DARPA casts new focus on urban warfare technologies

ANAHEIM, Calif.'Reacting to the military's now regular engagement in urban combat, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency will research technologies to help soldiers fight in cities.

'We need to do for the urban environment what has been done so successfully for the combat operations in the battlefield,' DARPA director Anthony Tether said yesterday. 'We must find technologies that significantly multiply our force's power and flexibility.'

DARPA has dubbed this new research thrust 'force multipliers for urban area operations.' Increasingly, the United States has sent troops into combat in major cities, such as Baghdad. It is a form of combat that the military is not fully equipped to fight, said Tether at the opening of this year's DARPAtech conference. DARPA holds this conference to outline its R&D efforts and meet with contractors and other outside researchers.

To determine which research projects would be worthy to fund, DARPA identifies a number of areas essential for addressing national security threats and opportunities for technological superiority.

The new urban warfare technologies area made obvious sense, Tether said. The Defense Department estimated that by the year 2025, 60 percent of the world's population will live in urban areas.

Preparing the soldier for urban combat 'is not necessarily the focus of Joint Vision 2010,' said Brad Tousley, the urban warfare technologies program manager for the DARPA Tactical Technology Office, which is overseeing the efforts of the new research.

Urban areas have their own particular characteristics that make them difficult to maneuver in for standard combat forces, he said.

Buildings can block surveillance devices such as radar, and they can also hide potential adversaries. Also, the military has the challenge of engaging with adversaries while not harming noncombatants. Blanket destruction of a city 'is not an option,' Tousley said.

Tousley outlined the technologies DARPA would like to fund in this area. Among the IT elements are lightweight communications, such as helmets with infrared trackers that could identify targets behind walls. To gain a clearer picture of the targets, the helmets would trade visual information among themselves. The helmets would also come with small displays for soldiers to view targets.

'We have to treat the single soldier as a battlefield system,' Tousley said.

DARPA also wants to study small unmanned aerial vehicles that could swarm around buildings to determine the number of inhabitants, relaying information back to command and control centers.

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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