Cold Atoms for Navigation and Other Tech Recommendations for Defense


Board's advice aims to ensure Pentagon superiority lasts through 2030.

The Defense Department should invest in technologies today that will ensure continued superiority in 2030, the Defense Science Board said in a recent report, specifically citing a need for alternatives to the GPS navigation system, beefed up network security and compact battlefield power systems.

The board also recommended developing standard nutritional supplements -- including omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium and vitamin D -- rather than off-the-shelf supplements bought on an ad-hoc basis by some troops, such as Special Operations personnel.

The report, “Technology and Innovation Enablers for Superiority in 2030,” recommends investments “focused on high leverage technologies that were judged as not adequately pursued today” that can “complement, and in some cases replace, currently programmed initiatives.”

GPS systems, used widely throughout all four services from troops in the field to missile navigation systems, are susceptible to both jamming and spoofing and the Science Board recommended developing cold atom based navigation sensors that can measure the relative acceleration and rotation of a cloud of atoms within a sensor case.

The report recommended the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency receive $200 million in funds over five years to continue its pioneering cold atom navigation research, with the goal of  delivering position information with an accuracy of 20 meters, or less than one-third of GPS accuracy of 7.8 meters.

The report conceded that there are “no known ways “ to protect networks from attacks and suggested the using a computer hardware chip to monitor software operating systems, ensuring the software had not been modified. Networks protected this way would be much harder to attack, the report said. DARPA should demonstrate this approach in missile defense and electric grid control networks, the report said, without detailing funding.

Ground troops today carry loads of around 100 pounds, with batteries and power packs for radios, GPS receivers and other electronics accounting for 20 to 30 pounds of that load, the report said.

It recommended developing radionuclide or radioactive isotope power packs -- based on the same power source used in building exit signs -- to reduce the combat load.  The Science Board said design concepts for radionuclide batteries envision a D-cell sized battery delivering one to five watts of power continuously for years.  The report recommended DARPA receive $125 million over five years to develop such a battery.

Troops also need fuel, and the current field MRE -- or meals ready to eat -- rations do not adequately supply nutrition for service members engaged in combat operations, the report said. Defense needs to develop standard nutritional supplements which can enhance both physical and cognitive performance  and also remove the risk that comes from troops buying their own supplements, many manufactured offshore. The report recommended a $150 million investment over five years for supplements and to enhance what it dubbed “human systems” performance.