With VTOL X-Planes, DARPA aims for a futuristic lift

The helicopters of the future may not look much like helicopters at all, at least in one scheme that DARPA is cooking up.

That's because DARPA, the arm of the Pentagon known for its fanciful and even sci-fi approach to military technology, wants "radical improvements" in aircraft that are capable, as helicopters are and fixed-wing planes are not, of vertical takeoff and landing, or VTOL.

The brainstorming agency has now moved a bit closer to realizing its vertical-lift ambitions. Through its VTOL X-Plane program, DARPA has awarded contracts to four companies -- heavyweights Boeing and Sikorsky, and … Read more

The P-8A Poseidon adventure begins for the Navy

The US Navy likes to dip into Greek and Roman mythology to name the aircraft it puts on the front lines of maritime patrol missions and antisubmarine warfare.

Once there was the P-2 Neptune, which went into service not long after World War II and has long since been retired. The early 1960s brought the P-3 Orion, the scions of which are still on active duty today. Now, to replace the venerable Orion, comes the P-8A Poseidon.

At the beginning of December 2013, a half-dozen Poseidons arrived at Kadena Air Base on the island of Okinawa for the aircraft's … Read more

Pizza made to survive 3 years, 50-foot drops

There are obviously a number of things that soldiers deployed overseas miss about home, but there's one request Jeremy Whitsitt of the Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center has heard over and over again.

"Since the dawn of time... pizza has been one of the most requested and sought-after components in an MRE," Whitsitt told Military Times. "We're finally cracking the code in getting the crust and the cheese and the meat to all live happily in a pouch for three years, without refrigeration."… Read more

Military starts testing smart rifles for battlefield use

The US military spends a lot of time and money training world-class snipers, which could be why it's started to look into the use of computerized rifles that can make anybody a sharpshooter.

The Army has announced that it made its first purchase of six high-tech rifle kits from smart rifle-maker Tracking Point. The goal is to "begin exploring purported key target acquisition and aiming technologies," said Alton Stewart, the Army's Program Executive Office spokesman.

For Tracking Point, which typically markets its guns to hunters, the Army's use of its weapons is both a welcome … Read more

DIY spy: Make your own WWII Enigma Machine

You don't have to be a Bletchley Park alumnus or a wealthy WWII military collector to lay your hands on an Enigma machine. With some savvy technical skills and computer coding, you can make one yourself.

The Enigma machine was an intricate crypto device used primarily during World War II by Nazi Germany to send encoded messages to its military forces. Originally, Enigma machines were used by businessmen in the '20s who wanted to keep commercial messages secret. In 1923, the German Navy used its own Enigma machine and by the 1930s, it became standard equipment by the German Intelligence divisions.

In October 2013, a 1944 German Enigma machine was available for auction at Bonhams with an estimated worth of up to $82,000. At another auction in 2010, a 1939 Enigma machine fetched $110,900. Over 100,000 Enigma machines were made, but very few had the Enigma insignia.

If you don't have thousands of dollars to spare, you can make your own replica of an Enigma machine with this craft tutorial by ST-Geotronics on Instructables. … Read more

Throwable iRobot 110 recon bot gets sensors, manipulator

Robots have become an indispensable part of the modern military arsenal, especially machines that can provide detailed reconnaissance of hazardous areas.

iRobot's 110 FirstLook is essentially a Webcam on treads that's light and sturdy enough to be tossed around, even through windows.

Now it can be equipped with tools such as a manipulator arm and sensors that can detect radiation and other threats. … Read more

Military hunts for real-life Iron Man armor

What if US special forces troops could virtually walk through a hail of bullets, lift objects with superhuman strength, and see in the dark?

A planned exoskeleton called the The Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS) aims to give them those abilities if it can actually be built.

US Special Operations Command chief William McRaven has been asking industry, academia, and entrepreneurs to collaborate in building the sci-fi armor, which was inspired by the death of a commando in Afghanistan. … Read more

Do soldiers get too attached to battlefield robots?

Deploying robots in dangerous or combat situations can save the lives of human soldiers. The bots can be used for reconnaissance, scouting, search and rescue, detection, even defusing bombs, with the idea being that losing a robot is a far more acceptable outcome than losing a human soldier.

But some soldiers, researcher Julie Carpenter has discovered, develop strong emotional bonds with their mechanized helpers, to the point of experiencing frustration, anger, and grief when the robots are destroyed on the battlefield -- and even holding funerals. … Read more

Online counseling helps vets readjust to civilian life

Some 5 million veterans in the US are estimated to be suffering from depression, according to the National Science Foundation, and that doesn't take into account the full range of behavioral health issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder, general anxiety, and drug abuse.

So a few years back the NSF teamed up with former Navy pilot Rich Gengler and former Army sergeant Justin Savage to launch a free online screening and counseling program called Vets Prevail in an attempt to help veterans transition to life back home. Now, the NSF said the approach is working, with the group reporting a 99.76 percent user satisfaction rate and 98.3 percent efficacy in lowering clinical measures among the 16,000-plus veterans who've gone through the program since its inception three years ago.… Read more

Canada testing $600,000 stealth snowmobile

What would it be like to glide across a flat expanse of snow at high speed while making hardly any noise? Well, Canada's military is spending about $600,000 on a stealth snowmobile to find out.

Canadian troops tested the hybrid-electric prototype designed for clandestine Far North ops and evaluated its noise, acceleration, and battery endurance, according to the Canadian Press (CP).

Dubbed "Loki" after the trickster Norse god, the snowmobile is too top secret to be photographed. It was put through trials in February at Canadian Forces Base Petawawa in Ontario. … Read more