In terms of tactical capacity, military technologies have evolved more in the last 70 years, than the entire history of human kind. And, this exhilarating sense of ‘progression’ hasn’t stopped scientists and engineers from achieving (or trying to achieve) the next levels of sophistication in military-inspired systems. So, without further ado, let us check out eight such futuristic military technologies* that bridge the gap between reality and what may seem science fiction.
Note* – Military technologies do not only entail destructive weaponry; the scope also includes defensive mechanisms and other scouting (or even search-and-rescue) mechanisms.
1) A bullet that can change its in-flight course –
Remember the James McAvoy starring Wanted? Well, DARPA has created their futuristic version of a bullet that unlike the movie, is not entirely dependent on the physics-bending prowess of the one who is firing the gun. Instead it is the self-guided nature of the bullet itself that does the job, thus allowing the projectile to change its course after being fired from the gun. Christened as EXACTO (acronym for Extreme Accuracy Tasked Ordnance), these advanced small-caliber bullets are all about enhanced precision in their intended flight from a greater distance.
According to DARPA –
The objective of the EXACTO program is to revolutionize rifle accuracy and range by developing the first ever guided small-caliber bullet. The EXACTO 50- caliber round and optical sighting technology expects to greatly extend the day and nighttime range over current state-of-the-art sniper systems. The system combines a maneuverable bullet and a real-time guidance system to track and deliver the projectile to the target, allowing the bullet to change path during flight to compensate for any unexpected factors that may drive it off course.
2) A plasma shield that can deflect shock waves from explosions –
Envisaged like a force-field of sorts, Boeing’s incredible patent (already submitted to United States Patent and Trademark Office) entails a layer of heated, ionized air that can guard against shock waves emanating from an explosion. In other words, the so-called layer is not designed to prevent physical objects like shrapnel and debris flying from the explosion; rather it is developed to ‘deflect’ shock waves that are often not shielded by armor systems present in current military vehicles. The application does make sense, since shock waves are often the ‘unsung villains’ that can cause immense physical trauma to soldiers, as opposed to their movie counterparts.
The question naturally arises – how will this seemingly futuristic system work? Well, the mitigating process would start with the vehicle’s specialized sensors detecting the magnitude of the blast. These sensors in turn will be wired to an arc generator that could fire high-intensity laser pulses in the direction of the blast. This would lead to the ionization of the air in between, thus creating a laser-induced plasma field. From the physical perspective, both the density and temperature of this plasma field will differ from the surrounding – which transforms it into a shield of sorts that would deflect the incoming shock waves.
3) Squid-inspired camouflage that can make soldiers invisible –
Squids change color with the help of minute cells, called iridocytes, present in their outer skin. These cells are made up of platelets, that in turn contain a special type of protein, known as reflectin. Altering the platelets’ spacing and thickness actually changes the way the cephalopod’s skin reflects incident light. This camouflage allows the animal to be invisible to larger predators as well as potential prey. Using this mechanism as the basis of their research, scientists at the University of California, Irvine, have developed what they call ‘invisibility stickers’. According to the team, headed by Dr. Alon Gorodetsky, the futuristic technology could one day aid soldiers in avoiding detection, even by infrared cameras. Gorodetsky said:
Soldiers wear uniforms with the familiar green and brown camouflage patterns to blend into foliage during the day, but under low light and at night, they’re still vulnerable to infrared detection. We’ve developed stickers for use as a thin, flexible layer of camo with the potential to take on a pattern that will better match the soldiers’ infrared reflectance to their background and hide them from active infrared visualization.
4) Robotic boats that can autonomously engage enemy forces –
Better known as USVs (Unmanned Surface Vessels), these advanced crafts were tested on Virginia’s James River. The formations pertain to progressive tactics, with the robotic vehicles making their movements and progress from all sides in a coordinated manner. In fact, the testing phase (supervised by the U.S. Office of Naval Research) started out with these USVs protecting a main ship. However, the defensive position rapidly gave way to an aggressive stance when the boats broke off from their escorting formation to swarm a possible intruder.
This sudden and impressive switch in tactical planning was entirely achieved by the robots’ own computational power. According to the US Navy, this was the result of the Control Architecture for Robotic Agent Command and Sensing (CARACaS) system that is used for the navigational capacity of the robot boats. And beyond just driving, the collective futuristic system was crucial for coordinating the different vehicles – that not only improved co-operation among themselves but also endowed them with situational awareness.