Infrared and night vision weren’t enough for the U.S. military. The Pentagon now has the Predator-like ability to identify battlefield enemies by looking inside their chests.
The new device, developed at the request of U.S. special operations teams, uses an infrared laser to identify people by their unique cardiac signature from more than 200 yards away. And that may just be the beginning of the bad news for those who would do combat with America.
Known as “the Jetson,” the heartbeat laser technology is in its infancy and is expected to improve to longer distances with even better lasers.
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“I don’t want to say you could do it from space, but longer ranges should be possible,” Steward Remaly of the Pentagon’s Combating Terrorism Technical Support Office told MIT Technology review in June.”
The Jetson could soon be used on drones, where it could spot an enemy fighter planting an IED one day and identify that same fighter by his unique heartbeat the next.
Pentagon heartbeat laser better than facial recognition
As Arnold Schwarzenegger learned the hard way in the 1987 movie “Predator,” such a capability can be combined with other detection systems to deadly effect.
The Jetson could supplement facial recognition and other ways of positively IDing militants, who oftentimes obscure their identifying features by wearing sunglasses or headscarves.
Unlike faces, an individual’s cardiac signature is unique and cannot be altered or disguised. Also, while facial recognition requires a good, frontal view of the face, the Jetson’s lasers can detect a militant’s unique heartbeat from any angle. Remaly said that the Jetson already has 95 percent accuracy under good conditions.
There are limitations. It takes about 30 seconds for the invisible laser to get a good return, so targets have to be sitting or standing for the device to be effective. And while the device is able to pick up heartbeat signatures through typical clothing like a shirt or jacket, it is currently not capable of getting through thicker clothing like a winter coat.
Alongside existing technologies, it should give troops greater accuracy when identifying potential targets.
In Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S. forces already routinely collect biometric data from suspects detained on the battlefield. While no database for cardiac signatures currently exists, the data could be added to that library. Such information could be useful later to help identify militants responsible for an attack on American troops.
In the long run, the lasers could even find uses away from the battlefield. In medicine, doctors could use the technology to detect arrhythmias and other conditions remotely while hospitals could monitor patients without having to hook them up to machines.
Welcome to the 21st Century battlefield
The U.S. military has shifted focus in recent years to preparing for potential conflict with near-peer rivals like China and Russia. But lessons from the counter-terrorism campaigns in places like Iraq and Afghanistan have not been lost on military leaders.
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In addition to the Jetson, Marine snipers were recently given a new rifle — the Mk13 — to replace an outdated M40 that has been in service since the Vietnam era.
The Mk13 is chambered in .300 Winchester Magnum and has an effective range of well over 1,000 yards, both improvements over the M40. The system also includes the M571, an enhanced day optic with an improved reticle and improved magnification range. The rifle was developed after Marines complained that the Vietnam-era M40 lacks the range to effectively cover friendly troops in the sprawling mountain ranges of Afghanistan and the vast deserts of Iraq.
More broadly, President Donald Trump has indicated his commitment increasing defense spending in a bid to “rebuild” the military and develop new technologies for future conflicts.