Defense Technology Monitor No. 100

Related Categories: Military Innovation; Missile Defense; Science and Technology; Warfare; China; United Kingdom

Science fiction dystopias featuring unmanned machines fighting wars are inching closer to reality, as the technology surrounding such platforms continues to advance. For instance, Chinese researchers have developed robotic dogs that are capable of firing machine guns with remarkable accuracy, potentially surpassing the skills of experienced human marksmen. In a study led by Professor Xu Cheng of the Nanjing University of Science and Technology, a robotic dog equipped with a 7.62mm machine gun demonstrated a half-dispersion radius of just 5cm at a distance of 100 meters – a level of precision that rivals even the most advanced assault rifles and shooters. The researchers believe that these armed quadruped platforms, with their enhanced mobility and adaptability, could revolutionize urban warfare by navigating complex terrain and executing intricate maneuvers. (South China Morning Post, March 1, 2024)

When warfighters come home, they often bring their scars from conflicts with them. While some are marks of pride, others may require reconstructive surgery – and here, science is poised to help. In a groundbreaking study, researchers at Penn State University have successfully 3D-printed skin directly onto wounds, potentially reducing scarring associated with reconstructive surgery. Using a bioprinter loaded with bioinks derived from human fat tissue, the team applied layers to head wounds in rats, promoting the growth of full-thickness skin and early hair follicles within as little as two weeks. The breakthrough could lead to improved cosmetic outcomes in dermatology, hair transplants, and reconstructive surgeries, and offer a promising alternative to traditional skin grafts. (FreeThink, March 8, 2024)

As they say, with great power comes great responsibility. As artificial intelligence (AI) charts rapid advances, concerns are growing about the potential misuse of large language models (LLMs) for the development of dangerous weapons. To address this issue, experts have developed the Weapons of Mass Destruction Proxy (WMDP) dataset to evaluate and mitigate the risks posed by LLMs being used for harmful purposes. The WMDP dataset, comprising 4,000 multiple-choice questions on biosecurity, cybersecurity, and chemical security, helps test an AI model's knowledge and serves as a standard for "unlearning" hazardous know-how. Researchers created an innovative method called CUT, which aims to eliminate dangerous knowledge while preserving the LLM's capabilities in other domains. It answers growing concerns in Washington, where the White House has voiced worries about the malicious application of AI and urged further research to better understand and address these risks. (Interesting Engineering, March 9, 2024)

"Low-cost drones and rockets have swung the economic calculus of offense and defense in favor of those using large volumes of cheap unmanned systems and munitions to overwhelm more-sophisticated air and missile defenses," James Black, the RAND Corporation's assistant director of defense and security, recently noted. While Black isn't wrong, new developments in laser technology may be able to help flip the script. For instance, the UK's new laser weapon system, DragonFire, offers a groundbreaking solution for air defense with its low operational cost. A 10-second burst of the laser costs only $13, compared to the $2 million price tag of traditional missiles like the Standard Missile-2. This innovation, developed by companies such as MBDA UK, BAE Systems, QinetiQ Group, Arke, and Leonardo, could disrupt the defense industry by providing an economical way to counter inexpensive drones and rockets. While still in development, the system has attracted interest from Ukraine, highlighting its potential impact on modern warfare. (Yahoo! Finance, March 20, 2024)

With the advent of small drone warfare, asymmetry in modern conflict is poised to increase further, and a new development by China has highlighted just how much. Researchers from the Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics have developed a new type of military drone that can split into six separate units. This is a significant innovation because, as drone expert William Shumate explains, "When drones are detected, defense systems deploy a certain amount of resources proportional to the threat. If that threat suddenly multiplies, it provides an opportunity to overwhelm the air defense resources being deployed." Inspired by the structure of maple seeds, these drones boast a flight efficiency nearly twice that of similar-sized multirotor drones, even when divided into individual units. (Business Insider, March 24, 2024)