from a mechanical elephant to a giant airship

Many military developments have practically grown out of the world of science fiction, becoming quite common things that we face every day today. Satellite navigation systems, robotic technology and the Internet, thanks to which you are reading this text, are just some of the military developments that have become a reality and have become widespread in civilian life. At the same time, not all promising developments end with successful implementation, there are a lot of projects that DARPA specialists have not brought to their logical conclusion.

The annual budget of the US Department of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is estimated today at $ 3.427 billion (data for 2019). The total number of employees is approximately 220 people. They are grouped into six technology offices, which together oversee and oversee about 250 military programs and scientific developments. Another name often found in the Russian-language press for DARPA is the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

At the same time, the sphere of interests of DARPA is very wide: from the human brain and its capabilities to space technologies. All research is aimed at keeping the US military at the forefront of technological progress. This is the main goal of the agency – to provide a leading position in research and development of military importance. The agency itself was founded on February 7, 1958 in response to the launch of the first Soviet artificial earth satellite, when it became obvious that the United States could concede to the USSR in the field of space research.

Former headquarters of DARPA

Thanks to a special regulatory regime, DARPA specialists can work more freely with innovations, without unnecessary bureaucracy and fears that research results will not be implemented or the results obtained will be unsatisfactory. This is what allows DARPA to take on the most fantastic projects, pushing the boundaries and giving room for ideas to the hands of scientists, engineers, researchers.

Self-repairing houses

The list of unusual DARPA projects can be endless. Over the decades, the Office has overseen a vast body of research that would rival many contemporary pieces of science fiction or film art. An example of such a program is a project to create various infrastructure facilities that would repair themselves. The program is designated Engineered Living Materials (ELM). The goal of the program is to create materials that can be repaired by themselves in the event of damage. As modern research moves forward in 3D printing of human organs and tissues, the Agency’s experts expect to expand research to create hybrid materials that will support and shape the growth of artificially created cells.

The main purpose of the ELM program is to revolutionize all military logistics, especially in the field of construction in remote, harsh or dangerous regions by creating living biomaterials that would combine the structural properties of traditional building materials and living things. Including the ability to grow rapidly, adapt to the environment, and self-heal. It would also make it possible to create objects of intellectual infrastructure that could dynamically respond to changes in the environment. Going forward, all the advances in the Engineered Living Materials program could also improve the way traditional military systems such as tanks, warships and aircraft are manufactured and maintained. So far, it is impossible to imagine even approximately when such a program could be implemented.

Laboratory blood

Blood Pharming is another promising DARPA program designed to solve important problems, including in the field of military medicine. The main goal of the program is to create red blood cells – erythrocytes in the laboratory. As noted on the official website of the Office for Advanced Study, erythrocytes are the most transfused blood product, including when receiving various injuries in combat conditions. Moreover, in a combat situation, such materials are often in limited quantities.

The Blood Pharming program should deal with this problem. In the future, it would find wide application in the civilian sphere.

It was planned to solve the problem by creating an automated system for culturing red blood cells from readily available cellular sources, which would provide a fresh supply of transfused red blood cells. In the long term, the program was supposed to eradicate the disadvantages of already existing methods of obtaining red blood cells, namely, high cost, low production efficiency and process scalability. At the same time, pharmaceutical blood has a number of important advantages. Laboratory grown blood excludes the possibility of transmission of any diseases from the donor. Also, the problem of selecting the required blood group would be promptly solved and the negative consequences of storing donated blood would be prevented.

However, the program announced in 2013 is hardly close to its completion. Before such laboratory blood becomes widely available, it is necessary to significantly reduce the cost of its production. As the DARPA website reported, within the framework of the program for the creation of pharmacological blood, the cost of producing a unit of the finished product was reduced from $ 90,000 to $ 5,000. It is still very expensive. The program to create laboratory-modified erythrocytes will replace basic donor blood transfusions only if production costs are further reduced.

Mechanical elephants

Back in the 1960s, DARPA started thinking about creating unusual vehicles. The development of a mechanized elephant was prompted by military operations in Vietnam. Elephants were chosen as a model, as these giants thrived in the jungle and could carry loads of large mass and size. And in the United States, indeed, various studies began to create a mechanical elephant that would replace freight transport. Ultimately, this project to create an unusual mechanized transport for transporting heavy loads moved towards the creation of servo-driven legs. It looks like a bike, but when the director of DARPA found out that his subordinates were seriously working on such a project, he decided to quickly close it in the hope that Congress would not hear about the program and cut funding, having learned what the Agency was doing with taxpayer money.

Ultimately, what looked like a crazy fantasy in the 1960s has become a reality in the 21st century. DARPA is already working on a completely new level of mechanical means for transporting goods, now fully robotic. One such project is the robot mule infantry, for the creation of which the company Boston Dynamics, famous for its robots, is responsible. Samples of the support system, designated the Legged Squad Support System, are already being tested. The LS3 robot created as part of the project is able to carry up to 180 kg of various cargoes and can significantly facilitate the life of infantry formations by shouldering the tasks of logistic support of the troops on its metal shoulders.

Airships giants

Some of DARPA’s fantastic projects seem like that because they are not directed to the future, but to the past. For example, one of the agency’s projects was the creation of a giant airship. The project remained unfulfilled, like many others, but work under a program called Walrus was actively funded by DARPA in the 2000s. This project was completely curtailed only in 2010. At the same time, there are still other projects in the United States to revive airships, and not only as vehicles.

As part of the program, it was planned to revive the past giants. According to the Walrus project, it was supposed to create a huge airship that could carry 500-1000 tons of cargo over a distance of 22 thousand kilometers. As conceived by the developers, this would open up new opportunities for accelerated budgetary cargo transportation to the United States. The airship would find application both in the civilian sphere and in the military. He would transport a huge amount of troops, ammunition, uniforms and various equipment by air at minimal cost.

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