The face of war has changed dramatically since our grandfathers and great-grandfathers stormed Normandy and died in the trenches. Now nations clash on a wide spectrum of levels with weapons that boggle the mind. As we move forward in this century, the arms race continues in some very interesting and terrifying directions. In this feature, we’ll showcase 10 implements of war that could change the way we fight forever, and tell you how they’re in use today.
General Atomics Blitzer
The basic principle of a gun hasn’t changed much over 200 years: a little explosion drives a chunk of metal down a tube, through the air and hopefully into a target. But there has to be a better way, and magnets might be it. Enter the railgun, which uses magnetic force to propel payloads at insanely fast speeds with no explosion. After many experiments, the first commercial production started in 2010 with the Blitzer cannon from General Atomics. This puppy shoots a specially-designed round at five times the speed of sound, capable of blasting right through a steel plate and still having enough velocity to travel several miles.
Active Denial Systems
Non-lethal weaponry is the wave of the future, and it looks a whole lot better on television. So it should be no surprise that a number of companies are inventing ways to shut people’s brains off without killing them. One of the most notable is currently in use by the U.S. Army, and it’s terrifying. The Active Denial System is an invisible ray (made of high-frequency microwaves) that basically makes you feel like you’re on fire until it stops hitting you. The radiation excites the water and fat molecules in your skin, delivering intense pain with no long-term effects. The company Raytheon has even made a portable version for law-enforcement use called the Silent Guardian.
Elbit VIPeR Combat Robot
Robots are more and more prevalent on the battlefield. We've all probably heard stories of drone aircraft carrying out attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan. But now the drones are taking the place of infantry as well. Israeli company Elbit has been working on a remote-controlled robot that weighs only 25 pounds and can be deployed in a wide variety of terrains to engage the enemy without risking human life. Using a patented wheel and track combination system, the VIPeR can climb stairs, move through brush, navigate deep gravel and more. Also, it can be outfitted with a variety of ordinance, including a 9 mm mini-Uzi with scope and laser pointer, a grenade-releasing system, and a 4-foot robotic arm.
Missile strikes aren’t just for killing people; they’re also for destroying infrastructure. The U.S. military is developing some interesting ways of dealing with hostile electronics, and one of the most promising is the CHAMP missile that the Air Force just test fired a little while ago. The Counter-Electronics High-Powered Microwave Advanced Missile Project uses a focused microwave beam on computer systems, frying their systems permanently as the missile passes over. Made by Boeing, it’s the first weapon of its type that simulates an EMP pulse without requiring a nuclear detonation. It could be shockingly effective against other industrialized nations.
Ever since "Star Trek," we’ve all dreamed about blasting our enemies with high-speed photons. The technology has been used in research for decades, with particle accelerators helping physicists discover things about the intrinsic structure of the universe. Many scientists have considered the destructive potential of the beam, most notably Nikola Tesla, who tried to interest the U.S. in one in the early 1900s. A century later, we’re finally getting with the program. The Ion Beam Laboratory at Kirtland Air Force Base just opened in 2010, boasting six accelerator systems that can move particles to seven percent the speed of light. The drawbacks to the technology are that the beam generators are still very large and require a huge power source, but those are just technicalities, right?
There is going to come a time when the world’s nations will need to respond to a threat with speed and force from halfway around the globe. Right now, we use cruise missiles, but even the longest-range cruise missiles can travel only about 600 miles. That is unacceptable, obviously, so several nations are working on a missile that travels at five times the speed of sound, significantly faster than any other missile. The BrahMos-2 is a joint effort between India and Russia to create an insanely speedy missile that can deliver a non-nuclear payload anywhere in the world. Because of Russian laws, it’s currently limited to a range of 181 miles, but India is working on a much, much longer-ranged version.
Railgun technology isn’t just for speed; it’s also for distance. Another entry in the high-speed projectile race comes from British military contractor BAE Systems. Their gun is designed to be mounted on naval vessels in place of traditional missile launchers, with the 32-MJ Long Range Gun capable of delivering payloads to targets up to 220 miles away, 10 times as far as standard ship artillery can shoot, with less noise to warn prospective targets. The first prototype was delivered to the Navy in 2009, but considering it requires three million amps of power to file a single shot, it might be some time before we see one deployed on the battlefield.
With technology becoming increasingly important on the battlefield, creating weapons to sabotage your enemy’s computers is almost as important as dropping bodies. We’re only now starting to discover the extent of the United States’ involvement in cyber warfare with the revelation that our government was behind two worms that wreaked havoc on Iran’s nuclear program. The Stuxnet worm was specifically targeted on the computers that operated Iran’s nuclear centrifuges, making them spin at the wrong speeds to wreck the enrichment process. Flame was even more robust, capable of taking screenshots of infected computers and reporting back, as well as taking systems down.
Developed by Australian munitions company MetalStorm, this is a multi-barreled assault gun that uses an electronic firing system to stack multiple rounds in a single barrel, enabling it to fire shots incredibly fast. Loaded with 40 mm munitions, the Redback can acquire and fire at three different targets in 1.2 seconds. It’s designed to be fast and accurate enough to intercept rocket-propelled grenades, Old West sharpshooter style. Even more interestingly, the four barrels can be loaded with different ammunition, enabling the operator to deliver a lethal or non-lethal response as the situation demands.
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Defense contractor Northrop Grumman has been working with the U.S. Navy for several years on a projected energy weapon that can be mounted on a battleship, and after several very positive field tests, they’ve announced the first combat-ready, solid-state laser weapon, code named FIRESTRIKE. Weighing in at 400 pounds, this 15 kW modular laser can be used on its own or combined with up to seven other units to create a more powerful beam. The modules are incredibly durable and capable of continuous fire as long as there is power provided, and recent tests have shown the beams punching through metal drone aircraft like they were paper bags.