Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Set your phasers to stun

It's an old military adage that people do things because they can. 'Cause it's cool. Looking ahead after their battlefield victories in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Special Operations Command is seeking to preserve and increase their technological edge over the foe. They are considering:

Bioengineering. Special operations forces need advanced medical techniques and procedures, improved drugs, whole-blood substitutes, bio-compatible material for implants and nano-scale sensors for detection of disease, as well as biological agents and chemicals, Wattenbarger noted. Ongoing projects include combat casualty care, diving medicine, performance enhancements and medical information systems.

Directed-energy weapons. DE applications will allow special operators to deliver a tunable—from non-lethal to lethal—force for varying degrees of effects, he explained

The United States has long used laser devices to "mark" targets, but has not publicly used directed energy weapons to directly harm a person. The North Koreans and Russians have shown no such compunction. Military beat reporter Bill Gertz reported on May 13, 2003 that:

North Korea's military fired a laser in March at two U.S. Army helicopters patrolling the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas in what U.S. officials call a provocative action, The Washington Times has learned.

Two Apache attack helicopters were illuminated by lasers in early March by a weapon that had the characteristics of a Chinese laser gun, an indication that North Korea has deployed a new and potentially lethal weapon.

Lasers focus concentrated beams of light on a target and are used in some guidance systems. The Chinese laser gun, however, is a weapon that can cause eye damage at ranges up to three miles.

This incident is similar, in some respects to an April, 1997 incident in which a US Navy intelligence officer claimed that he sustained minor eye injuries from a laser beam fired from the Russian trawler Kapitan Man. Thus far, it has been a case of the storm petrel but not the storm. Yet that is bound to change.

America may be burdened by compunction, but it hardly matters, given its prowess. Boeing has been contracted to build an airborne directed energy weapon that can vaporize the wall of a rocket booster at a distance of several hundred kilometers.

Not to be outdone, the Army has contracted TRW to build a system whose prototype has already shot down artillery shells while in flight. The Navy is redesigning it's whole new generation of ships, including the future attack carrier design CVN-21 to generate the necessary power to support directed-energy weapons. They will not be set to stun. Back of the envelope calculations suggest that if the Boeing airborne laser can vaporize a hole in aircraft metal at several hundred kilometers, it will be positively devastating at much shorter ranges. And the power generation of a 747 will be absolutely dwarfed by the massive output of nuclear reactors on a 110,000 ton warship.

But don't worry. You might someday ask Scotty to beam you up. Or at least the Special Forces might. Ten years ago, a team of scientists at IBM showed that teleportation was possible, in principle, "using a celebrated and paradoxical feature of quantum mechanics known as the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen effect". (Did you get that Yasser?) Not too surprising, when you consider that DARPA invented the Internet nearly 30 years ago, 4 years after Neil Armstrong first landed on the moon.

Just to round things out, consider the Bird of Prey technology demonstrator that the Boeing Phantom Works recently declassified because all the lessons have now been extracted from it's now dated technology.

All ahead, Warp Factor 10.