The soldier with 100 eyes
Raytheon technology will deliver unimagined abilities on the battlefield
The Pentagon has a vision: to create the omniscient foot soldier.
The fighter of the future will be connected to squad mates, support personnel and robots that can fly around corners or crawl through debris to spot hidden threats. It's a vision that's becoming real at Raytheon.
The inventions emerging from the company's laboratories and test ranges will help fulfill the U.S. military's Third Offset Strategy, which calls for developing new technologies to create overwhelming advantages.
“We believe we are at an inflection point on artificial intelligence and autonomy," U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work said in a recent speech. "Ten years from now, if the first person through a breach isn't a friggin’ robot, shame on us.”
From hand-held computers that command those robots to apps that guide paratroopers to the ground, Raytheon is developing new battlefield technologies, under the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's Squad X Core Technologies and other programs.
“It’s really about improved man-machine collaboration and combat teaming,” said Dave Bossert, a senior engineering fellow at Raytheon’s Missile Systems business. “The soldier’s human-machine interface, his eyes into the system, is a tablet computer.”
The ultimate backup: Persistent Close Air Support
For decades, calling in air support meant a soldier with a radio.
Raytheon’s Persistent Close Air Support systems connect soldiers on foot, joint terminal attack controllers, or JTACs, on the ground and pilots in the air to share detailed information in real time. A PCAS-enabled soldier can call in air support, piloted or unmanned, in less than six minutes instead of nearly an hour, and for multiple targets.
The PCAS network shares the screens used by the pilot, the JTAC and a soldier with an Android tablet computer. Algorithms help to pinpoint targets, map attack routes and deploy just the right weapon.
“It is providing all the information on the target that the airplane has, passing it all down to the JTAC,” said Bossert. “The JTAC can add his perspective, digitally sending it to the aircraft.”
DARPA proved the concept with tests conducted near Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada. A JTAC on the ground called in an A-10 attack aircraft with as few as three clicks on a tablet computer
The app that saves lives: Android Tactical Assault Kit
A tablet is only as effective as the program it runs. Raytheon BBN Technologies, one of the company’s advanced research centers, helped develop that program: ATAK, or Android Tactical Assault Kit.
ATAK allows soldiers to chat, share video, map points of interest and plan routes, sharing information in real time. And it runs on off-the-shelf Android tablets and smartphones.
“It started out as a dynamic, moving map, but now ATAK has become a full situational awareness app with a lot of features built in for specific users,” said Joe Loyall, a principal scientist at Raytheon BBN.
The app can be customized. Jump Master, for example, is a version for paratroopers, delivering detailed data on wind direction, target zones and even their progress on the way down.
Raytheon, one of a handful of core organizations behind ATAK, is continuing its development.
“We are working to develop a decentralized version of ATAK and ATAK servers together, so users will be able to reach back to other organizations, other databases, to get information,” Loyall said.
Ultimately, ATAK may be able to fly a vehicle carrying a sensor to a specific location to collect information.
If the Swiss Army made a radio: Hydra Swarm
Separate devices for radio receiving, radio transmitting and geo-location mean a lot for a soldier to carry. Add a jammer -- used to foil adversaries trying to detonate roadside bombs -- and you've got quite a load.
Hydra Swarm replaces that load with a single, multiple-radio-frequency package.
“The original vision of Hydra was to try and shed between 50 and 80 pounds of gear off the soldier and combine it in one, lightweight device,” said Jeff Feinberg, a program manager at Raytheon BBN.
That device is a radio to communicate, a direction-finder to navigate, and a jammer.
“We have a chipset inside the radio with a very flexible front end, so we can run any frequency and any wave form within reasonable limits,” said Steven Weeks, the Hydra Swarm program manager.
Designers consulted with former soldiers to be sure Hydra Swarm was not only versatile, but practical. One result: the unit is really rugged.
“Drop it in the water,” said Weeks. “You can do that.”
Sit and deliver: the iConnect tactical vest network
There’s no way around it: Those electronics need batteries, which have to be charged – something that’s not always convenient in the field.
Enter Raytheon’s iConnect tactical power vest.
Now being designed for the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center in Massachusetts, the vest cuts the size, weight, cost and cabling soldiers will carry.
“What the army is focused on is a single, central battery that will connect to the other batteries and trickle-charge them,” said Jeff Mazurek, iConnect program manager.
The vest is built with strips of conductive material that match up to similar strips built into the seats of Humvees or other military vehicles.
To charge the central battery, the soldier simply sits down.
“When a soldier leaves the vehicle, the main battery is completely topped off for as much mission endurance as possible,” said Mazurek.
The vest will be constructed from conductive textiles, which eliminates wires and connectors, and will allow soldiers to better distribute electronic devices.
“Our system allows for the soldier to place devices anywhere on his vest,” said Mazurek, “and the system figures out the right kind of power to send to that device.”