Friday, June 4, 2010

Hi-tech weapons, a growing market

There's one thing that drives advances in technology faster than anything else -- it's armed conflict and, in particular, full-blown war.

Fields such as electronics and aviation absolutely rocketed ahead (no pun intended) during WW2 and the cold-war that followed.

Within the space of a few short years we saw the invention and widespread use of the jet engine, the invention and application of practical rocket technology, plus the arrival and development of radar and other radio-based navigational aids.

Even computing was given a giant kick in the pants with the need for devices such as the Colossus, arguably the world's first electronic computer.

It seems that even when funding dwindles for other forms of research, there's always plenty of cash available for the design, development and improvement of superior weapons.

So where are we up to with all these hi-tech weapons?

Well it's common knowledge that GPS and terrain-guided cruise missiles are currently the "state of the art" in arms technology. They can deliver anything up to and including a nuclear payload to targets which may be hundreds or even more than a thousand kilometres from the launch-point.

There are also a whole lot of new non-lethal weapons now being developed. These are specifically designed to deal with civil unrest, riots and non-military conflicts where disabling people is seen to be more acceptable than killing them stone dead.

One example of this is the Taser device now available to police. A small pyrotechnic charge propels a couple of darts, trailing wires, over a relatively short distance where they will puncture a target's clothing and skin to deliver a (usually) non-lethal electric shock. The original basic Taser model has now been augmented by hi-tech add-ons such as a laser-sight and an automatic video camera that records the events immediately leading up to and following its deployment.

Another proposed piece of hi-tech disablement weaponry are electromagnetic pulse weapons. These are designed, not to disable people, but vehicles and other electronic devices.

Right now the US government is considering a request to place EMP weapons along the USA's border with Mexico so as to try and control the flow of illegal immigrants. Other calls have been made for such devices to become a standard part of highway patrol equipment -- effectively replacing stop-sticks and other low-tech methods of disabling fleeing vehicles.

However, when it comes to controlling or disabling crowds of people rather than individuals, things get even more interesting, once a bit of high-technology is applied to the problem.

The Israelis are trialling a "sonic cannon" that uses intense soundwaves to disable and disorient crowds without causing permanent injury.

The US military have built and trialled what amounts to portable microwave-ovens that can bathe a crowd of enemy soldiers or rioters in a beam of radio frequency energy powerful enough to cause an intense burning sensation that forces them to flee the area.

These are just some of the latest hi-tech weapons systems that we know about. No doubt there are many more which remain classified and may be even more interesting in their application of science to the vexing issue of defending a nation or keeping the peace.

And to think, at one time, all we had to defend ourselves or attack others with were our fists and maybe a rock or tree-branch.

Isn't science wonderful?

Maybe this time, not so much.

No comments:

Post a Comment