Technological innovations targeted for military use also will have broad applications
for homeland defense over the next decade, according to a panel of experts convened
recently by the Battelle Memorial Institute, in Columbus, Ohio.
The panel forecast major advances in such fields as information and intelligence
management, renewable energy sources, non-lethal weapons, detection and tracking
systems, medical inoculations, cybernetics, individual warning devices, deployment
and mobility, building safety, and military clothing and equipment.
“The result will be a transformation of U.S. national security over the
next 10 years,” said retired Marine Gen. Charles E. Wilhelm, Battelle’s
vice president for homeland security. Wilhelm previously served as head of the
U.S. Southern Command, where he was responsible for all of the nation’s
military activities in Latin America and the Caribbean.
“After 9/11, we no longer can draw boundaries between conducting military
operations overseas and protecting U.S. citizens at home,” he told National
Defense. “We need innovative technologies that will do both.”
To identify the 10 most promising defense-related technologies, Battelle assembled
a group of science, technology and defense experts.
“Within about 90 minutes, we came up with about 150 candidates,”
said retired Vice Adm. Dennis V. McGinn, chief of Battelle’s strategic
planning. McGinn—a former Navy fighter pilot—stepped down last year
as deputy chief of naval operations for warfare requirements.
“We found that [the 150] were all variations on a few themes,”
McGinn said. “We boiled them down to 30 concepts, then to 10.” They
Information and intelligence management. In another 10 years, computer systems
will be so powerful, accessible and easy to use that commanders will be able
to get information precisely when and where they need it, creating in effect
“knowledge warriors,” the panel said.
Advanced sensors and reliable networks will provide enormous amounts of real-time
information about security threats. Software programs, using “intelligent
agents,” will integrate vast amounts of data into patterns and displays
allowing commanders to make quick and effective decisions.
New information technologies will take advantage of rapid progress being made
in sensors, data routing, data mining, high-speed computing, expert systems
and displays. “We’re going to need artificial help to put information
together in a coherent and timely way,” Wilhelm said.
First responders also need this technology, said McGinn. “They need to
know: Should they enter the building? What floors are safe? Where are the entrances
and the escape routes?”
McGinn said he could have used such technology on 9/11. On that morning, he
was holding a meeting in his office on the fourth floor of the Pentagon when
the hijacked airliner struck 50 yards away.
It would have been helpful, on that day, to have some sort of wireless communications
device, McGinn said. Such devices will become more important over the next decade,
he said. “Some sort of wearable computer will be integrated into the clothing
of combat personnel and first responders,” he said. “It will take
and receive information orally.”
With the increasing availability of reliable and up-to-date information, decision-making
is being “drilled down” from generals to “the lance corporal
who is taking the building,” Wilhelm said. “It is the lance corporal
who often has to make the ‘shoot-or-don’t-shoot’ decision
on his own.”
Renewable energy sources. Over the next decade, advances will be made in alternative
energy sources, extending the speed, range and endurance of U.S. military forces,
the panel said. By 2012, fuel cells are likely to be available in large sizes
for tanks and small sizes for soldiers. Infantrymen will have fuel cells with
hydrogen cartridges, much like disposable cigarette lighters, that will have
at least 10 times the energy density and life of a traditional battery, according
to the panel.
“I spent some time, earlier this year, in Kuwait with the 1st Marine
Expeditionary Force,” Wilhelm said. “The single greatest challenge
they faced was bulk liquids—water and fuel. These fuel cells will go a
long way toward lightening the fuel load for the average soldier,” he
Non-lethal weapons. Research is underway to produce a new generation of weapons
that will minimize deaths and injuries on the battlefield. U.S. military operations
over the past decade—from Somalia to Iraq—have proven the need for
such devices, said the panel.
Both Wilhelm and McGinn saw the need for non-lethal weapons up close during
Operation Restore Hope in Somalia a decade ago. Wilhelm commanded Marine forces
during the operation, and McGinn commanded the USS Ranger carrier group.
“We’ve got to have more alternatives than ‘shoot-or-don’t-shoot,’”
McGinn said. There are a lot of technologies out there that can help us.”
The panel mentioned non-penetrating bullets, shocks and radio-frequency waves.
In addition, behavior-modification technologies—such as equipment producing
ear-splitting noise or nausea-including gasses—“could enable you
to control bodies of people without taking lives,” said Wilhelm.
Reseachers also are seeking better ways to keep enemy forces at a safe distance,
he said. “Wouldn’t it have been wonderful if we could have put something
around the USS Cole [the destroyer hit by terrorists in Yemen in 2000] that
would have foiled the perpetrators?”
Advanced detection and tracking systems. The security of U.S. borders and transportation
centers—which has stepped up greatly since 9/11—will improve even
more over the next decade, said the group.
In coming years, the panel said, the nation will develop non-invasive biological,
chemical and weapons detectors that are as easy to use as X-rays or metal detectors
“Early detection of biological weapons is absolutely critical to the
success of American security in the years to come, and it’s an area where
much R&D is being done,” said Steve Kelly, senior vice president and
general manager of Battelle’s Defense Systems.
By 2012, improvements in radio-frequency identification systems, homing devices,
cameras and global positioning systems will make it easier to track weapons
and other potentially threatening materials, he predicted.
Using the security enhancements appropriately will be delicate, Wilhelm said.
“On the one hand, we need to secure the nation,” he said. “On
the other, we need to do it without trespassing on rights of the American people.
Somehow, technology has to come up with a middle-of-the road approach.”
Universal inoculation. A key defense against biological weapons—such
as anthrax or smallpox—in the coming decade will be the universal inoculation,
the panel theorized. One or a small number of inoculations, not necessarily
shots, will protect large numbers of people from multiple diseases.
By 2012, the panel speculated, a more thorough understanding of genetics will
foster the development of inoculations against dozens of bacteria and viruses.
Inoculations do more than just prevent disease, Wilhelm said. “They also
deter biological attacks by terrorists,” he said.
Global cyber net. In coming years, the World Wide Web will be faster and better
protected than today, according to the panel. Traffic capacity will increase
100—and perhaps 1,000 times.
A distributed architecture will provide redundancy and an organic, self-healing
network. “If you lose power on one part of it, the information will still
reside on other parts of it,” McGinn explained. “There will be multiple
paths to find the information you need.”
Advances, such as high-capacity laser links, will enable wireless and optical
communications to overcome the physical limitations of cable and fiber, the
panel said. Electronic firewalls will provide greater protection from hacking
and cyber attacks. Software will contain embedded safety features inside of
the code, rather than just surround it.
“Our information system is one of our greatest advantages, and at the
same time, it is one of our greatest vulnerabilities,” Wilhelm said. “A
sustained attack on it could be the single most catastrophic event imaginable.
“We need to build these protections into our systems,” he said.
“We need to do it quickly. I don’t think time is on our side.”
Individual warning devices. Beyond warning and protecting the general public,
the panel found, there is a need to improve warning and protection equipment
for individuals. Over the next decade, increased attention will be paid to developing
new and inexpensive systems for detecting such hazards as chemical and biological
agents and unhealthy air, water and food.
“The interests of combat defense, homeland security and consumer safety
converge to provide a powerful need to develop accurate and quick individual
... sensors,” said Steve Millett, futurist and manager of Battelle’s
Rapid deployment and mobility. Early U.S. military successes in Iraq point
out that the ability to deploy troops quickly and strike effectively is a key
element in victory, the panel said. “Not only do you have to get to the
fight quickly, once you get there, you have to have access,” Wilhelm said.
In Iraq, he noted, U.S. commanders had to work around the fact that they were
denied the opportunity to move forces through Turkey. The Navy-Marine Corps
concept of sea-basing—replacing land bases with a new generation of logistical
ships to support combat operations—may offer an alternative to such problems,
Because troops and equipment now have to be deployed from all over the world
to fight even a small war, “there’s really no such thing as a theater
war anymore,” Wilhelm said. “Almost all wars from now on will be
Safe buildings. New designs to control and monitor the flow of air and water
in office buildings, public facilities, factories and residences will make significant
improvements in the nation’s ability to protect office workers and residents
from such events as the anthrax attack upon Capitol Hill in October 2001.
Heating, cooling and ventilation systems in current buildings were not designed
to protect against biological or chemical threats. New designs will include
integrated sensors, filters and automated response mechanisms to protect the
quality of indoor air and water.
Filters will be equipped with additional equipment to detect and kill harmful
bacteria and viruses. Such devices will be deployed in private homes, as well
as government office buildings and public places, such as airports, stores and
Improved construction designs and materials also will help buildings withstand
terrorist attacks, McGinn noted. Some of those systems already are in use and
saving lives, he said.
In the portion of the Pentagon where McGinn worked, for example, steel walls,
Kevlar cloth and blast-resistant windows had been installed just before 9/11.
“Without those blast-resistant windows, my office would have had a lot
of casualties,” he said.
Advanced multi-functional materials. Re-search such as that being done at the
Soldier Systems Center, in Natick, Mass., will make great improvements in what
soldiers wear and use on the battlefield, the panel agreed.
Advances in textiles will allow clothing to better camouflage, protect and
even monitor soldier’s health. Color-changing fibers will tailor camouflage
more accurately to specific locations, seasons and time of day.
Lightweight composites will improve body armor and save lives. Remote physiological-status
monitoring will enable commanders to know the exact physical status of their
troops. Researchers even are exploring technologies that could increase significantly
the physical power of individual soldiers.
None of these developments will change the basic nature of warfare, Wilhelm
said. “We’re relearning an old lesson in Iraq,” he said. “Boots
on the ground are still the ultimate test of who won and who lost.”
Battelle’s staff of 16,000 conducts $2.7 billion in annual research and
development at more than 100 locations, including four national laboratories.
In recent years, it has opened new facilities in Aberdeen, Md.; Stafford, Va.;
San Antonio, Texas, and San Diego.