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Implications of Emerging Micro- and Nanotechnologies
and avionics will benefit from the associated trend to modularization and standardization with improved reliability and better control of development costs. The adoption of the batch manufacturing and built-in-place fabrication approaches brought about by microtechnologies will increase reliability and reduce cost and will be especially enabling. The continued rapid advance of information technology will make possible new systems approaches. Miniaturization is expected to bring a world of ubiquitous sensing and computing to Air Force systems (lower power, smaller size, more function with embedded systems, lower cost, and increased capability), and the concomitant development of software for platforms, sensors, and C3I will become increasingly important. The challenge will be to discover ways to optimize the benefit from these rapidly evolving areas of technology.
Properties qualitatively change as things get small. There is great opportunity for discovering the new science and material properties that can be achieved at the micro- and nanoscale and for applying these capabilities to Air Force systems. The new properties being explored at the small scale, particularly the nanoscale, will lead to new capabilities for sensing, information processing and storage, propulsion, and high-performance materials. Stronger, more durable, and lighter-weight structures and increased efficiency in the use of energy are of particular interest. A particularly important challenge is the increased use of smart and adaptive materials—for example, to improve boundary layer control on aircraft or allow reconfigurable surveillance systems that learn from and adapt to their environment—to enable new systems approaches. Over the long term, these advances are likely to be accelerated as the study of biologically inspired systems leads to new ways to control, tailor, and adapt the properties of materials to their environment and to more efficiently store and utilize energy and information in small-scale systems.
The advances in information density, miniaturization, and materials functionality will enable an advanced degree of autonomous systems operation and a paradigm shift from reliance on a few large systems to many small things that work together. Over time, the increased intelligence of unmanned systems with integrated sensor suites and information processing (situational awareness) capabilities, and offensive/defensive reaction capabilities will probably change the character of warfare, allowing a degree of autonomy unthinkable today. The opportunities made possible by understanding and exploiting the emergent behavior of large numbers of entities working together as a system is a long-term challenge that will lead to new system architectures and revolutionary capabilities in analogy to biological systems.
CURRENT INVESTMENTS BY THE AIR FORCE IN MICRO-AND NANOTECHNOLOGIES
The Air Force, like the other DoD services and agencies, has historically invested in micro- and nanotechnologies. This investment supports both develop-