Archive for Weapons & War

US Navy test fires futuristic railgun

The US Navy has revealed a video of the first commissioning tests of a railgun, a futuristic weapon that many people hope could shift the balance of power in naval warfare away from aircraft carriers and back to surface warships.

The Navy has been pursuing the railgun for years, but the project has been hamstrung by the sheer amount of power required to make it work, measured in megajoules of electricity.

UK-based BAE Systems appears to have made an operational railgun, however, and test fired it at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Dahlgren, Virginia in November 2016. A short video of that test was made public by the Office of Naval Research on Tuesday.

The railgun is designed around the principle of launching a metal projectile using a series of magnetic coils, rather than chemical propellant. Because of this, it is also known as the coilgun or Gauss rifle, after the German mathematician credited with discovering the concept in the 19th century.

BAE Systems tested a 32-joule half-power prototype at Dahlgren in 2013. The full-power version was scheduled for testing in mid-2016 aboard the USNS Trenton, a Spearhead-class expeditionary transport, but the schedule was pushed back to mid-2017 without an explanation.

Popular Mechanics has speculated that the railgun might end up being installed on board one of the three ships in the Zumwalt class, the experimental super-destroyer with a power plant strong enough to operate the weapon. The recently commissioned USS Zumwalt has been experiencing difficulties with its 155mm Advanced Gun Systems, designed around the projectiles that cost around $800,000 apiece.

Source: https://www.rt.com/usa/381901-navy-railgun-dahlgren-test/

 

North Korea sabre-rattling, again

In a remarkable statement last week, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson declared that “the political and diplomatic efforts of the past 20 years to bring North Korea to the point of denuclearization have failed.” Shortly afterward, in response to joint military exercises being conducted by the United States and South Korea, the North Korean government held a news conference and declared that “the situation is already on the brink of nuclear war.”

The threat of nuclear war, mostly background noise for the past 25 years, is alarming. But given the uniqueness of North Korea’s position in the world, it’s worth wondering how concerned we should actually be.

To answer that question, we need to first identify the “we” we’re talking about. If that “we” includes South Koreans, the answer is: Quite a bit.

The South Korea problem

The North Korean capital, Pyongyang, is about 120 miles from the South Korean capital, Seoul, home to 10 million people. That’s within easy striking range of North Korea’s existing arsenal of missiles, which is a key reason that the United States recently began deploying a Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system, or THAAD, in South Korea, aimed at intercepting an incoming attack. Whether those missiles could carry an atomic or hydrogen bomb is another question, one we’ll get to in a moment.

Of course, the proximity of North and South Korea means that there is a large risk from conventional weapons, as well. There are artillery already at the North Korean border that could strike Seoul, although it’s not clear how much damage would result.

The threat of a missile hitting the U.S.

If the “we” is the “we” most likely to read this article — residents of the United States — the calculus is a bit different.

Excluding American forces in South Korea (about 25,000 of them), the greatest threat faced by the United States is of nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). Raising three questions: Does it have nuclear weapons? Are those weapons small enough to fit on a missile? And does North Korea have a missile that could reach the United States?

The answer to the first question is yes, the North Koreans have repeatedly tested some form of nuclear device. In September, North Korea tested a bomb with an estimated yield of 10 to 20 kilotons — about the yield of the bomb that struck Hiroshima during World War II. That can do a lot of damage, but it pales in comparison with the sort of warhead currently in U.S. or Russian arsenals.

At the time of that test, the North Koreans also claimed to have developed a weapon small enough to fit onto a missile, though this can be hard to verify. In February, the country released a photo showing a relatively small bomb that expert analysis figured might yield 20 kilotons and could be small enough to fit on a missile — if the photo actually depicted a working device.

The broader question, and the most easily verified, is whether any North Korean missiles could reach the United States. North Korea unquestionably has missiles capable of traveling long distances, and in February 2016, it launched a satellite into space. (That satellite wasn’t deployed properly and soon began to tumble uncontrollably in orbit, suggesting that North Korea’s capabilities were not yet refined.)

To strike the United States, though, the country would need a missile that could travel for thousands of miles, requiring a very specific type of missile.

The Federation of American Scientists catalogues the missiles that North Korea has in its arsenal and those it hopes to add. To strike Alaska, it would need a long-range ICBM that could travel 7,000 kilometers, or about 4,300 miles. To hit the continental United States, it would need a full-range ICBM, which can range from 8,000 to 12,000 kilometers, or 5,000 to about 7,500 miles. The missiles that are under development in North Korea are of the Taepodong-2 variety. If launched from the Sohae launching station in the northwest corner of the country, nearly all of the United States would conceivably be within range, with the exception of southern Florida.

On Saturday, North Korea announced that it had tested a rocket engine of “historic significance” — perhaps a liquid-fueled rocket that could serve as the second-stage of a full-range ICBM.

But there’s no indication at this point that North Korea has such a device prepared — much less a missile that could reliably deliver a nuclear weapon at that distance with accuracy. While North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said last year that his regime had “entered the final stage of preparation for the test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile,” there are a lot of parts that need to work together flawlessly to be effective: the stages of the missile, the bomb itself.

That said, during World War II, the Japanese launched balloon-based bombs that they hoped would reach the U.S. mainland. Some did, killing six people in Oregon. Point being that even if there are low odds of a lot of things working perfectly, sometimes they can. In 2015, Adm. Bill Gortney told reporters that it was not likely that North Korea could strike the United States but that it was “prudent” to assume that it might be able to.

Source: What to worry about when you worry about North Korea – The Washington Post

The US Military Will Usher in a Widespread Use of Laser Weapons in the 2020s

Lasers have been a mainstay of sci-fi battles for decades. But making them practical for the battlefield has proven difficult. Now, private contractors and government agencies have developed weapons systems that are making science fiction a reality. This was made evident when Lockheed Martin and the US Army recently announced, a successful test of a 60-kilowatt (kW) laser. This one was twice as powerful as one they assessed in 2015.

The weapon itself is a combined fiber laser, which means it doesn’t actually fire one but two lasers condensed into one beam, making it stronger. It uses fiber optics bundled together where each contributes energy to the beam, making the process scalable. The particular laser tested however was “diffraction-limited,” meaning it was close to the place where the beam could no longer be concentrated on a fixed point.

Most military lasers today are too big and need too much power. New designs are blowing these models away. Getty Images.

The beam is actually invisible and as with most lasers, silent. Not only that, it’s proved extremely accurate and efficient. 43% of the overall power goes to the laser, allowing the rest to go to the truck. Robert Afzal is a senior fellow for laser and sensor systems at Lockheed Martin. He told The Washington Post, “We’re really at the dawn of an era of the utility of laser weapons.”

The system will soon be delivered to the Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command (USASMDC/ARSTRAT), in Huntsville, Alabama, where it will undergo further testing. Initially, the system reached 58 kW, a record. But Lockheed officials assured it will produce a 60 kW beam by the time it’s ready, sometime in the next few months.

SMDC spokesman John Cummings said, “Our ultimate goal is to have a 100kW laser on a vehicle.” He added, “We have to take baby steps to get there.” Besides trucks, such lasers could be mounted on planes, helicopters, and ships.

The US Air Force and DARPA are even working on laser shielding. That’s right. Force fields.

Source: The US Military Will Usher in a Widespread Use of Laser Weapons in the 2020s | Big Think

Scientists Create Star Trek’s Tractor Beam

Scientists from Scotland and the Czech Republic have created a real-life “tractor” beam, as featured in the Star Trek movies that, for the first time, allows a beam of light to attract objects.

Although light manipulation techniques have existed since the 1970s, this is the first time a light beam has been used to draw objects towards the light source, albeit at a microscopic level.

Researchers from the Univ. of St Andrews and the Institute of Scientific Instruments (ISI) in the Czech Republic have found a way to generate a special optical field that efficiently reverses radiation pressure of light.

The new technique could lead to more efficient medical testing, such as in the examination of blood samples.

In the U.S. science fiction show, a tractor beam was a method of using a beam of light which could pull space-ships and other large objects towards the source of the light.

The team, led by Tomas Cizmar, Research Fellow in the School of Medicine at the Univ. of St Andrews, with Oto Brzobohaty and Prof. Pavel Zemanek, both of ISI, discovered a technique which will allow them to provide “negative” force acting upon minuscule particles.

Normally when matter and light interact the solid object is pushed by the light and carried away in the stream of photons.

Such radiation force was first identified by Johanes Kepler when observing that tails of comets point away from the sun.

Over recent years researchers have realized that while this is the case for most of the optical fields, there is a space of parameters when this force reverses.

The scientists at St Andrews and ISI have now demonstrated the first experimental realization of this concept together with a number of exciting applications for bio-medical photonics and other disciplines.

The exciting aspect is that the occurrence of negative force is very specific to the properties of the object, such as size and composition.

This in turn allows optical sorting of micro-objects in a simple and inexpensive device. Over the last decade optical fractionation has been identified as one of the most promising bio-medical applications of optical manipulation allowing, for example, sorting of macromolecules, organelles or cells.

Interestingly, the scientists identified certain conditions, in which objects held by the “tractor” beam force-field, re-arranged themselves to form a structure which made the beam even stronger.

via Scientists Create Star Trek’s Tractor Beam.

US teen designs compact nuclear reactor

LONG BEACH, California — Eighteen-year-old Taylor Wilson has designed a compact nuclear reactor that could one day burn waste from old atomic weapons to power anything from homes and factories to space colonies.

The American teen, who gained fame four years ago after designing a fusion reactor he planned to build in the garage of his family’s home, shared his latest endeavor at a TED Conference in southern California on Thursday.

“It’s about bringing something old, fission, into the 21st Century,” Wilson said. “I think this has huge potential to change the world.”

He has designed a small reactor capable of generating 50-100 megawatts of electricity, enough to power as many as 100,000 homes.

The reactor can be made assembly-line style and powered by molten radioactive material from nuclear weapons, Wilson said. The relatively small, modular reactor can be shipped sealed with enough fuel to last for 30 years.

“You can plop them down anywhere in the world and they work, buried under the ground for security reasons,” he said, while detailing his design at TED.

“In the Cold War we built up this huge arsenal of nuclear weapons and we don’t need them anymore,” Wilson said. “It would be great if we could eat them up, and this reactor loves this stuff.”

His reactors are designed to spin turbines using gas instead of steam, meaning they operate at temperatures lower than those of typical nuclear reactors and don’t spew anything if there is a breach.

The fuel is in the form of molten salt, and the reactors don’t need to be pressurized, according to the teenager.

“In the event of an accident, you can just drain the core into a tank under the reactor with neutron absorbers and the reaction stops,” Wilson said.

“There is no inclination for the fission products to leave this reactor,” he said. “In an accident, the reactor may be toast, which is sorry for the power company, but there is no problem.”

Wilson, who graduated grade school in May, said he is putting off university to focus on a company he created to make Modular Fission Reactors.

He sees his competition as nations, particularly China, and the roadblocks ahead as political instead of technical.

Wilson planned to have a prototype ready in two years and a product to market in five years.

“Not only does it combat climate change, it can bring power to the developing world,” Wilson said with teenage optimism.

“Imagine having a compact reactor in a rocket designed by those planning to habitat other planets. Not only would you have power for propulsion, but power once you get there.”

via AFP: US teen designs compact nuclear reactor.

With Plan X, Pentagon seeks to spread U.S. military might to cyberspace

The Pentagon is turning to the private sector, universities and even computer-game companies as part of an ambitious effort to develop technologies to improve its cyberwarfare capabilities, launch effective attacks and withstand the likely retaliation.

The previously unreported effort, which its authors have dubbed Plan X, marks a new phase in the nation’s fledgling military operations in cyberspace, which have focused more on protecting the Defense Department’s computer systems than on disrupting or destroying those of enemies.

Plan X is a project of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, a Pentagon division that focuses on experimental efforts and has a key role in harnessing computing power to help the military wage war more effectively.

“If they can do it, it’s a really big deal,” said Herbert S. Lin, a cybersecurity expert with the National Research Council of the National Academies. “If they achieve it, they’re talking about being able to dominate the digital battlefield just like they do the traditional battlefield.”

Cyberwarfare conjures images of smoking servers, downed electrical systems and exploding industrial plants, but military officials say cyberweapons are unlikely to be used on their own. Instead, they would support conventional attacks, by blinding an enemy to an impending airstrike, for example, or disabling a foe’s communications system during battle.

The five-year, $110 million research program will begin seeking proposals this summer. Among the goals will be the creation of an advanced map that details the entirety of cyberspace — a global domain that includestens of billions of computers and other devices — and updates itself continuously. Such a map would help commanders identify targets and disable them using computer code delivered through the Internet or other means.

Another goal is the creation of a robust operating system capable of launching attacks and surviving counterattacks. Officials say this would be the cyberspace equivalent of an armored tank; they compare existing computer operating systems to sport-utility vehicles — well suited to peaceful highways but too vulnerable to work on battlefields.

The architects of Plan X also hope to develop systems that could give commanders the ability to carry out speed-of-light attacks and counterattacks using preplanned scenarios that do not involve human operators manually typing in code — a process considered much too slow.

via With Plan X, Pentagon seeks to spread U.S. military might to cyberspace – The Washington Post.

Robot Cannon Kills 9

South Africa – SA National Defence Force spokesman brigadier general Kwena Mangope says the cause of the malfunction is not yet known…

Media reports say the shooting exercise, using live ammunition, took place at the SA Army’s Combat Training Centre, at Lohatlha, in the Northern Cape, as part of an annual force preparation endeavour.

Mangope told The Star that it “is assumed that there was a mechanical problem, which led to the accident. The gun, which was fully loaded, did not fire as it normally should have,” he said. “It appears as though the gun, which is computerised, jammed before there was some sort of explosion, and then it opened fire uncontrollably, killing and injuring the soldiers.” [More details here — ed.]

Other reports have suggested a computer error might have been to blame. Defence pundit Helmoed-Römer Heitman told the Weekend Argus that if “the cause lay in computer error, the reason for the tragedy might never be found.”

Electronics engineer and defence company CEO Richard Young says he can’t believe the incident was purely a mechanical fault. He says his company, C2I2, in the mid 1990s, was involved in two air defence artillery upgrade programmes, dubbed Projects Catchy and Dart.

During the shooting trials at Armscor’s Alkantpan shooting range, “I personally saw a gun go out of control several times,” Young says. “They made a temporary rig consisting of two steel poles on each side of the weapon, with a rope in between to keep the weapon from swinging. The weapon eventually knocked the pol[e]s down.”

According to The Star, “a female artillery officer risked her life… in a desperate bid ” to save members of her battery from the gun.”

But the brave, as yet unnamed officer was unable to stop the wildly swinging computerised Swiss/German Oerlikon 35mm MK5 anti-aircraft twin-barrelled gun. It sprayed hundreds of high-explosive 0,5kg 35mm cannon shells around the five-gun firing position.

By the time the gun had emptied its twin 50-round auto-loader magazines, nine soldiers were dead and 11 injured.

Robot Cannon Kills 9, Wounds 14 on Danger Room

Exoskeletal Body Armor

Hamilton Spectator – From bears to bullets

Using the hard-learned lessons of his Project Grizzly experience — a 20-year odyssey that included a National Film Board documentary, an appearance on CNN and personal bankruptcy — he’s ready to start selling his newest idea.

Already, he says, the suit has stood up to bullets from high-powered weapons, including an elephant gun. The suit was empty during the ballistics tests, but he’s more than ready to put it on and face live fire.

“I would do it in an instant,” he said. “Bring it on.”

Yesterday, he returned to Hamilton to show off the suit, hoping to generate some publicity that will get him the meetings he wants with military and police outfitters. [More]

Cheap Clean Fusion

From Slashdot; Baldrson writes “One of the founders of the US Tokamak fusion program, Dr. Robert W. Bussard, gave a lecture at Google recently now appearing as a Google video titled ‘Should Google Go Nuclear?’. In it, he presents his recent reakthrough electrostatic confinement fusion device which, he claims, produced several orders of magnitude higher fusion
power than earlier electrostatic confinement devices. According to Bussard, it did so repeatably during several runs until it blew up due to mechanical stress degradation. He’s looking for $200M funding, the first million or so of which goes to rebuilding a more robust demonstrator within the first year. He claims the scaling laws are so favorable that the initial full scale reactor would burn boron-11 — the cleanest fusion reaction otherwise unattainable. He has some fairly disturbing things to say in this video, as well as elsewhere, about the US fusion program which he co-founded.”

Sources:

Post to JREF forum
Google TechTalk (video) – Should Google go Nuclear?
Robert W. Bussard -wikipedia

Japanese robot suit just about production ready

SCI FI Tech – Japanese robot suit just about production ready

The day when you can buy your own robot exoskeleton (for whatever devious use you have in mind) is getting closer. Tsukuba University engineering professor Yoshiyuki Sankai’s HAL robot suit is pretty close to production — up to 20 of the suits should ship next year, and 400 to 500 in 2008.

The suits, designed for when your puny human muscles can’t get the job done, will cost $42,000 to $59,000 each. But for you apartment movers, the suits are expected to rent for $592 a month. I can’t wait until Wal-Mart is stocking these things, and the Exoskeleton Ultimate Fighting League is finally formed. — Adam Frucci

North Korea, Nations Respond to Possible Sanctions For Nuke Test

FOXNews.com – North Korea, Nations Respond to Possible Sanctions For Nuke Test – International News | News of the World | Middle East News | Europe News

UNITED NATIONS — North Korea is reportedly willing to give up its nuclear program if the United States takes what one official calls “corresponding measures,” a South Korean news agency reported Tuesday.

Reportedly, a North Korean official also threatened that the communist nation could fire a nuclear-tipped missile unless the U.S. acts to resolve its standoff with Pyongyang.

“We hope the situation will be resolved before an unfortunate incident of us firing a nuclear missile comes,” the unnamed official said, according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.

South Korea’s news agency quotes the official as saying that the North’s nuclear test was aimed at getting the U.S. to the negotiating table. He says the North wants to ensure its security as well as guarantee its “system.”

“We still have a willingness to give up nuclear weapons and return to six-party talks as well. It’s possible whenever the U.S. takes corresponding measures.” [More]

Our future Like Sci-Fi?

ars technica – Experts believe the future will be like Sci-Fi movies

In the latest study conducted by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, over 700 technology experts were asked to evaluate an assortment of scenarios in an attempt to determine potential trends for the year 2020. With responses from representatives of the World Wide Web Consortium, ICANN, the Association of Internet Researchers, and major corporations like Google and IBM, the report reflects the perceptions of “Internet pioneers,” more than half of whom “were online before 1993.”

The highly speculative scenarios presented to respondents are all vaguely reminiscent of various themes commonly found in contemporary science fiction. From artificial intelligences dominating humanity to disgruntled Luddites engaging in violence, the poll looks more like an abandoned script by Michael Piller than a serious exploration of the future. Let’s examine some of the more colorful quandaries, and see how many of the concepts have been prominently featured in Star Trek [Read on] Humorous article, I think. grin nod

Ceramic microreactors developed

Ceramic microreactors developed for on-site hydrogen production

Scientists at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have designed and built ceramic microreactors for the on-site reforming of hydrocarbon fuels, such as propane, into hydrogen for use in fuel cells and other portable power sources.

Applications include power supplies for small appliances and laptop computers, and on-site rechargers for battery packs used by the military.

“The catalytic reforming of hydrocarbon fuels offers a nice solution to supplying hydrogen to fuel cells while avoiding safety and storage issues related to gaseous hydrogen,” said Paul Kenis, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at Illinois and corresponding author of a paper accepted for publication in the journal Lab on a Chip, and posted on its Web site. [Read on]