14 strange and scary military technologies
25th Nov 2008 | 12:08
Liquid armour, sonic bandages, rail guns and more
Mankind has been trying to hurt his fellow man since the dawn of time, and technology makes the job much easier.
Modern technology means 'increased lethality' and scarier weapons - but it can also keep soldiers out of harm's way, patch them up when they're hurt and one day, even erase traumatic memories.
These fourteen technologies may sound like the stuff of sci-fi, but they're rapidly becoming reality.
Wouldn't it be great if you could give ordinary soldiers robot strength and stamina? Exoskeletons do just that, and as this video shows, they're not very far away. They're also capable of working without a person inside them. Everybody panic!
2. Smart uniforms
We can't make soldiers invisible just yet, but smart fabrics can make them much harder to see - and almost invisible to night vision goggles, heat sensors and radar kit.
3. Liquid armour
Armour is handy, but it's heavy and inflexible - so scientists have developed liquid armour, which is designed to offer the best of both worlds. There are two kinds of liquid armour: Shear Thickening Fluid (STF), which hardens on impact, and Magnetorheological (MR) fluid, which is essentially iron particles suspended in liquid. Add a magnetic field and MR fluid becomes solid in fractions of a second. Of the two, STF liquid armour is the current favourite: MR fluid armour is still a good few years away.
4. Bendy guns
One potentially fatal problem with the good old-fashioned gun is that you need to see what you're shooting at - so when you pop your head round a corner, the enemy might just pop it off your shoulders. Enter Cornershot, an Israeli system designed for SWAT teams and special forces. It's a simple enough idea: a gun that can be bent at right angles, with a sight that follows the barrel so the operator can see what he or she is shooting at.
5. Sonic bandages
One of the biggest preventable causes of battlefield deaths is from blood loss, so the Deep Bleeder Acoustic Coagulation (DBAC) programme is working on 'sonic bandages' that cauterise wounds with a focused blast of ultrasonic energy.
6. Electronic guns
Metal Storm combines electronic ignition and stacked projectiles to devastating effect - or "increased lethality", as the brochure puts it. Its light weight means that Metal Storm guns tend to have lots and lots of barrels firing simultaneously. It makes a machine gun look like a pea shooter.
7. Rail guns
Rail guns use magnetic fields to blast projectiles at incredible speeds: the US Navy has tested one that fires its load at seven times the speed of sound.
8. Robot bombers
Earlier this week, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) fired three Hellfire missiles at a house on the Afghan border, killing fugitive Rashid Rauf. That's just a taste of what's on the horizon, because today's UAVs are titchy compared to projects such as Taranis, which includes building full-size, unmanned fighter jets.
9. Brain erasers
For many soldiers, the trauma of war doesn't end when the fighting does - and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can make their civilian lives a misery. A Men In Black-style brain eraser would be a big help, so it's no surprise that the military is funding research into whether such devices are possible. Scientist have already found a way to erase mice's memories, so such tech could well be possible.
10. See-through planes
Clearly inspired by Wonder Woman, the MoD wants pilots to be able to see right through their aircraft. Sadly that doesn't mean making planes out of glass with scantily clad lovelies flying them; it means a heads-up display inside the pilot's helmet that projects images from outside, enabling the pilot to 'see' through the metal. The helmets are currently in development for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
11. Invisible tanks
As the old joke almost put it: What's green and invisible? That tank. Last year, the MoD revealed that it was testing invisibility systems for tanks and even troops. It's a simple enough idea - cameras film the tank's surroundings and then project it onto the tank - but it'll be a few years before it's battlefield ready. A proper invisibility cloak is probably decades away.
12. Pain beams
Want a non-lethal but exceptionally painful energy weapon? Then get thee to Raytheon, whose Silent Guardian uses a focused beam of microwave energy to heat up the skin and force enemies to take cover. As Ars Technica notes, rather brilliantly, this is one area where a tinfoil hat really could defend you.
Depending on whom you believe, the High-frequency Active Auroral Research Programme is either a system for better global communications, a space weapon for battling UFOs, an earthquake creator or a mind control ray. The first explanation comes from military men who can't see a piece of cheese without wondering how to kill people with it; the others from the tinfoil hat brigade and Muse's Matt Bellamy. Who to trust?
We've got exoskeletons. We've got guns. So why not go the next step into Terminator territory and develop robot brains that would enable the exoskeletons to chase us around with their guns? That's exactly what DARPA's SyNAPSE (Systems of Neuromorphic Adaptive Plastic Scalable Electronics) electronic brain programme seems designed to do. SyNAPSE? SKYNET, more like. Everybody panic! Again!
Now read about war bloggers and travel bloggers in Battlefields and bikes: blogging from the edge