NEW YORK – The seafaring boat houses a coyote, a silver fox and a creature dubbed "Big Eyes" — but it isn't a modern-day Noah's Ark.
Called the Star Fish, this little ship carries the Office of Naval Research (ONR) Afloat Lab onboard to show off all the latest technological wizardry the U.S. military can use — in the Iraq war, Afghanistan and elsewhere in the world.
The Coyote, Silver Fox and "Big Eyes" are the names of two unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) (search) and a giant set of long-range binoculars, respectively. They're in New York Harbor for the Navy's annual Fleet Week (search) event, running through Tuesday, and are available for public viewing.
“All this technology is to stop the conflict, stop the war,” said Navy Capt. Woody Berzins, public relations manager for Advanced Ceramics Research, which designed and built the Coyote.
In other words, if the gadgets and software invented can outsmart insurgents and other enemies of the U.S. government, there wouldn't be any new way for them to fight — and the war would end, according to Berzins.
But the new technology has also been designed for preventing casualties and injuries during combat.
"Every life has true value, but every life you save has more value," Berzins said.
— Coyote: The compact, battery-operated Coyote — an orange, unmanned surveillance plane built for the Navy to launch from the hulking P3 (search) prop jets — can silently glide down to a questionable vessel lurking in the water. The prototype will be ready for testing this fall.
"You can fly it down low enough to look at a vessel and then fly it back up," Berzins said. "It's most likely going to be used to track ships."
The little 13-pound plane uses GPS technology so it can follow its target with precision and has a computer-controlled video camera inside for transmitting images.
Less than a yard in length with about a 5-foot wingspan, the Coyote can also be folded up to fit in a waist-high tube, so several of them can be carted around on an aircraft at once.
The Navy has even asked for a way to mark the ships being tracked, so Advanced Ceramics is developing an attachment for the Coyote's nose so it will leave a print when it taps the side of a boat, according to Berzins.
— Silver Fox: The upgraded Silver Fox — a gas-powered, 5-foot-long, unmanned plane whose previous models are already being used in the Iraq war — has a portable launcher and better infrared technology that allows it to take clearer pictures and live video when it's inspecting a dangerous area ahead of the troops.
"My mission is to clear mines for the Marines," said Chief Scott Keough, a Navy SEAL and Naval Special Warfare Combat Crewman. "It's covert and always at night. ... This allows us to be more adaptable to the environment. It makes sure the area is safe, and then we go in."
It's a "significant piece of the puzzle" in reducing the length of mine-clearing missions from 5 to 7 days down to 1 to 2, according to Keough, who called the Fox the "eye in the sky concept for dull, dangerous work."
Originally designed for tracking migrating whales, the 22-pound, $50,000 upgraded Silver Fox — which, strangely enough, is painted in shades of gold — has 7-foot detachable wings and can be taken apart and carried around in a large golf club bag.
One ground control unit manned by one person can handle eight to 10 of the Foxes, Keough said. Though he hasn't yet used the upgraded Silver Fox in Iraq, Keough is confident it will be just as good as its predecessors.
An existing Silver Fox model inspected Mount Saint Helens when the volcano became active again last fall.
— "Big Eyes" Infrared Goggles: The bulky “Big Eyes” binoculars have long been aboard military ships so crew members can see points about five miles away. But a company called Torrey Pines Logic has designed an infrared attachment to allow soldiers looking through them to communicate with each other, since the Navy doesn't use radio.
"They can receive a signal from another binocular ... and can connect to any binocular," said Leonid B. Wolfson of Torrey Pines.
Those signals are digital and given off using light. Soldiers looking through the Torrey Pines infrared goggles that attach to "Big Eyes" can see other soldiers stationed at other binoculars and also wear headsets so they can communicate verbally. The system has video capabilities, too; currently the prototype costs $15,000, but the company wants to get it to under $1,000 per unit, Wolfson said. The system is going live this summer.
— Ballistic shorts: Eleven pounds of camouflage, Kevlar-filled, bulletproof shorts (complete with suspenders) protect turret gunners — the men who fire weapons in battle while standing in the back of a Humvee — from the waist down. The ballistic shorts can be worn with bulletproof vests and a ballistic collar, which shields the neck and lower face.
Ten sets of the $1,500-apiece shorts were designed and shipped to troops at war, who gave their feedback and now are testing the modified versions.
"They were sent to a battalion in the field in Iraq," said John D. Manley, a public affairs officer for the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory (search). "They did the job of protecting against shrapnel, though they're a little heavy. We're trying to assess [whether] this is the solution. It may be uncomfortable, but is it protecting? Some Marines swear by them."
— RST-V: A new Humvee — or rather, a Humvee look-alike — is in town, this one called the RST-V (which stands for Reconnaissance, Surveillance and Targeting Vehicle). It’s a hybrid, so it uses gas and electricity, and its wheels are individually powered, allowing for greater control.
The RST-V is narrower than a jeep but has the cargo capacity of a standard Humvee; parts of it can fold up for easier mobility and it can be transported in a V-22 Osprey (search).
— CT-Analyst: In case of a biological, chemical or radiological attack, the U.S. Naval Research Lab (search) has concocted software called the Contaminant Transport-Analyst, designed specifically for cities facing threats.
The CT-Analyst maps the city at risk and then can track the spreading of contaminants instantly — as well as backtracking to find where the attack originated, according to computer scientist Adam Moses.
“We can predict how the plume trend will develop in real time,” said Moses of the technology, a version of which was developed 30 years ago, first to chart wave data for ships and later to track onboard fires.
So far, Naval Research has spoken to New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston about adopting the system, which costs $100,000 to map a 10-kilometer by 10- kilometer area, according to Moses.
The cost and the fact that the Analyst isn’t readily compatible with existing systems has made it a tough sell to city officials — though firefighters, police and others have been enthusiastic about the technology, Moses said.
— Language Translator: For soldiers on the front lines of battle in Iraq, a new, portable, voice-activated language translator has been developed as part of the Compadre product line by SpeechGear.
The "Interact" gadget looks like an oversized palm pilot or Blackberry, and gives troops approaching Iraqi natives, police and security forces — or other non-English speakers elsewhere in the world — the ability to communicate by translating what the user says or writes.
Arabic is among the couple dozen languages Interact knows, and it's designed to recognize the Iraqi dialect. The system will be available in January; the Department of Defense has already bought some of the Compadre equipment, which ranges in price from a around $2,000 to $20,000 for the whole product line, according to Sean Lanahan, SpeechGear's business development manager for government sales.
Though the technology and tools aboard the Star Fish Afloat Lab are just prototypes, they're prototypes the military is eager to get its hands on for testing. The ONR provides funding for the new toys, allowing the Navy and other military branches to start trying them out quickly.
That efficiency is crucial in wartime.
"A lot of this stuff is developed in a very short time," Berzins said. “We’re meeting needs.”
Fleet Week activities run through Tuesday.