I wouldn’t call myself a major science fiction fan but I do enjoy the genre, especially the military aspects of it. Some sci-fi weapons just seem silly – what’s the point of a light sabre really? – but others just drip cool. What’s exciting is that some of them are getting tantalizingly close to the point where they might be appearing in the next generation of military equipment. Is that necessarily a good idea? Maybe – or maybe not. It’s certainly interesting though, so let’s look at a couple of examples.
The classic cloaking device is the one used by the Klingon (OK, OK, Romulan) Bird of Prey. There are some obvious advantages in being able to be close with the enemy and open fire from a tactically ideal position. It’s pretty hard to arrange in real life though, because the enemy tend to be looking for you. That might be about to change though. High-tech composites known as optical metamaterials can provide a cloaking effect by bending light around an object, and they can now be made into sheets of fabric. The development of a combat uniform that will actively hide its wearer is probably just years away. The effect isn’t perfect, but it’s a lot better than any conventional camouflage fabric. Instead of showing an observer an unchanging pattern, it displays a slightly distorted view of what’s actually behind the material.
The movie version of Starship Troopers was fun, but it missed out on the coolest part of the novel it was based on – the powered armor worn by the Mobile Infantry. An advanced military exoskeleton that hugely augmented the MI trooper’s strength and mobility, as well as acting as a platform for an array of sensors and weapons, these suits gave their wearers superhuman strength. Working versions are now being developed by Lockheed Martin and other companies, and could be in service in a decade or sooner. So far, they don’t carry armor or most of the advanced capabilities of the MI suits, but they do augment a soldier’s strength and endurance – he can move faster, keep going longer and apply a lot more strength. Right now, the obstacle to adding protection, sensors and weapons is the associated weight, but battery technology is advancing rapidly so more powerful exoskeletons will probably solve that problem soon.
The Soviet Union actually sent up an armed spacecraft once – but it was armed with a 23mm cannon, which was tested on some space debris. There’s a school of thought that says a conventional gun might be the ideal weapon in space – they work just fine, and without annoyances like gravity and an atmosphere, they’re capable of immense range and accuracy. Laser cannons are the sci-fi weapon of choice, though, and they might be making an appearance on the next generation of military aircraft. The USAF has already tested an airborne laser on a modified 747 and plans to run more tests on a C-17 over the next few years. The ultimate aim is to miniaturize the technology enough to fit it on an airframe the size of the F-35. What for? Well, it would be a practical way to destroy incoming missiles, and also a great dogfighting weapon. One big advantage of a laser is that once you have the power source in place – and a jet engine can generate a lot of electricity – a gallon of fuel will give you thousands of shots. The F-35A’s 25mm Gatling has 182 rounds of ammunition – enough for six one-second bursts at the lowest rate of fire.
There might be some false starts before any of these weapons enter service, and the first generations are bound to have problems, but a couple of decades ago all three were pure science fiction. Now, prototypes exist and the race is on to turn them into deployable systems. The line between hardware and Hollywood is about to get a bit more blurred.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.