymer material that can decontaminate both biological and chemical toxins. They described the findings recently in Biomaterials.

“Our lab applies biological principles to create materials that can do many things, just like our skin protects us from both rain and sun,” said senior investigator Alan Russell, Ph.D., University Professor of Surgery, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, and director, McGowan Institute, a joint effort of the university and UPMC. “Typically, labs engineer products that are designed to serve only one narrow function.”

Those conventional approaches might not provide the best responses for weapons of mass destruction, which could be biological, such as smallpox virus, or chemical, such as the nerve agent sarin, he noted. Terrorists aren’t going to announce what kind of threat they unleash in an attack.

“That uncertainty calls for a single broad-spectrum decontamination material that can rapidly neutralize both kinds of threats and is easily delivered or administered, and it must not damage the environment where it is applied,” Dr. Russell said. “Much work has gone into developing ways to thwart either germ or chemical weapons, and now we’re combining some of them into one countermeasure.”

He and his team have devised a polyurethane fiber mesh containing enzymes that lead to the production of bromine or iodine, which kill bacteria, as well as chemicals that generate compounds that detoxify organophosphate nerve agents.

“This mesh could be developed into sponges, coatings or liquid sprays, and it could be used internally or as a wound dressing that is capable of killing bacteria, viruses and spores,” said lead investigator Gabi Amitai, Ph.D., of the McGowan Institute and the Israel Institute for Biological Research. “The antibacterial and antitoxin activities do not interfere with each other, and actually can work synergistically.”

In their experiments, the material fended off Staph aureus and E. coli, which represent different classes of bacteria. After 24 hours, it restored 70 percent of the activity of acetylcholinesterase, an enzyme that is inhibited by nerve agents leading to fatal dysfunction of an essential neurotransmitter.

The researchers continue to develop alternate decontamination strategies to address chemical and biologic weapons.

Co-authors of the paper include Hironobu Murata, Ph.D., and senior research technician Jill Andersen, both of the McGowan Institute; and Richard Koepsel, Ph.D., of the McGowan Institute and the Department of Surgery, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

The study was funded by a grant from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Story Source:

Adapted from materials provided by University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences, via EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS.

Boeing A160T Hummingbird UAV proves front line resupply capabilities

A Boeing A160T Hummingbird UAV, like the one shown here during a previous sling-load test flight, has met or exceeded all requirements during a sling-load cargo demonstration for the U.S. Marines

By Darren Quick

Boeing’s A160T Hummingbird UAV has successfully completed a simulated mission test proving the unmanned rotorcraft’s ability to resupply frontline troops in rough terrain. The demonstration saw the A160T carry 1,250-pound sling loads over two 150-nautical-mile round trips operating autonomously on a pre-programmed mission. The demonstration proved the craft is capable of delivering at least 2,500 pounds of cargo from one simulated forward-operating base to another 75 nautical miles away in well under the required six hours.

The A160T completed seven test flights during the demonstration, including a two-minute hover at 12,000 feet with the 1,250-pound sling load, and a nighttime delivery to a simulated forward operating base. Boeing says the A160T’s ability to execute extremely accurate autonomous deliveries also was demonstrated.

“The Hummingbird’s performance was outstanding, as we had expected,” said Vic Sweberg, director of Unmanned Aerial Systems for Boeing Military Aircraft. “The A160T’s capabilities can fulfill our customer’s near-term need for 24/7, reliable cargo resupply. It also provides unmatched flexibility to carry out a variety of other missions, including intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; target acquisition; direct action; and communication relay.”

The A160T has a 2,500-pound payload capacity. It features a unique optimum-speed-rotor technology that significantly improves overall performance efficiency by adjusting the rotor’s speed at different altitudes, gross weights and cruise speeds. The autonomous unmanned aircraft, measuring 35 feet long with a 36-foot rotor diameter, has hovered at 20,000 feet and cruised at more than 140 knots.

The unmanned chopper established a world endurance record in its class in 2008 with an 18.7-hour unrefueled flight.

Boeing Completes Design of Shipboard Superlaser

By Nathan Hodge

The U.S. military is bankrolling all kinds of projects to harness the power of directed energy, from laser-equipped aircraft that can shoot down ballistic missiles to smaller beam weapons mounted on Humvees that could zap mortars or artillery shells. The Navy is no exception: It wants a shipboard laser that is powerful enough to destroy anti-ship missiles.

Defense giant Boeing now says it has completed the preliminary design of one such weapon, the Free Electron Laser, or FEL. In a news release today, the company said it had presented its FEL design, which will operate by forcing a stream of high-energy electrons through a series of magnetic fields, creating a weapons-grade blast of laser light.

If it works, it would be the holy grail of military lasers. For starters, it would able to blast though the atmosphere without losing too much strength (see explanation here). And it would have an unlimited magazine: As long as the ship provided enough electrical power, it could keep on zapping.

Boeing isn’t the only company working on such a project. Last year, the Office of Naval Research awarded contracts to both Raytheon and Boeing for preliminary design work on FEL. As we reported, this laser would be capable of reaching up to 100 kilowatts. In theory, it would be a potential long-range replacement for the radar-guided Phalanx gun, the Navy’s current system for close-in defense from cruise missiles and other threats.

But as we noted last year, it’s all easier said than done. Developing prototypes isn’t enough: The future Navy will need a fleet of futuristic, fully electric ships that generate enough power for these next-generation weapons.

Photo: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Watch the New F-35 Jet Hover With Breathtaking Stillness

It looks like a special effect, but it’s not. What you’re watching is an F-35B supersonic stealth jet spend 30 seconds suspended 150ft in the air, for the very first time.

The first successful hover test was piloted at the Patuxent River naval base by British pilot Graham Tomlinson. This isn’t the first aircraft that can take off and land vertically, of course. But it’s the first of its kind with the capability. The plan is for the F-35B to replace the Harrier fleets of the US Marine Corp, Royal Navy, and RAF as soon as budget and production constraints allow. But the technology is clearly ready for action now. What I wouldn’t give to get in a review unit. [The Register via Dvice]

Send an email to Brian Barrett, the author of this post, at