Friday, March 31, 2017

Electric Warfare

"This coupled with the new laser technology, particle beam, and EMP weaponry truly is Star Wars evolving right before our eyes."    

No, that is not a misprint. Some might think I wanted to say "electronic warfare", but I did not. "Electric warfare" is something the Pentagon has been working on for some time now. I had this thought yesterday as we had a young man out to give us a bid on some work we are having done. He mentioned he was a project manager. I told him I had worked with many project managers in my day. Then I told him the story of one of the biggest challenges I faced while working with some of my team's best project managers.

The time was in the 1990's, and the place was ARDEC (US Army Armament Research Development and Engineering Center). The project was for the company I worked for to build a indoor gun range for the Army which would house this new technology called electro-thermal. Electro-thermal used a combination of some chemicals added to a huge jolt of electricity to propel a sabot projectile at speeds up to 4 "clicks". That would be much faster than a conventional artillery shell.

In any event, the funding for this project started to fall apart, and it never happened. However, it did take me further down the rabbit hole of this Star Wars type of technology. We even traveled to see a vendor on the west coast who was dabbling with a similar yet different technology. It was called the rail gun. And it had (in the 1990's) the potential to fire a sabot even faster than the gun my company was developing. This one was all electric with no chemicals.

Flash forward to today. The existing technology which evolved is the electro-magnetic rail gun. It is being tested right now to go into a 155 mm Howitzer as well as a shipboard application, using a 5" gun. The problems about the capacitors to store the juice powerful enough to fire these guns on a smaller platform seems to have been solved to a degree. This new rail gun can fire a sabot up to 100 miles at speeds of 5,000 mph!

What can we do with a weapon such as this? First off, it is excellent for stand off warfare, having over the horizon targeting abilities. At 5,000 mph, by the time it is detected by the enemy as "incoming", it will be too late. Also, it might have the ability to shoot down aircraft and cruise missiles. But the big prize will come further down the road of development. As speeds increase, it might have the capability to launch low orbit satellites and maybe even knock down incoming ICBMs.

Before we get too excited, some problems remain with this exciting technology. Like it is so powerful, it takes a toll on the launcher after every shot. Also, the power needed has improved, but still needs refinement. The power needed for each shot is mind bending - like the power needed for each shot is greater than power required to power 19,000 homes. And that type of power needs to put on a ship or a Howitzer. 

In any event, the military sees enough potential in this new technology to continue to sink money into it. If was can refine it, it will change warfare forever. This coupled with the new laser technology, particle beam and EMP weaponry, truly is Star Wars evolving right before our eyes.    

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