Role of Converging Technologies

The convergent NBIC technologies, although at the early stage of basic research, are anticipated to have an impact on practically all arenas of warfighting and peacekeeping and thus are vitally important to national security. For instance, today's fighter airplanes are loaded with sensors, avionics, and weapon systems. The complexity of these systems and the information they provide place tremendous workload on the pilot. The pilot must fly the fighter airplane in hostile environment, watch the cockpit displays, be aware of the situation, process the sensor information, avoid anti-air missiles, identify and destroy the targets, and return safely. There is no wonder there is information overload on the pilot, in spite of the many decision aid systems. Furthermore, fighter pilots are highly valued and trained warriors, and the country cannot afford to lose them from anti-air fire. The need for autonomous or semi-autonomous air vehicles to accomplish surveillance and strike missions is clear (Fig. E.16).

Nano. Nanotechnology will continue to the current trend in miniaturization of sensors, electronics, information processors, and computers. Miniaturization will reduce the weight, size, and power of the on-board systems in the air vehicle, and will increase information processing power.

Bio. Brain research will help us to understand how pilots process the massive amount of information coming from the sensors and intelligence. That understanding will allow us to design an artificial "brain" to process the information and to control the air vehicle autonomously.

Info. Research in information technology will enable us to design specialized systems that do not require the writing of millions of lines of code, such as the adaptive learning strategy used by the brain. Storage and retrieval of massive amounts of data and information fusion to allow the system to make decisions will also be an important aspect of this research.

Cogno. Understanding the principles behind cognition is extremely important in the design of an autonomous system with the capabilities of target recognition and situation awareness. For autonomous air vehicles, it is particularly important to recognize the intent of encounters with friendly or unfriendly aircraft in its vicinity.

Figure E.16. Uninhabited Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV). Transforming Strategy to Reach Vision

The DOD presently has a number of projects working toward uninhabited combat aircraft. The challenges to meet this goal are considerable. An NBIC program centered at universities would provide both the scientific discovery and the trained students that will be necessary for those projects to succeed quickly. In order to achieve the vision stated above, it is necessary to plan a coordinated and long-term research program considering the above strategies on how to get there. It is important to integrate the current research efforts on nanotechnology with the other research areas to form a multidisciplinary research program. A university-based basic research program addressing the needed science must be interactive with the DOD programs addressing system design and manufacture.

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