It's tough being a real-life James Bond -- rather than having Q meet all your technological needs, you actually have to ask real people to try and build your gadgets for you. Mind you, at least that means we can take a sneak peek at all the next-gen tech that US Special Forces are asking for.
The first thing that springs to light in their list of requests is that the commandos are asking for better subsonic bullets. The advantages of subsonic, quiet bullets are fairly stark: no noise means you can be sneakier, which for special forces running round in the middle of Afghanistan can be a matter of life and death. The disadvantages are less well-publicised, however: subsonic bullets are less lethal, less accurate and with a smaller range than their faster-moving cousins. This is a result of the lower velocity of the subsonic bullets, and there's no real getting round this: a fast bullet produces a sonic boom, which is the "crack" you hear when a gun's fired. Slow the bullet down, and you lose the crack, but also lose a lot of accuracy and range. So, despite what Call of Duty might have you believe, "silenced" weapons are quite different, and in many respects quite a lot worse, than the noisy equivalents.
This state of affairs isn't acceptable to the Pentagon's top tier of commandos, though; used to getting pretty much whatever they want in terms of gear, they're making demands for better subsonic ammunition. For a start, despite the size and breadth of the US armed forces, there aren't any ammunitions certified for use by the US military. The Pentagon is also hoping that someone can come up with a solution to some of the problems posed by subsonic ammo: the demands they've laid out say that the new subsonic ammo has to be "equal to other quality ammunition for each of the respective calibers", and have a "minimum 40 decibel reduction in sound" from normal ammunition. Not asking for much, then.
The special forces don't only have their eyes on purely military technology, though. Another one of their requests is for a device that's something like a modern-day tricorder, combining the functionality of a bunch of different diagnostic devices into a single unit. To be precise, the proposed unit will be able to do:
- Ultrasound (looking through your skin)
- Capnography (CO2 concentration, vital information for anaesthesia)
- Blood pressure
- Pulse oximetry (oxygen concentration to you and me)
- Haemoglobin levels (also useful for badly injured casualties)
- Electocardiography monitoring (heart stuff)
- Video laryngoscope (for having a peek inside you)
- Defibrillation (zapping you back into life)
While it won't do the diagnosing for you, having a shoebox-sized machine that can do operating-theatre-style monitoring on patients is a big step forward. The proposal actually makes technological sense as well -- by getting rid of the separate monitor, power source and processing unit from each of the different sensors, you should be able to get the combined weight of all the sensors down to something close to the 3 kilos that the commandos want. Shame that it takes the military to push these kinds of innovation through, but still, progress is progress.
The final thing that came to our attention was the Pentagon's desire for a "light-weight, low-power man-portable memory storage and computation device" -- basically a portable powerful computer. While you might be thinking, yeah, there's not much unrealistic about that, the specific demands for this machine require 16 terabytes of non-volatile storage (so there go HDDs), and a teraflop of processing power. That's basically a small supercomputer, the sort of thing people use to run complex algorithms for weather or fluid dynamics. And the Pentagon wants to make it man-portable. Yeah, right.
Oh, and if that wasn't enough, it needs to have an integrated power source that runs for 24 hours on a single charge, and has to produce less heat than your typical laptop.
Screw the Pentagon, I reckon anyone who can make a system like that has a pretty solid product on their hands. So, if you were wondering where all the US' money has gone, look no further; they're trying to make some kind of super-laptop. Wonder if it'll run Crysis though? [US SOCOM via Wired]
All images courtesy Ministry of Defence Image Database