Home' Defence Technology Review : DTR AUG 2014 Contents 41
DEFENCE TECHNOLOGY REVIEW | ISSUE 01 | AUG 2014
Program seeks to develop
novel climbing aids for warfighters
in urban environments.
THE US DEFENSE ADVANCED RESEARCH PROJECTS
AGENCY (DARPA) demonstrates “first known human climbing
of a glass wall” using technology inspired by geckos.
The Z-Man program within DARPA’s Defence Sciences Office
aims to improve the ability of soldiers to climb vertical structures
and obstacles in the urban battlespace in a manner which
overcomes the limitations of traditional climbing equipment
such as ladders, ropes and other tools.
By addressing these centuries-old equipment shortcomings, the
Z-Man program hopes to deliver improved safety and flexibility
for manoeuvre and rapid response to warfighters operating in
confined urban areas.
Specifically, the goal of the program is to develop novel
biologically inspired climbing aids to enable warfighters carrying
full combat loads to scale vertical walls constructed of typical
“Like many of the capabilities that the Department of Defense
pursues, we saw with vertical climbing that nature had long since
evolved the means to efficiently achieve it,” Z -Man program
manager Dr. Matt Goodman said in a statement.
“The challenge to our performer team was to understand the
biology and physics in play when geckos climb and then reverse-
engineer those dynamics into an artificial system for use by
To replicate the climbing ability of geckos, which typically
weigh no more than a few hundred grams, and upscale to a 90-
100kg human required the creation of climbing paddles capable
of balancing sufficient adhesive forces in both the shear (parallel
to the vertical surface) and normal (perpendicular to the vertical
surface) directions ; a feature essential for a climber to remain
adhered on a surface without falling off while in the act of
attaching and detaching the paddles with each movement.
The DARPA demonstration climb involved a 218lb man
climbing up and down a 25ft glass wall with no climbing
equipment other than a pair of the hand-held, “gecko-inspired”
paddles. During one trial, the subject climbed whilst carrying an
additional 50lb load.
The novel polymer microstructure technology used in
the climbing paddles was developed for DARPA by Draper
Laboratory. The Draper Laboratory team also created new micro
and nano-fabrication technologies to produce the high aspect
ratio microstructures found in the gecko toe.
Earlier outputs from the Z-Man program include ‘Geckskin’, a
synthetically fabricated reversible adhesive emulating the gecko’s
ability to climb surfaces of various materials and roughness,
including smooth surfaces like glass. A stiff fabric impregnated
with an elastomer, Geckskin is draped over a surface to maximise
compliance with the surface while reducing compliance in the
load direction, thus enabling increased adhesion.
A proof-of-concept demonstration in 2012 proved that a
16-square-inch sheet of Geckskin adhering to a vertical glass wall
could support a static load of up to 660lb.
where an operator
climbed a 25ft vertical
glass wall using only
the hand-held, gecko-
inspired paddles. The
climber wore, but did
not require, the use of
a safety belay.
Z-MAN: INSPIRED BY NATURE
The anatomy of a gecko toe consists of a microscopic hierarchical
structure composed of stalk-like setae (100 microns in length, 2
microns in radius). From individual setae, a bundle of hundreds
of terminal tips called spatulae (approximately 200 nanometers
in diameter at their widest) branch out and contact the climbing
A gecko is able to climb on glass by using physical bond interactions
— specifically van der Waals intermolecular forces - between the
spatulae and a sur face to
adhere reversibly, resulting in
easy attachment and removal
of the gecko’s toes from the
surface. The van der Waals
mechanism implied that it is the
size and shape of the spatulae
tips that affect adhesive
performance, not specific
JSF ‘Iron Bird’ EMI model
USMC lasers to ward off UAVs
A FULL-SCALE MODEL of the F-35A Joint Strike Fighter (JSF)
has been commissioned for use by Australia’s Defence Science and
Technology Organisation (DSTO) to study the effects of electro-
magnetic compatibility (EMC) and electromagnetic interference
(EMI) on the aircraft.
Dubbed the ‘Iron Bird’, the model will be tested under
simulated electromagnetic conditions to determine the
effect of exposure to electromagnetic interference from both
naturally occurring phenomena and man-made sources such as
telecommunication transmissions, radar, static discharge and
According to a 3 July release by Defence Minister David
Johnston, the US JSF Program Office asked DSTO to undertake
the EMC/EMI testing and research, leveraging off the latter’s
extensive expertise in the impact of electromagnetic radiation on
The DSTO EMC/EMI test methods enable rapid and cost-
effective assessment and monitoring of an aircraft’s ability to
withstand electromagnetic exposure and minimise any impact
on its systems and performance.
Johnston said that the data captured by DSTO during EMC/
EMI testing may aid in lowering through-life support costs
and support the verification for compliance and airworthiness
certification for all JSF operators.
THE US NAVY’S OFFICE of Naval Research (ONR) has formal-
ised contractual arrangements with the Naval Surface Warfare
Center Dahlgren Division and industry to develop a vehicle-
mounted laser weapon system for the US Marine Corps (USMC).
The Ground Based Air Defense Directed Energy On-the-Move
program, commonly referred to as GBAD, will field an affordable
alternative to conventional weapon systems for use
against unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV).
The requirement for a directed-energy weapon to operate in
the counter UAV role stems from the Marine Corps Science and
Technology Strategic Plan, where the ability to prevent enemy
UAVs from tracking and targeting USMC ground elements is
seen within the wider air defence picture for deployed forces.
The GBAD system, components and sub-systems of which
include the laser, beam director, batteries, radar, cooling and
communications, command and control systems, is expected to
be light and compact enough to enable mounting to light tactical
vehicles such as the High Mobility Multi-Wheeled Vehicle and
variants of the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle.
According to the ONR, a number of these components have
already been the subject of tests to detect and track UAVs of all
sizes. The complete GBAD system will undergo initial testing
later this year against targets using a 10kW laser as a precursor to
GBAD’s full-size 30kW laser.
More complex trials and field testing from candidate mobility
platforms will commence in 2016 to ensure a seamless detection,
tracking and firing process.
The various elements for the vehicle-mounted GBAD system
are being developed under the ONR’s Future Naval Capabilities
program, which seeks to bring proven technology to military
procurements in rapid fashion, going from research and
development to delivery in five years. – Matthew Mendenhall
DSTO will use the Iron Bird to study the effects of
electromagnetic interference on the Joint Strike Fighter’s
avionics, systems and performance.
GBAD seeks to field a laser weapon system mounted on light
tactical vehicles for use against UAVs to prevent reconnaissance
and surveillance of USMC ground forces.
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