Defense Technology Monitor No. 89

Related Categories: Cybersecurity and Cyberwarfare; Military Innovation; Science and Technology

As quantum computers increase in sophistication, they will increasingly be relied upon across various industries, particularly when tasked with optimization problems. Their architecture, relying on "qubits" (the basic unit of information in quantum computing), allows quantum devices to solve complex problems much more efficiently than classical computers. However, current technology is still limited because of cooling issues and error rates. (For more, see the article on "The Promise and Peril of Quantum Technology" in the December 2020 edition of the AFPC Defense Dossier).

However, it turns out that classical and quantum computers are not the only alternatives for solving complex problems. Researchers have determined that organisms found in nature possess similar computing properties, referred to as biocomputers. For instance, the slime mould, or Physarum polycephalum, is a single-cell organism that has demonstrated the ability to navigate networks and determine the most direct path between points more efficiently than a classical computer. In addition to experimenting with using the slime to conduct route planning in a lab, scientists are also in the process of attempting to develop digital models of the organism. (Tech HQ, April 5, 2023)

Good food is great for morale, which is why advances in the 3D printing of foodstuffs are so appealing to the U.S. government, whether for use by astronauts or by military troops deployed in conflict zones. Increasingly, companies are finding ways to build food layer by layer from a nutrient packed resin that actually tastes good. The major benefits to this food processing method are the ability to target specific nutritional needs and create food with efficient storage and minimal waste. Recent studies have demonstrated that you can print a nutrient-infused mashed potato mix that's both tastier and healthier than what astronaut Mark Watney endured daily in the iconic movie The Martian. Moreover, there are now numerous options for 3-D printed meats, pasta, chocolate and even pizza. (Built In, April 18, 2023)

The multinational chemical company DuPont recently developed a new bulletproof material, referred to as Kevlar® EXO™ aramid fiber. The product consists of a soft yet malleable material capable of catching and reducing the force of a bullet. Unlike traditional Kevlar, which is composed of two monomers (molecules), the newer version adds a third. According to DuPont global technology manager Joseph Hovanec, this provides the fiber "additional strength," making it superior to traditional Kevlar. Specifically, the new structure translates into a material with the same ballistic injury prevention characteristics as Kevlar, but which is 30% lighter – translating to lighter body armor for law enforcement and the military. (Forbes, April 14, 2023; Popular Science, April 15, 2023)

The future of brain-human interfaces is upon us, as companies such as Elon Musk's Neuralink make progress on melding people with machines. However, rather than using Neuralink's method of installing a quarter-sized implant in the brain, other researchers are working on methods to 3-D print circuitry directly in the body. John Hardy, who led a study at Lancaster University, stated, "hypothetically, it will be possible to print quite deep inside the tissue... So, in principle, with a human or other larger organism, you could print around 10 centimeters in." Using a Nanoscribe 3D printer, Hardy's research team was able to successfully test the process on living tissue with a type of roundworm. Though there are a lot of necessary research steps prior to human trials of the technology, the potential applications for virtual reality system integration, cures for neurological conditions, and other medical purposes are impressive. (Singularity Hub, April 14, 2023)

While troops are deployed overseas in conflict zones, energy is both a necessity and a liability. The U.S. military is a significant fossil fuel consumer and has increasingly power-hungry weapon and sensor systems to support. Mobile nuclear power stations, however, are a possible solution to these problems, because they could reduce the need to deliver vast amounts of oil and gas and make severed supply lines less of a risk. The military is already focused on the concept of using electricity generating vehicles to store and distribute power to a small, localized network. This tactic could be amplified if paired with safe, low waste generating, fourth generation nuclear reactors. (Popular Mechanics, April 28, 2023)

[EDITORS' NOTE: for more information on the military applications of nuclear energy, see Dr. William Schneider's article in issue 29 of APFC's Defense Dossier e-journal.]