U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs scientists have discovered signs of early aging in the brains of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans exposed to roadside bomb explosions, even among those who felt nothing from the blast, according to a story in USA Today.
Years after coming home from war, veterans are showing signs of progressive damage to their brain wiring, according to a study published online Monday in Brain, A Journal of Neurology, the newspaper reported.
“Generally as we age, the connections (in the brain) deteriorate. But with those people with blast exposure it appears as though it's happening faster,” said Benjamin Trotter, a bio-medical engineer with the Department of Veterans Affairs and lead author of the study.
Regina McGlinchey, a Harvard Medical School professor of psychology, VA scientist and study co-author, said the concern is that “what we generally see in older people in terms of declines in executive function, memory and planning would be happening at an earlier age.”
Many veterans studied said they never felt concussion-like symptoms such as dizziness, headaches or loss of consciousness. Others complained of those symptoms, but eventually saw them go away and military doctors concluded they had fully recovered.
Small is beautiful, particularly when it comes to U.S. military drone technology. Two recent stories illustrate how the rapidly evolving technology behind miniature drones could become a game-changer for the U.S. Air Force and U.S. special forces operators.
The Air Force is in the early stages of developing swarms of mini-drones designed to overwhelm and confuse enemy radar systems or blanket an area with multiple sensors at the same time, according to a story carried on the DefenseTech website.
The idea is gaining traction with Air Force scientists who are making progress developing algorithms for swarms of small unmanned aircraft vehicles, or UAVs, said Mica Endsley, the Air Force chief scientist.
“It is built on the biological concept of say a swarm of bees, for example, where you can see a lot of them fly as a group but they do not run into each other. They manage some type of coordinated activity between them in order to be able to navigate successfully,” Endsley said in an interview. “In the laboratory we have developed algorithms that allow small UAVs to be able to operate that way so that they can work in conjunction without running into each other.”
Swarms of drones could blanket an area with sensors even if one or two get shot down.
“You might want to set the task for five or six UAVs to go and cover a particular area where they work in conjunction with each other, Endsley said in the DefenseTech article. “If one picked up an object of interest, it could cue another one to go examine it with maybe a different kind of sensor that might have a higher resolution. They would be working together to accomplish a particular mission.”
Coordinated groups of small drones could also be used to confuse enemy radar systems and overwhelm advanced enemy air defenses, according to Endsley.
Meanwhile, American Special Forces teams have been experimenting with a surveillance and reconnaisance drone called the Black Hornet, which easily fits in the palm of a hand or a pocket, according to a story in Popular Science magazine.
Tiny drones like the Black Hornet have raised concerns about the battlefield of the future, where deadly swarms of small autonomous drones are among the potential horrors that await the next generation of warriors. “[Lethal autonomous weapons systems] would be closer to a plague of guided munitions than an automated fighting force, leaving a locust-like trail of inert, disposable components alongside their victims,” according to a commentary by Erik Sofge, a Popular Science contributing editor.
Sofge predicted that lethal autonomous weapons systems, or LAWS, will show up in a cloud of thousands or more. “Each robot will be small, cheap, and lightly armed, packing the bare minimum to end a single life at a time,” he wrote.
Sofge quotes from an article by computer scientist Stuart Russell, who estimates that the systems developed in a LAWS arms race could be as cheap as $10 apiece. Sofge concludes that unleashing such a weapon on a city, with orders to kill anyone holding a weapon-like object, or simply every male within a given age group, would be too cheap, and too effective to resist.
The Department of Veterans Affairs removed two ranking managers Monday from its embattled Philadelphia office, days after an internal report cited the pair for their roles in a party where workers were encouraged to pay amanager's wife, a self-described psychic medium, to contact the dead, according to a story in the Philadelphia Inquirer.
In a brief statement, the agency said Lucy Filipov, the office assistant director, and Gary Hodge, director of its pension management center, had been “temporarily relieved” while it probes the allegations.
The VA’s Philadelphia benefits office faced harsh criticism more than a year ago. An April report from its inspector general detailed widespread problems at the Germantown site, including manipulated claims, ignored veteran inquiries, and a toxic relationship between staff and management.
Roger That is a regular feature by BND military beat reporter Mike Fitzgerald. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 618-239-2533.